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Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Swimming in sensitivities

You just can't advertise certain things if your billboard is in a "Muslim area", it seems. It's haram, plain and simple.

There's yet another case of moaning Muslims who think British ways should change to accommodate their religious sensitivities, this time in Sparkbrook, Birmingham, where some swimwear is being advertised.

As with most adverts for swimwear, bodies wearing, er, well, swimwear are used as models. After all, you wouldn't use a pair of feet or a left testicle to advertise toothpaste (unless you were a pretty innovative designer/copywriter). So the Matalan ad features people in swimwear. And the picture has been vandalised, with thick white paint daubed on it to conceal flesh.

A councillor called Talib Hussain (a Muslim, we assume) is bleating that it's not right to allow such ads, and the council should stop it, because it's close to mosques. He says that, while he doesn't condone vandalism, this type of thing does not "bring the community together", but "provokes things". So not the vandals' fault, then.

Of course, once advertisers or councils cave in to such religious demands, where will it end? No more pictures of pigs' heads (or pigs' heads themselves) in butchers' shops, perhaps? We've already seen what a few cartoons can do, not to mention a film that dares to question some of Islam's more hideous scriptures.

At least the Advertising Standards Authority has not jumped to remove the ad, but it may be only a matter of time. Although it has only "responsive" powers, it says, "If we receive complaints we will consider if an advert should be removed."

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Equality the Christian way: the pink ceiling

OK, the headline above isn't quite true, but is a bit of journalistic licence to reflect the one on the story below about women bishops. Anyway, it's almost true, in that there were many who wanted to put a ceiling between Bishop Gene Robinson and his ambition for promotion within the Episcopal Church.

Once again, I'm in danger of pissing off those who don't give a hoot about the Anglican Communion and its squabbles (see also "Filthy pervert to darken doors of fine, upstanding, faultless gathering"), but indulge me: it all makes for a lively soap opera if nothing else.

Bishop Gene, the 61-year-old Bishop of New Hampshire, is set to enliven things a bit at the ten-yearly Lambeth shindig in July. For Bishop Gene is not only gay, but, horror of Satanic horrors, has a stable, loving partnership, which, quite rightly, he makes no secret of. He was left off the invitations list by the Archbishop of Cant, Rowan Williams, but will still be there – just not in an official capacity as an invited bishop.

Today's UK Daily Telegraph carries an interview with Robinson, in which he says that people have raised this issue above the central issues Jesus was supposed to have spoken of, and doing that is a form of idolatry. No point in pasting the entire thing here, so I'll quote the paragraph I found the most interesting, and I think most gay people will recognise the sentiments.

Robinson says he puts up with all the probing and questions his sexuality provokes because he grew up at a time when there were no role models, and then says,

"To be gay and lesbian was to be a failure. The good gay people killed themselves. And the others were drug addicts and bums. There was no possibility for a life of integrity or respect. So I feel called to be as open as I can be about my life so that young lesbians and gay men will understand that they can have wonderful relationships, be mothers and fathers and make a real distinction for themselves in their careers. I owe it to those who come after me."

Amen to that.

Equality the Christian way: the stained-glass ceiling

They'll duck and dive and obfuscate and bring out reports and say it takes time and it'll be divisive and they'll procrastinate and wriggle and get pompous and talk utter drivel – anything but adhere to the decent tenets of modern employment practice and give women equal rights.

Yes, the question of women bishops in the Church of England has come up again, and a long-awaited report is now out, and a church within a church seems to be the alternative to treating women as equal to men.

A late story in yesterday's Times (online) says:

A series of new dioceses that would transcend geographical boundaries and be havens for men and women opposed to female ordination is the radical proposal set out in the long-awaited report on how to proceed with the Church's desire to consecrate women bishops.

Church's desire? If the Church truly desires it, why isn't the Church forcing it? And why on earth isn't employment law brought to bear on this outfit? Well, we know that, don't we? Government dare not interfere with the men in frocks.

The Times story continues:

Critics claim the solution to how to consecrate women bishops without disenfranchising a substantial minority of opponents would leave the established Church resembling a "Gruyere cheese", with dioceses being left with large "holes" in them as parishes fled wholesale from the prospect of women bishops.

Well some would say, "Bring it on. Let the whole sorry edifice crumble."

There's more:

The long-awaited "Manchester report", published today [Monday], demands from the majority in support of women's ordination that they accept that the "theological convictions of those unable to receive the ordained ministry of women are within the spectrum of Anglican teaching and tradition".

Those who hold them should therefore be able to receive pastoral and sacramental care "in a way that is consistent with their convictions", it says.

Oh, diddums! Did their diddly-widdly little theological convictions get hurt, then, and bugger the principle of equality between the sexes? Poor ickle priesties can't cope and need "pastoral and sacramental care" to get over their icky-wicky ickle tantrums over granting equality to people of equal dignity (well, more dignity in this case).

This was the second attempt to come up with a way of legislating for women bishops after an earlier attempt was rejected by male-chauvinist bigots.

While most of us unbelievers don't give a toss about what happens in an organisation full of believers in the supernatural, it comes down to fairness in employment, and there is no reason why this profession should be exempt from treating the sexes equally. Arguments that Jesus had male apostles have been put down repeatedly: that was a phenomenon of the times. Other so-called arguments are just so much hot air.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Let your media be our message, says Catholic wannabe censor

Anyone who still cannot believe that religion wants to control, with creepy Orwellian malevolence, what we can read and maybe even think should look no further than Bishop Philip Tartaglia. He wants media folk to reflect the same view of humanity as "those of us who believe in God".

This control freak believes that, when it comes to the media, there is a "fundamental disconnection between the provider and the consumer". In a nutshell, he says there are more religious believers among the population, proportionately speaking, than among workers in the media, but those in the media don't reflect that in their dealings with the world.

And he wants to avoid the spread of "a secular and humanistic agenda". Yes, I know, it's barely believable – but you have to take into account that he is a Catholic.

In his capacity of president of the National Communications Commission of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland, Tartgalia says that "mass communications can fairly be charged with losing the ethical underpinning that once existed [in them]".

The Ekklesia story linked to above points out that some have "argued that while the nimonal [sic] number of Christians in the country is high, those actually prcaticing [sic] are smaller in number". Given the woeful ignorance of matters biblical we see cited in news stories from time to time, it's hardly surprising there are fewer than claimed; that there are those who just put "Christian" or "C of E" or "RC" on a census form or other document without really thinking about what qualifies them to claim they are any of those.

However, be that as it may, this prattling prelate echoes Pope Ratzinger's call for something called "info-ethics", on a par with bioethics (I know, you couldn't make it up, could you?). In a message sent to all of Scotland's 500 Catholic parishes for (and here's the killing irony) the 42nd World Communications Day (which will be read out in churches on Sunday), he says this, as quoted by Ekklesia:

"Analysing the ethical implications of how information is transmitted would help the media avoid becoming spokespersons for a secular and humanistic agenda", [the letter] claims.

"It is crucial that those who work in this field seek to understand the moral and ethical view of humanity shared by those of us who believe in God," says the bishop.

"Today, mass communications can fairly be charged with losing the ethical underpinning that once existed. It is a sad reality that those involved in the production and dissemination of much of our media content do not themselves share the religious or moral perspectives of their audience. There has occurred a fundamental disconnection between the provider and the consumer."

Perhaps the media do have a looser sense of ethics than they once did, but that requires a more detailed examination, which cannot be conclusive because ethics is hard to pin down and is largely subjective. And there may, indeed, be some disconnection between the provider and the consumer. That, too, is open to further scrutiny.

Can either be said to have occurred – if, indeed, either has – because more people in the general population than among media people have ticked a religion box on a form at some time, or scratched their heads and vaguely mumbled, "Hmm, yes, I suppose so, sort of, maybe, you know . . ." to a pollster? And, a more crucial question and one that is argued over fiercely, where is the automatic connection between religion and ethics (in spite of the fact that the BBC lumps those two words together under one departmental heading)?

Does believing in a sky fairy and a number of physically impossible phenomena make you a better person? Or is it just that some sky-fairyists happen to be nice people and put that down to their sky-fairyism, and that some non-sky-fairyists happen to be utter bastards, and the sky-fairyists put that down to their not being sky-fairyists?

How do the sky-fairy believers account for the utter shits among their own number? Could that be put down to their being sky-fairyists (oh, God, no, of course not, perish the thought!), or have they merely strayed from the path of righteousness in a moment of weakness?

Searching questions.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Remembering Vern Bullough

The distinguished American professor, historian and sexologist Dr Vern L Bullough was a life-long champion of civil liberties and one of the most prominent figures in the US Humanist movement. In 1992, he received a Distinguished Humanist Service Award from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), and served as co-chair of IHEU from 1995 to 1996.

Though not himself gay, Bullough always gave staunch support to LGBT rights. He was an occasional contributor to Gay and Lesbian Humanist (G&LH), including this obituary in its Summer 2005 issue of well-known US gay activist and Gay Today editor Jack Nichols.

He had more than fifty books to his name, one of the most significant as far as the LGBT movement is concerned being his Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context (Harrington Park Press, 2002). At the time, it was described by Warren Allen Smith in G&LH (Spring 2003) as “an essential source for understanding one of the most inspiring human rights campaigns of our time”.

In 2001, Bullough appeared in Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon’s Who’s Who In Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History, which I myself reviewed for G&LH in its Summer 2001 issue.

Bullough died in 2006.

UPDATE: You can now see G&LH online since it was relaunched as an Internet-based publication in October 2008.

Ask and ye shall receive

Ken Livingstone says he'll make special provision for "faith groups" when it comes to giving them land. That's what he's said.

I've just been revisiting some reports of the hustings organised a few days ago by the Evangelical Alliance for the London mayoral candidates. Livingstone, the current Mayor of London, was accused by born-again-Christian candidate Brian Paddick, standing for the Lib Dems, of treating Christians like second-class citizens. Well, you might expect that from a Christian, especially a born-again Christian, especially in a political situation where people are grubbily chasing votes.

But here's the rub. In this story in the online Religious Intelligence (is that not an oxymoron?), Livingstone says in response to an accusation of bias against churches applying for planning permission, "The only group that’s been moved from the Olympic site that we’ve not been able to rehouse is a Christian church after the local council opposed it, so I shall have to amend the London Plan to say that faith groups looking for a base should be able to get land."

Well, we've come to expect politicians to say one thing to one group and one thing to another, but the Evangelical Alliance is a pretty large and influential group, poking its nose in wherever it can, always with an opinion, getting more than its fair share of airtime on radio, and it will no doubt hold Livingstone to his word if he gets back in after the elections. Which means that he will amend a plan so that "faith" groups get special dispensation when they're looking for land on which to build churches. He will deprive the people of London of land that could be put to better use so that a church can be built there? And given priority? Over what could well be more pressing demands?

Of course, it being a Christian occasion, the question of "the family" had to be brought up (as if only religionists cared about or had experience of families, family life, bringing up children), and in this case by the Christian Choice candidate Alan Craig, who says he'll provide a £1,000 grant for every couple who get married in London (he means opposite-sex couples, since the word "married" does not, by law, apply to civil partnerships; although, thankfully, most people happily ignore that bit of government bigotry and just call themselves married).

The story says, "Mr Craig also criticised the candidates’ ability to produce progress on the family issues he believes to be of prime importance, due to their own family lives." This, we assume, is a reference to, inter alia, Brian Paddick, the former police commander and once the most senior openly gay cop in Britain.

"I don’t think you can take someone’s private life and their private views away from their public life and their public views," says Craig. "It will make it very different for them to talk about the value of marriage and stable families and there is absolutely no doubt that that is a key issue. The breakdown of family is having a key impact, it’s ravaging our society. But it is difficult for them, because of their private lives, to talk about it with great authority or commitment."

Paddick is himself a Christian – a born-again, to boot. He hasn't suddenly "found" God for the sake of the Christian vote. He became a born-again back when he was a sergeant, and says in his recent memoir, Line of Fire (Simon & Schuster, 2008):

Following the encounter with Malcolm [a born-again-Christian friend], I read John’s Gospel with an open mind and I was convinced. A short time later I found myself at Cheam Baptist Church being baptised by total immersion by Pastor David Abernethy.

Well, some people are easily swayed, but there you go. Anyway, he said to the hustings meeting, "As far as Christian values are concerned I think if people who do not believe in Jesus Christ borrow Christian values then we should encourage them to do so and I think that there are many things which people give the label Christian values to that are actually shared by other religions as well."

Borrow Christian values? They do what he and probably most of us consider generally good things, moral and noble things – helping our neighbour, seeing old ladies across the street, running a youth club (as Paddick once did) or performing other voluntary work, giving money, patting dogs – and he says we're borrowing Christian values? Or is that just that those of "other religions as well" dare to "borrow Christian values"?
Hat-tip Freethinker. And see more on the all-singing, all-dancing London Elections Show here.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Blood pressure

Here's a question. You're a Jehovah's Witness on an operating table. You're losing blood fast. You're going to die. But you don't want a blood transfusion, because your religion says it's wrong. The hospital is putting pressure on you to have one. However, you choose to die rather than submit to the pressure. No one else's life is put at risk if you die. Should you be allowed to refuse the transfusion?

This is the sort of question highlighted in this BBC story about a 24-year-old Kenyan woman, Miss K, who refused a transfusion in Ireland. However, the hospital refused her refusal, sedated her and gave her blood. Now, the Republic's High Court has ruled that the medics were right to do as they did, and that Miss K's rights were not breached by their doing so.

In K's case, she was suffering a massive haemorrhage after having a baby (at Dublin's Women's Hospital last September). Her baby would, we hope, continue to live if she had died. But does she have a right to deprive the sprog of its mum? OK, she's a mum it wouldn't have remembered, but it would have faced a life among peers who did have mums. You may consider that is not reason enough to deny the woman the right effectively to end her own life. After all, we feel that people have a right to commit suicide, even though there will be people left behind to grieve and try to cope without their loved one.

The same BBC report touches on another story it carried in more detail earlier of anaemic twins due to be born to a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses who don't want their offspring to have the transfusions they will need within minutes of their birth and subsequently. The case here is clear, a no-brainer, you might say. No parent has the right to allow the kids to die because of their religions beliefs, their political beliefs or any other beliefs.

See a similar story we carried on 8 April, posing similar questions. See also why Jehovah's Witnesses don't like blood transfusions.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Where you're not allowed to look normal

You can't be portrayed as a normal, regular guy or gal if you're gay in Singapore. In fact, the government there has just reinforced that notion by fining a TV station the equivalent of £5,000 for "featuring a gay couple in a way that makes them look 'normal'", according to a story in Pink News.

"The Media Development Authority fined MediaCorp TV for featuring the couple with their adoptive [sic] son, claiming that it 'promoted a gay lifestyle'," says the online news outlet. The story continues:

Homosexual sex is illegal in Singapore[;] however, in October 2007, the Singapore government declared that private, consensual, adult homosexual sex would no longer be prosecuted but that its illegality would remain.

The authority said the episode contained scenes of the gay couple with their baby and the presenter's congratulations and acknowledgment of them as a family unit "in a way which normalizes their gay lifestyle and unconventional family setup".

The show they featured on is called Find and Design – one of those crappy makeover shows we get too much of on British TV. In this episode, the couple wanted to make over their little boy's bedroom.

Earlier this year, a cable station had to stump up a £3,500 fine for showing an ad in which two women kissed.

Shock, horror! What is the world coming to?

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Lest we forget

To help publicise what was once the world's most dynamic gay-rights organisation, Pagan Press has published an article about the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). This is one of two new articles added to the history of Gay Liberation, which is being put together by independent scholar and freethinker John Lauritsen (see also his Philosopedia entry here).

Lauritsen's articles cover a number of significant periods in the history of gay rights, including one on a pro-homosexual-rights speech given in 1898.

Lauritsen's second new article is about the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), which was formed in New York City in 1969 shortly after the Stonewall Uprising. A very good account of the uprising can be found in Stonewall: the Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution by David Carter – a review of which can be read here. In the review, Warren Allen Smith commented that Stonewall was "sure to join Vern L. Bullough's Before Stonewall as being among the most important books in the gay canon".

Mayor bans "satanists"

The Moscow mayor, who's branded gay people as "satanic", has banned Gay Pride in the city for the third year in a row.

But activists could be taking scores of cases to the European Court of Human Rights after last night's announcement from the Moscow authorities that they won't allow "conduct of the unsanctioned public actions by sexual minorities" during the May holidays.

Apparently, gays want to “bring dissonance intentionally to disrupt historic holiday” and are “trying to pressure their rules and visions on the society”.

The kids are not all right

Disturbing news from Bahrain. This country, for a long time thought to be one of the more liberal Muslim states, has got it in for gays. Not only have ministers called for homosexuals to be "rooted out" of hair salons and massage parlours, where they've set up businesses, but the proposal "will instruct teachers to look out for homosexual tendencies in children and to 'punish them accordingly'," says this Pink News story, which goes on:

The country only held its first elections in 2002, and since then politicians have mainly addressed themselves to "moral" issues such as banning female mannequins from shop windows and tackling the widespread problem of "sorcery."

In 2000 the government is thought to have deported two thousand gay Filipino workers for prostitution and homosexual activity. Gays can get ten years' jail, according to Pink News, although that's rare.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008


It's time for Motime!

Believe it or not, there are these chaps calling for Greenwich Mean Time to be dumped, on religious grounds, in favour of Mecca Time. Our old friend Yusuf al-Qaradawi (although the name's spelled differently almost everywhere you look), wants it, too, because he and some chums say the Saudi city of Mecca aligns with magnetic north and is therefore the true centre of the Earth.

"Centre"? Isn't that the core? A seething mass of molten rock and fire? Hell? And, anyway, can't many places be said to be in alignment with magnetic north?

"The call was issued at a conference held in the Gulf state of Qatar under the title: Mecca, the Centre of the Earth, Theory and Practice," says this BBC story. "One geologist argued that unlike other longitudes, Mecca's was in perfect alignment to magnetic north."

Mecca is also the place Muslims aim to face, wherever in the world they are, when it comes time to prostrate themselves five times a day to talk to their imaginary friend Ali, er, Allah, whoever. Could that have something to do with this call for the entire world to change its standard reference?

This geologist chappie says the English imposed GMT when they were in charge of the world. Well, someone had to impose a standard. Britain was an important maritime nation at the time, which is just historical fact. If some other nation had been cracking the whip, it would have presented the world with a standard, and we might now have Gofer's Ass Mean Time running through a hick little town in Arkansas.

But it happens to be Greenwich. That was how it began. As British sailors travelled the globe, they kept one eye on GMT so they could calculate their longitude from the Greenwich meridian, which, by convention, was considered to have zero degrees. And why do we need to fix something that ain't broke?

The Beeb story goes on to say, "A prominent cleric, Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawy, said modern science had at last provided evidence that Mecca was the true centre of the Earth; proof, he said, of the greatness of the Muslim 'qibla' – the Arabic word for the direction Muslims turn to when they pray."

His point being? And how does he arrive at the notion that this is proof of the greatness of the qibla? And why is magnetic north so important, when the Earth doesn't rotate about its magnetic poles, but its true, that is to say rotational, poles? It makes no sense to put timelines through points around which the Earth doesn't rotate. Or am I missing something?

It seems it's all part of Muslims' attempts to prove that stuff in the Koran has been borne out by modern science. Here's a whole article devoted to that – if you can be bothered to look up the dozens of references in it, which merely give sura numbers but no textual analysis.

Anyway, this idea is "not without its critics", says the BBC story, "who say that the notion that modern science was revealed in the Koran confuses spiritual truth, which is constant, and empirical truth, which depends on the state of science at any given point in time".

And is spiritual truth constant? I hear you ask. Have there not been shifts in that over the years, depending on which religion or which branch of which religion you care to give credence to? If any.

But I fear we could discuss this in ever-decreasing circles till we disappear up our own argument. Time to nip down to the Mecca Ballroom, perhaps, for a good time, not a mean one.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The many faces of Humanism

We carried a story a few days ago about how RE in British schools would soon include Humanism.

Here's a take on that from the think tank Ekklesia that's worth a read. A short snip:

Part of the issue here is that it is arguably more correct to say that there is no such thing as humanism but rather humanisms. Philosophies as different as Marxism, existentialism, pragmatism and Christianity itself have all claimed to be a humanism.

The writer, Mark Vernon, also says that he fears Humanism will be taught as opposition to other systems.

"[T]he interest in, and flourishing of, humanism is closely tied to its historic and present diversity," he concludes. "Both will be eroded if its relationship with religion is presented as a zero-sum game."

Lies, damned lies and politics

It's good to see politicians ducking and diving, squirming and wriggling, in order to try to milk their potential electorate of every last vote.

Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson (the sitting London Labour mayor and the Tory challenger for that post) were being quizzed on the "religion of peace" the other day. Yes, Johnson refers to it as that, whereas back in 2005, after the 7 July London bombings, he was saying, "Islam is the problem." He says now that he was talking only of those who take Koranic scriptures out of context.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but do not parts of the Koran and Hadiths actually call for death for people who transgress from this "religion of peace" in certain ways?

Enlighten me, Boris.

Livingston has been defending his open-arms welcome of the arch-homophobe, pro-women-beating, pro-suicide-bombing so-called scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi in 2004. It caused quite a stir, especially among the gay community.

"The Qatar-based Egyptian cleric has also advocated the use of Palestinian children as suicide bombers," says this Telegraph story, "and once claimed that Asian tsunami victims were punished by Allah because their countries were centres of perversion." Yet no criticism from "gay-friendly" Mr Livingstone.

Enlighten me, Ken.

Livingstone told the BBC's Politics Show that, while he didn't agree with some of al-Qaradawi's views, this monster (my word, not his) did not support terrorism against the West. "He is a man who is prepared to say al-Qa'eda is wrong and to be very strong in that condemnation," Livingston said. So he doesn't support terrorism against the West. Good. But just against the West? Al-Qa'eda is wrong, but not Muslims in those countries who push walls onto gays or throw them off buildings, who treat women like shit, who devise exquisitely cruel deaths for transgressors against this or that?

Enlighten me, Yusuf.

But let's go back to Livingstone for a moment. The Telegraph story continues:

Mr Livingstone's liberal approach to controversial figures such as al-Qaradawi has won him a friend in Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian supporter of Hamas, which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

Mr Tamimi is part of a group called Muslims 4 Ken, which is aiming to mobilise Muslim voters to help re-elect Mr Livingstone for a third term on May 1.

Oh, right. Things are starting to fit into place now.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Filthy pervert to darken doors of fine, upstanding, faultless gathering

Gene Robinson, the American bishop who is, as most of us know, one of those, is about to put the liberal cat among the bigoted pigeons when he turns up at the Lambeth conference this year. He'll be about as welcome as a fart in a crowded lift (that's elevator to you, Gene).

The Right Reverend is the Bishop of New Hampshire, and he was elevated to that post in spite of a lot of . . . well, spite. Some of the fine, upstanding, God-fearin' folk of the Episcopalian Church (Anglicanism in America) – and many other notable Anglicans – just didn't want this man, who so clearly broke God's fine laws just by being gay and not being afraid to express his sexuality. The real fine, upstanding members of that church, though – or I assume most of us would see them as that – are the liberals who put him there in the first place, flying in the face of their swivel-eyed colleagues who have a thing about what a guy does with his bits and pieces, even if he's doing it in private, and in a committed relationship, and, what's more, not frightening the horses.

Much of the anti-Robinson camp, it has to be said, is not in the Episcopalian Church, but among the somewhat frothier bishops and archbishops in some African and South American dioceses, as well as some in the UK.

Ruth Gledhill, religious correspondent of The Times, says (and note the coy quotation marks):

The openly gay US bishop at the heart of the Anglican Church’s schismatic row over sex is to “marry” his partner in June and attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference in Canterbury this summer, despite not being invited.

Yes, Gene has been told by the Archbishop of Cant, Rowan Williams, specifally not to come to the party in his capacity as an Anglican bishop. Well, he may not be there in that capacity, but he'll be ruffling a few of the frothies' feathers, no doubt. Read more here.

Robinson will also be in Britain next week to launch his new book, In the Eye of the Storm, to be serialised by The Times. "He will also take part in a series of public events to highlight what his supporters regard as homophobic discrimination throughout the Anglican Communion," writes Gledhill, adding:

Bishop Robinson’s decision to be in England in July and August throughout the three weeks of the ten-yearly conference will put paid to any hopes that Dr Williams had of keeping away the issue of gay sex. The last event, in 1998, was dominated by the debate. This time, Dr Williams, who is in charge of the conference as the “primus inter pares” of the Anglican Communion, has scheduled an “official” agenda with the focus on Bible study, prayer and discussion.

Bishop Robinson’s decision to be active on the “outside” of the conference will add to the pressures on the Archbishop, who is struggling to keep his church united in line with the Gospel imperative of “one Church”.

Let the fireworks begin.

We hate to say we told you so

Well, it had to come out sooner or later, but it's not been the best-kept secret of all time, has it? Yes, the new "social evil" is religion. At least that's according to a poll carried out by the Joseph Rountree Foundation.

According to The Times, the Foundation's poll of 3,500 people has "uncovered a widespread belief that faith – not just in its extreme form – was intolerant, irrational and used to justify persecution". Pollsters had asked subjects "what they considered to be the worst blights on modern society, updating a list drawn up by Rowntree, a Quaker, 104 years ago".

The story continues, "The responses may [sic] well have dismayed him. The researchers found that the 'dominant opinion' was that religion was a 'social evil'." (Just how they "may" have dismayed him when he wasn't around when they were published is known only by the Times writer, Robert Watts, who might have chosen "might", but for the fact that he didn't – but I digress.)

One subject is quoted as saying, "Faith in supernatural phenomena inspires hatred and prejudice throughout the world, and is commonly used as justification for persecution of women, gays and people who do not have faith."

Well, we hate to say we told you so.
FOOTNOTE: If you want to see how adherence to some of religion's barmier edicts may be killing us off, read this. It's sobering stuff.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

For Berg read berk!

Only a religionist could tar us nonbelievers with the same brush as he or she would unreasoning jihadists.

No, scrub that. There are some decent religionists about.

Let's say only a raving pillock of the highest order could do it in the way the Rev. Thomas V Berg has managed it over in the States.

You'll be either enranged or amused to read here how he has compared the "unreason of hate-filled jihadism, which fosters mindless submission to Allah" to the "sterile, severely impoverished rationalism of the secularists, who suffocate in their reduction of reality to the level of mere matter".

Wow! Heady stuff. If this is the Rev. Thomas V Berg who is executive director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics, "a conservative Catholic research group", according to the New York Times, then everything fits into place.

Right, have a stiff drink and read on.

"Only a true believer can make a dirty word of 'rationalism'," says the article's author, "but then, reason is the natural enemy of faith. It gets in the way of acceptance that a stale wafer is the body of Christ; that Jesus was both God and his own son; that Mary conceived him without benefit of earthly spermatozoa."

He goes on, clearly warming to his attack on the Rev. Berk – er, Berg:

However, to compare terrorist jihadists to secular humanists, as the Rev. Berg does, is at once vicious and ludicrous. The secularists of my acquaintance pay taxes, attend school board meetings, vote, separate their bottles and newspapers, take care of aged parents, contribute to charities and political parties, keep up their properties, volunteer, and nurture their children. I assume Berg would prefer any of them as neighbors to a fundamentalist bomb-thrower. He cannot then equate the two.

Further, Berg is on shaky moral ground, given that he represents a church that treats women as less equal than men and has sheltered hundreds of pedophile priests who have ruined the lives of unknown thousands of innocent children. This is hardly the pulpit from which to lecture the rest of us. Look to your own glass cathedral.

Yeah, go and throw a stone at yourself through the windows, Bergy, you nutcase. And, while you're at it, go unfrock yourself.

The book, the bog seat and Mr Ali

First it was a call to be allowed to opt out of prison treatment programmes for sex offenders, now it’s a call for training for prison staff in how to handle “holy” books.

Yes, Islam wants things its own way again. After earlier stories about the report of the Inspector of Prisons and how screws should be more sensitive to Muslim “complexities”, the Muslim adviser to Britain’s prisons, Ahtsham Ali, said on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme today that there should be special training so that the “holy Koran” might be treated in whatever special way this religion dictates. (You can listen again for a week from today by going to this page and clicking on the link in the first line. It’s 30 minutes and 50 seconds into the programme.)

He tells the anchor, Roger Bolton, that it should be the same for all religions. There have been instances, he says, when officers, while searching cells or copies of the Koran, have put the book down on a toilet top on a cloth. They haven’t dropped it onto a dirty toilet seat, or even a clean one, but have put it on a cloth. That’s what he said. A cloth.

So, given the probable scarcity of suitable surfaces in a prison cell, was there another option? If they’d carefully placed it on the floor, what then? More moaning? On the bed? I honestly don’t know. But how is placing it on a cloth on what is, after all, just another surface, doing any harm? And would the prisoner complain if his copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets were placed there?

Book lovers will tell you that all books should be treated with respect, in that you don't tear them, damage the spine, fold down the corners of pages or dirty the paper with grubby fingers. But putting one down on a cloth that happens to be on a toilet seat doesn't seem to come into the "extreme bibliophobe" category, somehow.

Training is needed, Ali says, on how to treat artefacts and religious sensibilities. Why? Why do those who believe in certain unprovable bits of nonsense need to be treated any differently from someone who thinks he sees ghosts? In fact, would the latter prisoner not be hauled off to the prison hospital for psychiatric care? Yet he's no less deluded than his religious fellow inmates, who are demanding special training for the screws, so they can deal “sensitively” with their “complexities”?

Training for officers in religious sensitivities could avoid tensions and anti-Western attitudes, said Ali. That sounds like a threat from the “religion of peace”. If you don’t treat our nutty beliefs with the tenderness and sensitivity they deserve, we get antsy. And that may not be in your interests.

Unsurprisingly, no one asked Mr Ali who would pay for this training so that Muslim and other religious inmates can have their “sensitivities” and “complexities” massaged. But it will be the taxpayer, of course.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Windy city

God's maidservant Katrina moves in ways equally as mysterious as those of her master, it seems. In fact, in ways that are guaranteed to discombobulate the logic circuits of your brain.

God, you see, sent Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to punish the people of New Orleans for their decadent ways in allowing homosexuals to be in their midst, and to cavort in the streets, threatening the end of the world as we know it.

"Repent America, an organisation that claims to 'go out into the streets and communities of America declaring the word of God and proclaiming the Good News', has said that an upcoming [gay] event in the city caused God to act," said an Ekklesia article at the time.

Repent America's director, Michael Marcavage, suggested that "this act of God destroyed a wicked city. New Orleans was a city that opened its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. May it never be the same."

Interesting theory. But now we get this news in today's Tablet, the Catholic weekly, on the intended closure of 27 Catholic churches, that the "lasting damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans' churches was this week highlighted by a reorganisation plan intended to help the archdiocese finally recover from the wreckage unleashed by the hurricane".

Oh, so the churches that were hit will now have to be closed. What was God playing at? How could he have got it so wrong?

The Tablet story goes on:

The Archbishop of New Orleans told parishioners last week that he plans to close 27 churches. In a letter read at Masses throughout the city, Archbishop Alfred Hughes said that the plan "will involve the loss of some sacred places with a rich religious history. Such loss, understandably, will cause great pain and may also lead to anger. The cross is never easy." Seventeen of the churches due to be closed have not reopened since the hurricane, which killed 1,836 people and displaced more than a million. The storm cost the 215-year-old archdiocese, the nation's second oldest, US$120 million (£61m) in damage.

Now, no one, atheist, agnostic or religionist, wants to see beautiful buildings razed to the ground or otherwise damaged, but one wonders what Mr Michael Marcavage would say to this. No, he's not a Catholic, as far as we know, but a born-again Christian (the type that makes you wish they had never been born at all) and these churches are Catholic, but he is equally scathing of homosexuality, and does not, presumably, wish to see God destroy Christian churches, of whatever stripe.

Anyway, this article on the Urban Legends website puts the story straight. Enjoy.

Pope's "moral order"

Mr George W. Bush, the President of the United States of America, and thereby the most powerful person on earth, said to the Pope, "Your Holiness, that was an awesome speech."

What were his awesome words? He said that the quest of the United States for freedom was linked to a moral order based on the domination of God, the Creator.

This God of his condones slavery. This church of his supported slavery for centuries. Yet world leaders listen and laud him, and the world’s media report his words about a moral order without comment. And the moral philosophers in universities throughout the world respond with – silence.

Pope Benedict XVl, originally Joseph Ratzinger, was head of the Doctrine of the Faith department of the Roman Catholic Church for over 20 years.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Ratzo's apology for an apology

Pope Ratzinger just can't bring himself to apologise – really, truly, properly apologise – for all the heartbreak caused because his priests couldn't keep their peckers in their pants.

A commentator called Lee Russ has a comprehensive analysis of on it here in Watching the Watchers:

He's admitted his "shame" for the perpetrators of the abuse. He's acknowledged that the scandal was, in some instances, "badly handled." But he just can't seem to publicly acknowledge the role that Church as a whole, and this Pope in particular, played in the concealment and continuation of that widespread sexual abuse.

Ratzo is doing the States at the moment, where he's already met with a few protests from gay campaigners who seem to have given the poor chap a hard time. Oh, the unfairness of it. What has he done to deserve this?

RE to include Humanism

Humanism will be on the curriculum for teenagers as part of a religious education GCSE for the first time.

The examination board OCR has announced draft proposals for a new "philosophy and ethics" course to cover lessons on issues such as euthanasia and abortion.

"Pupils taking the course will be encouraged to examine topics from the standpoint of Humanism – the rejection of religion in favour of reason and a belief in human potential – as well as the major faiths," says this PA story.

"The course includes units looking at different beliefs on topics such as the nature of good and evil, medical ethics and death and the afterlife."

OCR's Mara Bogdanovic is quoted as saying, "Humanism is growing rapidly within the UK and it is a belief system held by increasing numbers of citizens. As part of OCR's philosophy and ethics GCSE it provides an excellent contrasting opinion for students to debate alongside the religious views that have always been included."

George Broadhead, former long-serving secretary of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association and current secretary of the Pink Triangle Trust, warmly welcomed the move. "This is not only very good news for Humanists", he told me today, "but for LGBT people as well.

"In sharp contrast to the hostility shown by many religions, including Christianity and Islam, to gay sexual relationships, modern Humanism accepts these as an integral part of sexual diversity and it fully supports the ongoing campaign for full legal equality, including same-sex marriage. The fact that the Humanist outlook will be taught as part of RE should help to counter religious prejudice and discrimination," he added.

The move has also been welcomed by the British Humanist Association, whose education director, Andrew Copson, tells the PA, "It's great that OCR has brought Humanism within the scope of their GCSE. We hope that it will make the subject of religious studies more engaging for all young people and more relevant to the whole of our diverse society."

The new courses are set to be taught from September 2009.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

What is a "Muslim area" – in Blighty, that is?

The man who told the former Home Secretary John Reid that he should't come to a "Muslim area" when Reid was addressing a gathering of about thirty Muslims in 2006, asking them to look out signs of brainwashing in their children, has today been found guilty of terrorist fundraising and inciting terrorism overseas.

Abu Izzadeen is a convert to Islam (he was born Trevor Brooks in Hackney, London). He was found guilty by a jury at Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court after a trial lasting more than three months.

Five other men stood trial with him and were also convicted of terror offences. "Abu Izzadeen was not tried over his disruption of Mr Reid’s meeting," says the Times story linked to above, "but because of the nflammatory content of a speech he made at Regent’s Park Mosque in 2004."

When he infamaously heckled a British home secretary on British soil in 2006, he said, "How dare you come to a Muslim area when over a thousand Muslims have been arrested? You are an enemy of Islam and Muslims, you are a tyrant. Shame on all of us for sitting down and listening to him."

You can see the Reid incident by clicking below (it's quite noisy):

Divorce, Yemeni style

The little girl in the photograph below has just been divorced. She is eight years old. "I am happy that I am divorced now," she says. "I will be able to go back to school."

This was marriage Yemeni style. This is where Nojud Mohammed Ali lives, and where her unemployed father forced her into a marriage this year, saying he feared she might be kidnapped if she remained single. A court granted the divorce this week, and the ex-"husband", 28-year-old Faez Ali Thameur, said in response to a question from the judge that the "marriage was consummated, but I did not beat her".

Oh, well that's all right, then.

Nojud was in her primary school's second grade when this marriage took place – with her consent, according to her father, Mohammad Ali Al-Ahdal.

"They asked me to sign the marriage contract and remain in my father's house until I was eighteen," says Nojud. "But a week after signing, my father and my mother forced me to go live with him."

Wisely, Nojud is now going to live with her maternal uncle rather than remain with her father.

Darwin in cyberspace

The entire private papers of Charles Darwin have gone online today, and they're free for anyone to browse.

There are some twenty thousand items there now, and the Darwin Online project director, John van Wyhe, has told Paul Sims of New Humanist that humankind may be "on the verge of a new revolution in the study and appreciation of the work of Charles Darwin".

The Darwin Online page announcing the papers' availability has this to say:

These online images are scans from copies of early black and white microfilms produced by the Cambridge University Library Imaging Service, mostly in the 1990s. For online publication now a slight colour tint has been added to many and the brightness and contrast have been digitally enhanced. Please note that many of the Darwin papers have been re-catalogued since microfilming in the 1990s. In some cases items have been re-ordered or moved to other volumes in the archive. In such cases the electronic images may not match the current arrangement of the papers in Cambridge University Library.

The immense value of this vast collection of material far exceeds the disadvantages of the occasional unreadable image and the lack of full colour. Several million pounds and years of production would be needed to produce colour digital images of the Darwin Archive. Hopefully this will eventually be achieved. In the meantime, most of the world's finest collection of Darwin's original manuscripts is now available for all to read, study and explore online and free of charge.

Read more here.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Religion, race and magic carpets

Now here's a fact. Racism and cracks about religion are one and the same. Didn't you know? If you criticise Islam, for instance, you're being racist. Right. Now we know. Perhaps we'd better be careful if we describe a prayer mat as a magic carpet, then. Oops! Shouldn't have said that. Smacked wrist.

Well, I wasn't the first. In fact I might not have made the connection had someone not made a fuss about it. It happened at Belmarsh top-security prison in London, when a prison officer referred to a Muslim's prayer mat as just that: a magic carpet. Oh, dear! Crime of the century. Hang him, flog him, behead him, stone him.

In a report from Anne Owers, the UK's Inspector of Prisons, we get this, as cited in The Times:

One inmate quoted in the report alleged: “I’ve had a racist joke made about my prayer mat – an officer called it a ‘magic carpet’ – even the other officers were not happy.”

Could someone please explain to me how that is racist? Does Steven Demetre Georgiou, a.k.a. the pop singer Cat Stevens (who likes to refer to himself as Yusuf Islam), not use a prayer mat? And he's British and white. Does the former Sunday Express journalist Yvonne Ridley not use a prayer mat? And she's British and white. Presumably, all Muslim converts use mag— er, prayer mats.

Before we leave the subject of whimiscal names for things – even things associated with religion – has anyone ever heard a Christian clergyperson complain about having his or her neck attire called a dog collar? No, didn't think so. They even use that term themselves.

Owers's report concerns fears that prison officers don't sufficiently understand the "complexities" of the prison's 198 Muslims. Er, what complexities, Ms Owers? They're there either because they've committed a crime society deems serious enough for a custodial sentence, part of it in Belmarsh, or because they are suspected of having committed one and are on remand awaiting trial. Why should any prisoner – Muslim, Christian or Jedi – have to have his "complexities" understood over and above those of all the other prisoners, just because he subscribes to a barmy doctrine?

Owers praises the work of two imams at the prison. Are they paid for by the taxpayer? Is their salary included in the £44,500 cost per year of keeping each prisoner (and, for that matter, is that of other religious busybodies who are allowed to visit inmates as an official duty)?

She's worried, though, that any perceived alienation of Muslims (by, presumably, having their prayer mats called magic carpets, or having their religious "complexities" not understood) will further radicalise them. "Any intervention [by prison officers] could also be interpreted by disaffected Muslims as an act of provocation," says the Times story quoted above.

The message seems to be that, if you're of a certain religious persuasion that is known to get uppity and have tantrums (often fatal ones), you should be treated with kid gloves. Should all prisoners not be treated equally (except in obvious cases of, say, illness)?

Whatever you think about the penal system in the UK – and many think it's appallingly bad while others think it's too lenient (which is altogether another argument) – it is simply a fact that we punish criminals by locking them up and depriving them of most of their liberties. Yet we allow them to congregate in chapels and other meeting places in the prison in the name of sky fairies, and believe they won't influence one another?
Hat tip Freethinker, with a terrific picture in this post.

FOOTNOTE: Is it any wonder that we risk radicalising Muslims when we see stories like this one from the The Times? Catch 'em young, eh?

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Take your partners – but only if . . .

So you're looking forward to the big event, the high school prom, and all ready to take your boyfriend or girlfriend along. But, unless you are, respectively, a girl or a boy, you can forget it at the Anglican Grammar School in Brisbane, Australia.

And the move has got the backing of the leader of the Anglican Church there, Phillip Aspinall. He's also the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane and president of the School Council.

A number of the sixth-formers wanted to take their same-sex partners along to the prom. But they've been told by the headmaster that the purpose of the event has, according to this Pink News story, "traditionally been to allow interaction between young men and young women and the current school policy therefore only permits boys to take a female partner".

And why would this intersex mingling be encouraged in a society that traditionally sees such social interaction between young men and young women as a prelude to perhaps more intimate relationships? Well, to create a prelude to perhaps more intimate relationships, one assumes. At least to provide the right opportunity for such relationships to begin to flourish in a social setting.

After all, merely having young men and women in each other's company just for the sake of balance or for the hell of it could be achieved by their just going along – alone or with partner or pal – and mixing in with the guys and girls who are there, whether they're with partners or not. Indeed, why insist on a partner at all? Why not just announce the ball and let things shake down?

We have to assume, then, that it is about a prelude to potential pair-bonding (and there's nothing wrong with that), and not just about having men and women in each other's company. It's about a couple of young people who like each other's company, or would like to get to know each other better because they like each other's look or mien, and so go out in a social situation to show off their togetherness.

Given that, why should same-sex couples be left out?

In fairness, the head honcho, John Hensman, thinks the school council ought to have a look at it, but hasn't changed his mind, and is urging students to make formal representations. So, meanwhile, gay young women and men will have to pretend to be potentially pair-bonding with a member of the opposite sex or not go at all (or perhaps go along and be a wallflower or a gooseberry, if solo attendance is allowed).

As for Aspinall, the man in the frock, he has this to say: "I have no personal objection to a school deciding to allow boys to take friends who are boys or girls to take friends who are girls to school formals."

And we know what you mean by friends, don't we, Archbishop? Not the sort of relationship we've been discussing here.

Queensland's state Premier Anna Bligh is speaking some sense on the issue, without actually coming out one way or the other on the prom issue: "Parents will inevitably have strong views, both ways," she says. "I'm aware that many teachers and many guidance officers and school support staff face the reality of talking to young people about their sexuality.

"We can't put our head in the sand on this. As young people develop from their early teenage years through to young adulthood the question of sexuality will emerge and it will arise."

God's president? Maybe not

God has mysterious ways of choosing his second-in-command here on Earth. The other one, that is. The American president.

In 2004 he (that is to say, He) sent in a hit squad and warned hopeful John Kerry that he wouldn't get communion if he voted in favour of abortion.

But perhaps this year (the year Pope Ratzinger visits this "one nation under God") things won't be so easy, because the three candidates are in agreement over certain key issues. But nothing is simple.

The Independent has a take on it in a wider article about homophobic Ratzo's jolly holiday Stateside. Under the subhead "Is the visit an attempt to influence the election?", it has this to say:

Probably not. The Catholic hierarchy got embroiled in the 2004 election, when a handful of conservative bishops threatened to withhold Communion from Senator John Kerry because of his pro-abortion stance. But this time candidates [Hillary] Clinton, [Barak] Obama [Democrats] and [John] McCain [Republican] all support embryonic stem-cell research and have voted in favour of same-sex partnerships.

It is possible that if the Pope focuses on abortion that will be seen as favouring the Republican side, and if he speaks for world peace and against capital punishment and punitive immigration policies, that may be seen as pro-Democrat. But neither will be his intention.

But will he keep his mouth shut over questions of gay equality? Well, we don't know yet, but at least we know where he will stand:

On Friday he will make a major speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. [. . .] And while he will have plenty in common with President Bush on abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research, he intends to make his feelings clear on the disastrous war in Iraq. Though he will attend a reception in the White House, he has made it clear that he will skip the state dinner in his honour as a protest over the Iraq war. It is not the kind of snub presidents of the United States are much used to.

God's chosen getting a bit petulant, eh?

Monday, 14 April 2008

Doing God – or not

This Social Attitudes survey is interesting. It's been out for a few days now, but one or two points of interest are worth teasing out. (Oh, it's a PDF, by the way, so you'll need Adobe Reader to read it. If you don't have it, go here to download it free.)

Only 54 per cent of the British population now claim to belong to a religion (as measured in 2006), which is down 3 per cent on 1996.

But where it gets more interesting is when you look at some of the stats, and ask a pertinent question or two. For instance, only 3.3 per cent claim to be Muslims, yet far more attention is paid to that section of the community than the 46 per cent who have no religion. Funny, that.

And have a look at Estonia. It has a much higher proportion of atheists than Latvia and Lithuania, and is the most gay-friendly of these three Baltic states.

Are these figures trying to tell us something?

It's also interesting that 55 per cent of people in Britain say they don't actually attend services or meetings in connection with their religion, apart from the usual hatch, match and dispatch. It just shows that it's one thing to show how religious a nation we are by saying that X per cent believe this or that fairy tale. It's quite another when we try to measure people's commitment.

There's lots of interesting reading.

Churches choosy over London hustings

Religious types can be a bit picky when it comes to whom they invite to their hustings prior to the London mayoral election.

According to the ever-helpful religious think tank Ekklesia, of the six minority candidates standing, only one has been invited to the hustings event, being organised by the churches in central London. And that single minority candidate is – you guessed it – a Christian, standing on a Christian ticket.

"The event, at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, Trafalgar Square, is being sponsored by the Evangelical Alliance and Premier Christian Radio," says the Ekklesia story.

Hundreds of London churches, across traditions and denominations, have been invited to attend. However, according to a press release issued by the Evangelical Alliance, of the ten candidates standing for London mayor, only the four main candidates, plus the one minority candidate standing on an explicitly Christian ticket, have been asked to answer questions.

Labour candidate Ken Livingstone, Conservative Boris Johnson, Liberal Democrat candidate Brian Paddick, and Sian Berry of the Green Party, whose parties all have seats on the London Assembly, will come to the event. But, according to the press release, of the other minority parties only Alan Craig from Christian Choice has been sent an invitation. Gerard Batten (UKIP) Lindsey German (Left List party) Matt O'Connor (English Democrats) Richard Barnbrook (BNP) and Winston McKenzie (Independent) have not been invited.

Nick Holtam, vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, is quoted as saying, “Christians are at the heart of every community in London. They can see first-hand, through the work they do in churches and on the streets, the impact of mayoral policy on everything from the environment to young people and the poor.

“So the candidates can expect some challenging and exciting questions on Wednesday as these citizens consider who to trust with our city.”

Christians are at the heart of every community? The Muslim community? The Sikh community? The Jewish community? Not to mention communities that don't have any truck with religion?

The event is on Wednesday of next week, 23 April, from 6 p.m., with the doors opening an hour earlier.

How the Pope kills Catholics

"I can't tell you how many gay Catholic kids I've buried who killed themselves because they didn't believe God loved them."

Thus spake the Rev. Mel White of a US organisation called Soulforce, whose New York chapter joined a demonstration on Saturday prior to Pope Ratzinger's Stateside visit this week. White says in this story* that, while many Catholics can separate what they believe from the Pope's teaching, "there are tens of millions who don't have that ability".

He said Benedict XVI (a.k.a. Joseph Ratzinger, former head of the Inquisition, which is now known, cosily, affectionately, fluffily, by the more cuddly sobriquet of "the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith") is "directly responsible for the consequences of his teaching on homosexuality that has led to suffering and death for his people".

Hard-hitting stuff. You can read much of the papal bull this evil bastard and his cronies have uttered about gay people in that story linked to above. Go on, get yourself into a lather. Then ask yourself just how gay Catholics can follow this church – a church that thinks they are intrinsically disordered and guilty of a moral evil.
* That link has been broken since posting, possibly due to site changes at; sorry about that – ed.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Ratzo Stateside

Pope Ratzinger will be forced to face some of those he is so beastly to, yea, even among his own followers, when he gets to the States this week for an all-expenses-paid jolly, courtesy of Catholics rich and poor throughout the world.

There are, of course, gay Catholics, believe it or not. Quite how they can believe all that the Catholic Church tells them to believe – which they must do to be true Catholics – while being gay and believing it's OK to be gay makes the mind boggle somewhat. But there you go. There's no accounting for some religionists.

Anyway, they're planning to "greet" him in Washington and New York, as can be seen in this story.

No good will come of it, of course – except to show a presence to those watching on TV or reading the newspapers, if the protests get much coverage. But Ratzo will not be moved. He'll continue to say he loves the sinner but hates the sin.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

17th World Humanist Congress

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has announced that the 17th World Humanist Congress will be held on 6–8 June 2008 in Washington, DC (USA). Anyone interested in attending can register here. The IHEU General Assembly 2008 will also be held in Washington, DC, in conjunction with the Congress, on Thursday, 5 June (9.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.), and Sunday, 8 June 2008 (2.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.). Forms to register for the General Assembly, make nominations to fill the two vice-president vacancies on the IHEU executive committee and propose resolutions for the GA and/or the Congress are available on the website.

What follows is a summary of IHEU's latest news update.

  • Freedom of expression: A vote on the freedom of expression marks the end of Universal Human Rights. For the past eleven years, the organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), representing the 57 Islamic states, have been tightening their grip on the throat of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
         On 28 March 2008, they finally killed it. In a follow-up to IHEU's written statement to the UN Human Rights Council describing Islamic efforts to undermine the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Roy Brown, IHEU's main representative at the UN in Geneva, prepared an oral statement (below) for Council debate on 13 March 2008 but was prevented from giving it in full because of repeated objections from two Islamic delegations. Reuters, Yahoo! and a number of other news channels have picked up the story.
         Meanwhile, a representative of Pakistan used “point of order” to claim, “It is insulting for our faith to discuss Shari’a here in this forum.” A video of the "ambush" of IHEU at last week's session of the United Nations Human Rights Council is now available.
         The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, has submitted an important report to the UN Human Rights Council (which has just been published) defending the freedom of expression. Most of the report is concerned with blatant violations of press freedom, including the arbitrary detention and murder of journalists; but he shares IHEU's concerns about inappropriate attempts to extend limitations on freedom of expression to give unfair "protection" to religions.
         The International League Against Racism and Antisemitism has launched a petition calling on democracies to defend the freedom of the individual at the UN, in the face of attacks on the universality of human rights. To sign the petition, send an email to
  • IHEU–HIVOS grants: IHEU, in partnership with HIVOS, has announced the recipients of its latest funding round. In June 2006, IHEU was awarded a three-year "block grant" of €225,000 from HIVOS for the purpose of funding projects in the developing world. The grant covers the years 2006, 2007 and 2008. IHEU then invited grant proposals through this website, International Humanist News and by word of mouth. The grants were decided on the basis of IHEU's published grant criteria.
  • China and Tibet: The Chinese delegation to the Human Rights Council succeeded in blocking all criticism of their actions in Tibet by invoking a series of 12 points of order during statements by the United States, Switzerland and Slovenia (for the European Union), while several states, including Zimbabwe, Cuba and Pakistan, raised points of order in favour of China. As the general debate degenerated, point of order followed point of order until the chairman, Ambassador Costea of Romania, called for a ten-minute adjournment to allow tempers to cool.
  • Conference: New dilemmas in medicine: three current controversies in genetics, religion and big pharma is a one-day conference organised by IHEU-Appignani Center for Bioethics and Bioethics International.
  • India: In a shocking affront to freedom of expression, Tarksheel Society of Punjab reports that the Punjab government in India has banned four rationalist books and threatened legal action against the authors and translators. The supposed grounds for the ban are that the books are “incorrect literature” about Hindu deities. Meanwhile, IHEU has welcomed a final report by the outgoing Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, Asma Jahangir, warning of the risk of religious violence in India, and has used a meeting with her to highlight human rights problems in the country. At a meeting in Mumbai on 11 March 2008, IHEU International Director Babu Gogineni made a presentation to Jahangir on separation of religion and state in India and the rights of Humanists.
  • BHA: The British Humanist Association (BHA) has launched a new website of resources to support learning about Humanism, including videos featuring celebrated children’s author Philip Pullman. At the heart of the new site are six “toolkits” of resources, each containing a slideshow of videos and other content, supported by teachers’ notes and student worksheets. In addition, downloadable PDFs contain revised versions of the BHA’s briefings on ethical and philosophical issues from a Humanist perspective, previously hosted on the BHA’s main website and much used by teachers and students. Videos integrated into the toolkits (but also available to download from the site for use in other contexts) include humanists talking about their beliefs and values.Arab Charter on Human Rights: The charter came into force on 30 January 2008. In response, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, stressed that the charter is incompatible with international standards for women’s, children’s and non-citizens’ rights, and that it continues to equate Zionism with racism.
  • The Libre Pensée Marches Ahead at Full Speed!: Freethinkers in France will remember fondly the Easter weekend of 2008 for many years. On the allegedly Good Friday of 21 March, about 50 banquets were organised by freethinkers. This is a tradition that goes back to a grand antireligious banquet organised in 1868 in Paris, at the behest of Sainte-Beuve, Ernest Renan, Prince Napoleon and other republicans of the time: it was to break a religious taboo, as on this day it was traditionally forbidden to eat “flesh meat”. Read more here.
  • Islamic Law v. Human Rights: IHEU has responded to claims that the “Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam” is “not an alternative” to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but “complementary” to it. In a written statement to the UN Human Rights Council, IHEU opposed any resolution that seeks to limit the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. We now have the official UN publication of the statement available for download.
  • Obstetric fistula: “The Impact of Obstetric Fistulas on Economic Empowerment” was the title of a topic dissected by a unique panel discussion held in New York City on 3 March 2008. The medical and socioeconomic impact of obstetric fistulas was considered under the auspices of the United Nations Commission of the Status of Women, with the co-sponsorship of the IHEU-Appignani Center for Bioethics.
  • International rights: IHEU vice-president Rob Buitenweg has published Human Rights, Human Plights in a Global Village.
  • In memoriam: Sib Narayan Ray died on 26 February 2008 in Santiniketan, India, at the age of 85. Ray served on the IHEU executive committee from 1952 to 1962.
  • Embryology Bill: Finally, IHEU has covered the press release issued by the PTT in March. “The gay Humanist charity the Pink Triangle Trust has added its voice to those of the hundreds of charities that are supporting the UK government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. It also endorses the eminent scientist and fertility expert Professor Lord (Robert) Winston’s description of the Catholic Church's statement on this as ‘lying’ and ‘misleading’.”

For more about IHEU, visit its website here.

Time for a spring clean, Archbishop

The Pink Triangle Trust has told the Archbishop of Canterbury that it's time for a "spring clean" of his church, to rid it of its homophobia. The Trust was responding to Dr Rowan Williams's condemnation of death threats against the director of a gay organisation, but the Trust says his words "ring hollow". Here is a news release just put out by the PTT:

The UK's only gay Humanist charity says it's time the Archbishop of Canterbury conducted a "spring clean" of his church, in spite of his condemnation this week of death threats against the director of a gay Anglican group.

The Rev. Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude, says recent threats against his life have been encouraged by the outspokenly homophobic language of some in the Anglican Church.

While Dr Williams has condemned the threats, his words "ring hollow", according to the 16-year-old charity the Pink Triangle Trust, which supports both gays and Humanists.

Dr Williams has called the death threat the "latest round of un-Christian bullying", and, according to the online gay news outlet Pink News, has also spoken out against violence directed at sexual minorities in countries such as Nigeria, whose primate, Archbishop Peter Akinola, has frequently condemned homosexuals.

However, just a year ago, the gay campaigning group OutRage! condemned Dr Williams's silence over ministers' support for antigay laws in Nigeria that make same-sex unions illegal and ban gay organisations.

At that time, Dr Williams would not comment on Mr Akinola's support for the law, and told a delegation at the World Council of Churches: "There is a difference between what might be said theologically about patterns of behaviour and what is said about human and civil rights."

He called it a "real challenge to give effect to the listening process in situations where gay people are actively persecuted", adding: "The question is whether their churches can find ways of acting on that recognition on the wrongness of persecution."

Now, Dr Williams has spoken out, but the Warwickshire-based Pink Triangle Trust says the archbishop's words ring hollow when huge swathes of his church, especially in Africa, are displaying the most virulent homophobia.

The Trust's secretary, George Broadhead, says that much of the violence towards the gay and lesbian community is as a result of criticism of gay sexuality and lifestyles, and most of that criticism comes from religion. He asked how Dr Williams's words could be taken seriously until he had publicly and roundly condemned Peter Akinola and other African bishops who denounce gays and gay lifestyles so savagely.

"It's time the archbishop set about a spring clean," he said. "While we broadly welcome his words, he still needs to put his house in order. As things stand, his words ring hollow.

"We recognise that most of the criticism of gay people has not come from the archbishop or from more liberal quarters of the Anglican Church, but more and more strident voices are being raised against gay people from the many homophobic elements in the church, and he and other leaders need to address this unequivocally and as a matter of urgency. Then his words might carry more conviction.

"We realise that Dr Williams cannot force churches within the Anglican Communion to do his bidding, but as its leader he is its most influential spokesman, and he should speak out unequivocally against all forms of homophobia, wherever that takes place."

Friday, 11 April 2008

What a sensible fellow – oh, hang on . . .

Just when a religious type seems to be talking sense, the illusion is shattered when you realise he's previously uttered utterly utter bollocks.

Dr Abdul Majid Katme of the Islamic Medical Association used the words "silly and stupid" to describe some Muslim medics' objections to attending lectures that addressed subjects their religion didn't want them to know about.

He told Radio 4 on the BBC, "Some Muslim medical students last year refused to attend lectures, and answer exam questions about alcohol-related or sexually transmitted diseases, because they claimed it offended their religious beliefs. One student also allegedly refused to examine women." All doctors had a duty to all patients, many of whom, he reasonably pointed out, were Muslim.

But then one of our blogging colleagues over at the Freethinker decided to look back a bit, and uncovered this from the Daily Mail. Mention the word gay, it seems, and all thoughts of being sensible are lost. The gist is that the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which came into force last April, force everyone to treat gays equally. But its objectors see this piece of legislation as promoting homosexuality (however that is done), and up there with the chief objectors is our old friend Islam – in this case in the guise of Dr Katme. These laws were "unjust", he said back in January 2007, when the Mail story appeared.

Dr Katme wrote a nasty, spiteful, vicious, hostile, venomous, malevolent, vituperative letter to several hundred supporters and forty imams, who were expected to publicise the issue during Friday prayers. This Hippocratic oaf urged Muslims to "join our Christian friends in their campaign against the new proposed law on sexual orientation", adding, "It is against our religious rights and against our human rights and against our conscience and religious beliefs to have this new unjust law forced on all of us British Muslims."

Against your human rights, Dr Katme? What on earth are you babbling about, man? It's your duty to treat people equally, and consign batty notions from your choice of superstition to the waste bin with the soiled dressings and used hypodermic needles. That goes for your profession as a healer working under UK secular laws and any other services you provide (also working under UK secular laws), whether you're Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jedi Knight or an adherent of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

IDAHO: cake, lollies and balls!

Events for the fourth International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) will be held in more than 50 countries on 17 May, the date in 1990 that the General Assembly of the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. Today, being homosexual is still a crime in 75 countries, and IDAHO exists to provoke action to end homophobia.

Derek Lennard, the IDAHO-UK coordinator, has just announced some of the planned events in Britain, including a whole raft in the southeast of England.

  • The Quake nightclub in Woking and Surrey Police are sponsoring an event that will include a Julie Jepson, David Meech and Rosie Wilby comedy hour and the Surrey heat of Mr Gay UK. The evening will start with speeches by representatives from the police, health service and the mayor-elect and end with a midnight performance by UK chart stars Friday Hill.
  • In Kent, the Crown Prosecution Service, council and police (including the Maidstone police training college and police support groups) will be joining forces with Stonewall's executive director Ben Summerskill to highlight homophobic hate reporting, and there will be an awards ceremony to recognise individual achievements from within the LGBT community.
  • The London Hotel, Southampton, Southampton City Council and the Hampshire and the Isle of Wight Police are sponsoring an evening of entertainment, with donations on the door going to local victim support.
  • In Dorset, staff from the Over the Rainbow LGBT centre will be working closely with local police to try to persuade the public "Homophobia Sucks" by giving out lollipops with this message in Bournemouth town centre.
  • The Intercom Trust have launched an IDAHO Picnic and Anti-Homophobia Cake Competition and will be arranging picnics in Exeter and elsewhere in the southwest to celebrate positive achievements in counteracting homophobia and reflecting on what still needs to be done at home and abroad.

Events in Scotland will include an IDAHO youth activism event and a playwright's theatre performance. Meanwhile, Glasgow Council have announced that they will be raising the rainbow flag for IDAHO day, and IDAHO hopes that many other councils will follow their example.

This year, IDAHO coincides with the UK football cup final, and so far two events have been arranged to highlight this.

  • Brighton Bandits' player Jason Hall has arranged an exhibition about Justin Fashanu's life and death. Hall explains, "It will provide an opportunity for people to question us about being gay, playing football and moving towards a situation where sportspeople can be open about their sexuality without the kind of fear that killed Justin Fashanu."
  • In Sheffield, a huge rally, hopefully joined by local soccer players and supporters, will urge that homophobia is kicked out of football. It will include speeches, a minute's noise against homophobia and a gay choir.
For more information, or to submit your own event for inclusion, visit the IDAHO-UK website. There's more information about the IDAHO movement on the international website here.

Blood and sand

The words can, worms, chickens and roost come to mind when one reads this story about how a probe into arms deals between the UK and Saudi Arabia was scuppered. Now that the High Court in England has condemned the halting of an inquiry into the whole shameful business, there'll be a lot of people pushing for the truth.

Two judges have said that the director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) capitulated to threats from the Saudi royal family over the deals with Europe's biggest defence company, BAE Systems.

One of them said no one is allowed to interfere with justice in this country. The Reuters story linked to above goes on:

"The law is powerless to resist the specific and, as it turns out, successful attempt by a foreign government to pervert the course of justice in the United Kingdom," [Lord Justice] Moses said.

Two anti-arms trade campaigners had said there was "very large scale bribery" of senior Saudi Arabian officials by the arms manufacturer over the state-to-state Al Yamamah deal and said the probe was halted after the threats.

"That threat was intended to prevent the [Serious Fraud Office] director from pursuing the course of investigation he had chosen to adopt. It achieved its purpose," Moses said.

The minutiae of this case will be picked over during the next few days, but it brings to mind another instance of Saudi meddling in Britain's affairs (cultural in this case). It happened in 1980, when a drama documentary called Death of a Princess was shown. It was a fictionalised account, but based on fact, it's believed, of how a Saudi princess was executed in public after daring to fall in love.

There's interesting reading here, here and here – the last being a typescript of a programme that went out in the States, incorporating that film. And you can read more on the BAE shenanigans here with a useful Q&A here (both on the BBC site).

The reason for Saudi interference back then was that the seventh-century "culture" they call Islam was being questioned. Muslims don't like that. Not a bit. As the Wikipedia entry linked to above has it, the film showed "facets of Islamic tradition, custom, society, gender and social roles, sexuality, politics, myth, and identity". This time it's more about money, because the Saudi royals, who are dripping in obscene amounts of dosh, seem not to want any scrutiny of Swiss bank accounts.

Can't think why.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Behind closed doors

So now we know (well, we probably knew, anyway) just where the British National Party stand on being gay. It's OK behind closed doors. They have nothing against it, you understand.

In an interview with the BBC in the lead-up to the London mayoral elections, the BNP's candidate, Richard Barnbrook, speaks of immigration, racism and sexuality. On immigration, he emphasises that the the party is not against immigrants themselves, but against the establishment. He says that "our own governing powers" fear they'll be called racist if they stand up to immigration. In today's climate, that may well be true.

And so to racism. "We're not racist at all," he maintains. "We do not perceive one person's religion, identity, culture or way of life as being better or worse than our own, we are simply different." (My emphasis.)

But now we move to sexuality, and find some inconsistency in Barnbrook's views, regurgitated in Pink News. If "way of life" is included in the above, why does he then say, "You can be gay behind closed doors, you can be heterosexual behind closed doors, but you don't bring it onto the streets, demanding more rights for it"?

By "it" one can only conclude that he means homosexuality only, and not heterosexuality, too, since one assumes he and male friends are to be seen coming "onto the streets" with their female companions, publicising mixed-sex marriages by having banns read in church, putting notices in papers, marrying in public. And Mr Barnbrook would not mind too much if I kissed a woman in the street, but would object if I kissed a man. (And I don't mean a lip-locking, face-sucking, squelchy spectacular here, since that could be seen as offensive irrespective of who's doing it. No, just a show of affection.)

So can we assume, then, that "it" refers to homosexuality, not heterosexuality? The Pink News story doesn't tell us.

Find out more about the BNP's attitude towards homosexuality at this page of its website (scroll down to Question ii). It may not be as bad as many believe, but it's pretty shocking stuff. There's a huge gay vote in London. I can't see that Mr Barnbrook will get many pink crosses, somehow.

(Candidates contesting the Mayor of London election are: Ken Livingstone (Labour), Boris Johnson (Conservative), Brian Paddick (Lib Dem), Sian Berry (Green), Alan Craig (Christian People's Alliance), Matt O'Connor (English Democrats), Richard Barnbrook (BNP), Lindsey German (Left List), Gerard Batten (UKIP), Winston McKenzie (Independent).)