Search This Blog

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Richard steps down

The estimable, hardworking Rev. Richard Kirker, the much-respected chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM), says his farewells today. He's officially stepping down from his post, and marked the occasion with an interview on Radio 4's Sunday programme this morning.

It's not a reflection on Kirker's work, I'm sure, that there's still a lot of homophobia in the Church. But it comes as no surprise to those who keep an eye on such things.

Kirker has fought for acceptance of gays in the church for thirty years, and his input and influence will be missed by Christians and nonbelievers alike, since he has admirers on both sides of that divide.

According to an article by Martin Revis published in May by the Ekklesia religious think tank, Kirker "believes that if the worldwide Anglican communion separates over homosexuality, the onus of responsibility will fall upon 'those who walked away' ".

"If we are in any way held responsible for a schism," says Kirker, "then so be it. But I think the onus should be on those who choose to walk apart. We have never asked those who disagree with us to leave the church."

Kirker, who is officially to hand over the role of the movement's chief executive to the Rev. Sharon Ferguson today, said, "If there is some sort of schism or temporary separation, then it will be a healthy reflection of reality, and the truthfulness of what we have been saying will emerge without any reasonable doubt. It would only show up in stark relief the reality of what we have been saying all along, that the church is a place of much homophobia."

In a recent New Statesman interview, cited in Ekklesia's article, Kirker said, "Life for gay priests is immeasurably worse than when I started doing this job, because of the obsessive scrutiny of those who hate us. Many people have given up the fight and left the priesthood [. . .] It is now official policy to ensure that gay people who don't give a commitment to celibacy are not selected for ordination."

I've just been chatting to George Broadhead, who, as well as being a co-blogger here on Pink Triangle, is a vice-president of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association and secretary of the Pink Triangle Trust.

"I admire Richard for his trenchant criticism of his Church's ongoing homophobia," he told me, "and his sterling leadership of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, but when interviewed on Radio 4's Sunday this morning he had to acknowledge that most gay Anglican clergy remained as closeted as when LGCM was founded. This is not a sign of great progress."

With the Lambeth Conference not long behind us, one's reminded of the previous one, ten years ago, when one of the nutty African bishops tried to exorcise evil spirits from a campaigning Kirker, believing that, as a gay man, they were residing in him.

Laughable? Yes, until you stop and ponder how these fruitcakes wield a lot of influence, over governments, people, other organisations. That makes them very dangerous.

But back to LGCM. Ferguson is not exactly new to the post she takes on today, in that she's been working alongside Kirker for the past year or so. She's taking on a tough job, and we all wish her well.

In good faith

Good to see people of faith also acknowledging the unfairness of selection of staff on the basis of superstition (well, they wouldn't call it that).

Of course, there have been denials aplenty that so-called "faith" schools (religious sectarian schools, as I prefer to call them) select pupils this way, and claims aplenty that a percentage of them are not selected on religious affiliation.

Secularists have preferred to think otherwise, and the National Secular Society over the years has had a knock at selection in this manner.

Now, a forum of both secularists and religious folk says the British government should step in and stop religious schools from selecting both staff and pupils on the basis of their religion.

The BBC tells us:

Accord, a new coalition of secular and religious figures, wants the government to stop state-funded schools engaging in what they say is "discrimination".

It argues that all children should have equal access to good local schools and that segregating them on religious grounds harms community cohesion.

The government argues faith schools can help boost standards in deprived areas.

There are about 6,850 faith schools in England out of a total of 21,000 schools. The vast majority of these are Roman Catholic or Church of England.

But they also include about 40 Jewish schools and a handful of Muslim, Sikh and Greek Orthodox schools.

The Accord coalition, we are told, is made up of religious leaders, humanists and teachers, says the Beeb, who have come together to call not for an end to, but for a change to, "faith" schools.

But why stop there? OK, you're more likely to get the religious folk on board if you don't go for the kill, but isn't it about time we stopped giving official sanction to cramming into our children's heads ideas about invisible people (except in an educational way, of course, within, say, history and social science lessons)?

Isn't religion something between the kids and their families? Shouldn't education be about – well, about education?

And doesn't keeping kids in separate establishments during a large part of their formative years not build into them a sense of apartness rather than togetherness and community and love?

Thank God some kids grow out of it! (Irony noted!)

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Did you see . . .?

If you were watching coverage of the Beijing Olympics, did you see . . .?

As already reported by us here, what you definately did not see on NBC was that when Australian Olympic-diving champion Matthew Mitcham (above) won his gold medal, no mention was made of his being gay, nor were shots shown of his kissing and hugging his long-time partner Lachlan Fletcher.

Of course, as also reported by us here, NBC have since apologised, though a little belatedly, but if you were unlucky enough to be watching their coverage and haven't seen the footage, well, thanks to, now you can! have made available online an 8-minute video, which shows Mitcham’s final dive, the celebration afterwards where he hugs practically every other diver, the medal-awards ceremony and him jumping into the stands to give his flowers and a kiss to his partner, Lachlan Fletcher.

Note: Mitcham races into the stands at around 6:20.

Matthew Mitcham Olympic Gold Tribute Video

Posted using ShareThis

You can read all our coverage of Matthew Mitcham here.

Now say you're sorry!

In an age when religion seems to have all the privileges to itself, it's refreshing to see a church forced to apologise for mistreating someone over his sexuality.

This one comes from South Africa, where a Pretoria High Court judge has ordered the NG Kerk Moreletapark to apologise unconditionally to a music teacher it fired because he is in a gay relationship.

The country's IOL news website tells us:

Pretoria High Court judge has ordered the NG Kerk Moreletapark to unconditionally apologise to a music teacher it fired because he is in a gay relationship.

Judge Dion Basson found that the congregation had unfairly discriminated against Johan Strydom when they fired him from their arts academy in 2005.

He said the constitutionally-protected right to equality outweighed the church's right to religious freedom.

The judge ordered the church to pay Strydom almost R87 000 for the impairment of his dignity, emotional and psychological suffering and loss of earnings.

Hat tip: Barry Duke at the Freethinker

Why the silence?

Felt I had to share this letter with you. It appears in today's Scotsman, and it's from Anne Marie Keenan of Roshven in that fair land, appearing under the headline End the silence over Islam. Here it is:

Am I alone in my disquiet about our government's courtship of the Scottish Islamic Foundation?

In the 1970s, young women like me embraced multiculturalism; we were engaging with our oppressed sisters everywhere around the world. Or so it seemed at the time.

Where are we now? And why are we so effectively silenced?

Why do we have nothing to say about a sharia credit card? Have we really forgotten what sharia law means for women? While English clerics debate the pros and cons of introducing an element of sharia law into their legal system, where are our voices in this debate? Do we seriously think it won't happen in Scotland? Look at their website. It's happening already.

What do we think about the headline "Muslim sprinter wins Olympic sprint dressed head to toe in hijab" (from the Scottish Islamic Foundation website)? Or of Al Jazeera talking to Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy first minister, about a "Scottish division" of their TV station. Why on earth would they want a Scottish division? I need to know.

I am not opposed, in principle, to any of these, but I am opposed to the suffocating, politically correct silence that now surrounds any criticism of organisations such as the Scottish Islamic Foundation.

We need to bring this debate into the open. I don't fear the debate; I fear the silence.

Friday, 29 August 2008

NBC – now they have!

Yesterday, we reported NBC’s failure to apologise for the homophobia they displayed by their feeble coverage of Matthew Mitcham’s triumph at the Beijing Olympics.

Matthew Mitcham wave

Today, on a happier note, we can report that NBC have done just that – apologised.

Earlier this week, the gay entertainment blog led the protests about NBC’s coverage, only for the US television network to issue their lame excuses. pointed out exactly how much time NBC did devote to many other athletes’ personal stories during its coverage of the Games:

Michael Phelp[s]’s record setting eight Olympic gold medals and his relationship with his mother, Usain Bolt’s gold medals and world records, and even Sanya Richard’s relationship with her fiancée who plays for the New York Giants.

Was Mitcham’s win simply not that noteworthy? Given that he single-handedly kept the Chinese from winning every men’s diving gold medal, that explanation is highly unlikely.

At the time, Greg Hughes, a spokesperson for NBC Sports, responded pathetically:

We don’t show everyone. We don’t show every ceremony. It’s not possible to cover the entire personal story of every athlete regarding their performance. It’s just not possible to single out coverage.

However, according to a story in Pink News, Gary Zenkel, NBC’s head of Olympics, has told that they were at fault:

We regret that we missed the opportunity to tell Matthew Mitcham's story. We apologise for this unintentional omission.

The story is being widely reported in the Australian media, and you can read all our coverage of Matthew Mitcham here.

Beware, Brisbane!

“Burn Your Plastic Jesus.”

So proclaims the 300 men for Jesus website.

I came across 300 men for Jesus while writing Pink Triangle’s 300th blog entry earlier this week and, at first, I thought I’d stumbled across one of those spoof-religious websites, or one of those sites, such as The Onion, with its many spoof-religious news stories, or The Spoof (see its recent “Religious Group Launches Salvation Shuttle into Space to Protest Howard Stern Satellite”). But, no, 300 men for Jesus and its “Burn Your Plastic Jesus” is for real.

According to their website, Thursday, 28 August 2008 was the day that, the 300 sheep … sorry, men for Jesus would be hosting their men-only event to challenge all the men of Brisbane to join them in “getting serious about following Jesus”:

Acknowledging our own past failures, we, the undersigned 300 men, challenge the men of our city to join us in getting serious about following Jesus. We confess we have often worshipped a convenient Jesus who has allowed us to continue unchallenged in our comfortable lives. We have made an idol for ourselves - a small, easy Jesus.

Because we want to repent of this, we have invited Mark Driscoll to unsettle our complacency and expand our view of the real Jesus. We will renew our efforts to grow as authentic Christian men who are faithful to our families, who fight hard against sexual temptation, who are honest and reliable in all our dealings, who seek to serve rather than be served, who are committed to our churches, who strive to be bold yet humble and who bring honour to our Lord Jesus. "Burn your plastic Jesus" and join us in this journey.

What’s with the 300? you might ask. Well, usefully, the 300 men for Jesus tell us:

In Judges 7, the Lord takes a tiny number of men and accomplishes an amazing thing. 300 men in fact. It’s a small start, but as with Gideon, we are 300 men who want to make a big difference. And we want you to join us. We are 300 men who are committing to live radically different lives, because we have been radically changed through Christ. We’re looking for at least 500 more men to join us to hear Mark Driscoll on August 28th. Will you be there?

Who’s Mark Driscoll? you might ask. Well, he’s the co-founder and pastor of Mars Hill Church, in the US. He’s also founder of The Resurgence. Along the way, he’s caused a certain amount of controversy, including views he expressed following revelations that Pastor Ted Haggard used the services of a gay prostitute. Driscoll posted on his blog that many pastors fall into sexual sin because their wives let themselves go. In the post, he wrote:

Most pastors I know do not have satisfying, free, sexual conversations and liberties with their wives. At the risk of being even more widely despised than I currently am, I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this. It is not uncommon to meet pastors' wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the [book of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament] Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.”

Following widespread protests, he later posted an “apology” and explanation:

There is a strong drift toward the hard theological left. Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up. I fear some are becoming more cultural than Christian, and without a big Jesus who has authority and hates sin as revealed in the Bible, we will have less and less Christians, and more and more confused, spiritually self-righteous blogger critics of Christianity.


His blog has a lot to say about homosexuality and manliness, as you’ll see here. For starters, there’s one entry detailing Driscoll’s interview with some tosser called J. I. Packer – J.I. Packer on Homosexuality – a couple of entries about Jesus in a pink dress – Part 1 and Part 2 – and Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the Contemporary Collapse of Sexual Morals, where you can read such delights as:

In just one generation of social engineering, financed by billions of tax dollars, we have produced feminized men, masculinized women, genderless English, and the myth of androgyny, all done in the name of progress and the noble, non-religious, pursuit of “civil rights.”

If you live in Brisbane, beware! If you're a man living in Brisbane, be doubly aware! If you're a gay man living in Brisbane, perhaps now is a good time to move to Sydney!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Johnson & Johnson 1, NBC 0

In our Gay Pride! blog entry on Monday, we praised Johnson & Johnson for awarding Matthew Mitcham a grant through its Athlete Family Support Program so that his partner, Lachlan Fletcher, could be in China to support him while he took part in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

In their coverage of the 10m diving event, the US television network NBC has been taken to task for not once mentioning that Mitcham was openly gay or that his partner was there to support him. Furthermore, during the awards ceremony, when the pair shared a kiss in front of millions of television viewers, NBC did not show it. raised the issue with Greg Hughes, a spokesperson for NBC Sports, which has subsequently been picked up by

When asked why at no point during the coverage did NBC mention Mitcham was gay or that his partner was in the stands, Hughes [told AfterElton], “In virtually every case, we don’t discuss an athlete’s sexual orientation.”

When it was pointed out that in fact the network does exactly that by telling viewers about Olympic athletes’ various spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, and even in one case a heterosexual “love triangle” Hughes responded, “Not in every case. Not every athlete has a personal discussion. I could show you 500 athletes we didn’t show. We don’t show everyone. We don’t show every ceremony.” …

“It’s not possible to cover the entire personal story of every athlete regarding their performance. … It’s just not possible to single out coverage.”

NBC’s lame excuses are pathetic and don’t stand up to even the closest scrutiny (see here, where takes apart each of them). Hughes’s claim that “[n]ot every athlete has a personal discussion” is true of course, but earlier NBC had seen fit to make reference to “personal issues” – Mitcham’s suffering from depression, which had led to his earlier retirement from diving – but had failed even then to add that Fletcher had supported him throughout that period in his life, helping him back into the sport and on to these Olympic Games!

There’s no doubt that Mitcham’s story is unique: the only openly gay man taking part in the 2008 Olympics, the only openly gay male Olympic champion, Mitcham is also the first man to go to any Olympics having come out as a gay man prior to the event!

Given all this, NBC’s last claim, that it’s “not possible to cover the entire personal story of every athlete regarding their performance”, is particularly laughable, especially considering that they did choose to cover plenty of smaller stories – such as a volleyball player who lost her wedding ring, a love triangle involving French and Italian swimmers, countless shots of wives, husbands, girlfriends and boyfriends cheering their straight partners and, wait for it … plenty of shots of weeping, smiling, joyous athletes greeting and kissing their loved ones after receiving their medals!

The piece concludes by saying that they’re “not yet ready to accuse NBC of homophobia”, but NBC has been homophobic. Not just because of its actions on the day but because, unlike Mitcham who had the courage to be out and proud, NBC haven’t had the courage to admit they were wrong.

You can read all our coverage of Matthew Mitcham here.

The cost of religion (whether we want it or not)

How much money do you think would be saved for the public purse if religion were to disappear from the face of the planet? Quite a bit, probably.

Not only do we have government servants and bits of government departments devoted to our nation's relationship with the superstitious by its insistence on having an "established" church, and not only are religious organisations able to dodge taxes by qualifying for charitable status, just for being religious organisations, but public bodies feel they have to have special training lest they tread on the toes of the deluded.

The latest nonsense culminates in a forum in Leicester today, which the This Is Derbyshire website tells us is being organised by East Midlands Ambulance Service "to address the issues surrounding religious beliefs and medical care".

Last time I looked, we were all pretty much the same. In most cases, two of everything down the outside and one of everything down the middle. The story continues:

Members of different faiths have been invited to the first NHS Religion and Belief Summit to take part in a debate and watch life-saving demonstrations.

A spokesman for the service said faith could influence the emergency care that patients receive.

He said: "For example, male paramedics treating female patients may cause anxiety for some, or paramedics entering places of worship with their shoes on may cause offence."

"Just keep choking in that smoke-filled room, mate. Be with you as soon as I can get out of these shoes. God! These Gucci high-heeled wellies are a bugger to get off [puff! pant!], especially when I've got these thick socks on. Be with you in a mo. Don't die yet. Are these socks OK? I mean, they won't offend, will they? They're a bit sweaty."

I'm reminded of an earlier story we carried about how police dogs may have to wear little bootees before entering a place where Muslims might be offended – because dogs are considered haram by Muslims – no matter what the emergency, presumably. Woe betide the poor cop who uses common sense and puts life or prevention of crime before religion and decides there's no time to fit Fido's fancy footwear. He'll be hauled up before a committee of this or that and made to answer for "offending Muslims". Perhaps he'll think losing the trail is the better option in today's PC age.

"Control, this is Papa Charlie Nine. Suspect seen dashing into a mosque. Will pursue as soon as dog's bootees are in position. Over."

"Control to Papa Charlie Nine. If it's a mosque, you'll need bootees on the dog but no footware on you. Are your socks clean? Over."

"Roger that, control. Oh, bugger! He's disappeared into that synagogue over the road now. Where did I put the yarmulkes?"

"Control to Papa Charlie Nine. You can't put a yarmulke on the dog. That would be silly. Over."

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

A jewel of common sense

Oh, goody! A Danish publisher (appropriate that it should be Danish, considering the Motoons affair) wants to publish Sherry Jones’s novel about Mohammed’s infant bride Aisha, which Random House gutlessly pulled in fear of Islamic whingeing or whining or marching or demanding or shouting or violence (select and permutate as you will).

The Jewel of Medina was reportedly bought by Random House for an advance of $100,000, but academics and security experts warned against publication. So self-censorship became evident once again.

About a week ago, the Serbian publisher BeoBook withdrew a thousand copies from shops across Serbia, after protests from an Islamic pressure group. BeoBook also (again gutlessly) apologised for publishing the novel.

A small Danish publisher, Trykkefrihedsselskabets Library (which means Free Speech Library), is now in negotiation with Sherry Jones’s agent over publication of the meticulously researched novel in Denmark.

“Co-owner Helle Merete Brix said that the fact that Random House was prepared to pay $100,000 for the book showed its quality, and that she was determined not to ‘bow to any censorship’,” the Guardian (linked to above) tells us.

Good for Trykkefrihedsselskabets Library. A blow against censorship and for free speech. I hope it's a bestseller.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Posting by numbers (or, 300 in 300)

300 words about the 2007 Hollywood film 300, which was based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300. His inspiration came from viewing the 1962 film The 300 Spartans: “[it] changed the course of my creative life”.

480bc: King Leonidas leads a force of 300 muscle-bound men to fight the Persians at Thermopylae.

There’s a feast of near-naked buffed-up men to see, but opinion is split over whether the film is pro- or anti-gay.

Table of Malcontents cites “10 Reasons Why ‘300’ is gay”, including close-up scenes of men stroking their weapons, and the only straight character being a deformed, insane creature who betrays the Spartans just to have sex with some female slaves!

An OUTzone reviewer (300: Gay or Homophobic) was offended by it:

It looks homoerotic, but it’s actually kinda homophobic. The movie makes careful distinctions about which Greeks are gay (the Athenians, not the Spartans, at least not in this flick). The head villain, Xerxes, looks like a drag queen missing a wig. And here’s the part my boyfriend and I walked out laughing about. Every time the hairless chiseled muscle-bound dudes start to wrestle, there's usually a sex scene with lots of boobies right after. Let’s be clear – it’s a movie marketed to male college freshman [sic]. And, it turns out – straight male college freshman [sic]. Which is fine. It’s just the overt exclusion that gets us.

And the Guardian’s Michael White says: “300 is a dangerous piece of fantasy”.

There’s a lot of chatter about this film on the Internet, as a quick Google search will prove, but, whatever your views, is 300’s number up? Is 12 the new 300? One blog, 300 blogs about Frank Miller’s ‘300’, seems to suggest it could be. It ran out of things to say after a mere dozen entries!

Dem bones, dem bones, dem gay bones

Catholics are kinky about moving bits of people's bodies about. They're always digging up bones and moving them from one place to another. The latest bit of body snatching comes with their wish to dig up Cardinal Newman's bones – but this is one bone-rattling expedition that's got gays twitching.

You see, Cardinal Newman is widely thought to have been gay, although whether he expressed his sexuality physically or allowed himself to remain celibate according to his vows may never be known.

Be that as it may, he wanted to be laid to rest alongside the companion he loved, even going so far as saying that his grief on losing that companion – Father Ambrose St John, with whom he lived for most of their adult lives – far outweighed any grief a man might feel at the loss of a wife, or vice versa.

The Church reckons it wants to dig up the cardinal's bones in preparation for beatification. The human- and gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell thinks otherwise: he thinks it's a homophobic act, designed to part the two men who devoted themselves lovingly to each other in their lifetimes.

Tatchell makes his views known in the Independent.

"The Vatican's decision to move Cardinal Newman's body from its resting place is an act of grave robbery and religious desecration," Tatchell tells the paper. "It violates Newman's repeated wish to be buried for eternity with his life-long partner Ambrose St John.

"They have been together for more than 100 years and the Vatican wants to disturb that peace to cover up the fact that Cardinal Newman loved a man. It's shameful, dishonourable betrayal of Newman by the gay-hating Catholic Church."

Not surprising, though, is it, if it's true? What are the Catholic hierarchy for if not to spread hatred and fear? The real tragedy is not that there are people like that (there will always be evil among us), but that influential people allow themselves, in turn, to be influenced by them.

God-soaked Democrats

We've already seen how the man who could well be the next leader of the so-called free world is keen to flaunt his religious credentials. It comes as little surprise that the entire Democratic National Convention this week will be soaked in the God stuff, too.

According to the website of National Public Radio (NPR), "politics and religion will be mingling" at this week's Denver convention to choose Barak Obama as the Democrats' official choice to run for the presidency in November.

Spurred by a presidential candidate who freely talks about his religious beliefs, Democrats will go to great lengths to display their own religious fervor. Obama's selection of Joe Biden as his running mate probably enhances the theme. Biden made a point of talking about his Irish-Catholic roots in Saturday's joint appearance with Obama.

As a comment on our previous story says, let's hope this is all a bit of show and election propaganda on his part, and he won't let his superstitions affect his policy decisions.

But when your entire party is going "to great lengths" to parade its delusions, what hope has the "free world"?

For the first time, Democrats have planned so-called "faith caucus meetings", which are being led by an array of religious and spiritual leaders, including Christians, Muslims and Jews.

The NPR story continues:

Each evening of the convention will be punctuated by an invocation and a benediction by religious leaders, including a rabbi from Washington, D.C., a Catholic nun from Ohio and a Greek Orthodox archbishop from New York. There will be other faith-based panels, too, geared toward spiritual discussion. One is titled "Faith in 2009: How an Obama Administration will Engage People of Faith".

They've just got to be everywhere, haven't they?

Monday, 25 August 2008

Gay pride!

So many stories concerning the treatment of gay people are negative. Day after day, we hear about homophobia directed towards us from individuals, religious organisations, governments or companies. Therefore, it’s great to be able to report something really positive.

Australia’s Matthew Mitcham, the only openly gay male athlete competing in this year’s Olympic Games in Beijing, is also now the only openly gay male 2008 Olympic Champion.

Mitcham came out publicly in an interview he gave just weeks ago to the Sydney Morning Herald. At the time, the Australian newspaper described his decision, of being the first Australian to go to the Olympics declaring his homosexuality, as “a historic and courageous step”.

Mitcham’s journey has not been an easy one. He’s already battled depression, retired while still a teenager after becoming physically and emotionally burnt out, then, nine months later, resumed his sport to build himself into the champion he now undoubtedly is.

Lachlan Fletcher, his partner, has been at his side for the entire tumultuous journey, and was there to see the 20-year-old Mitcham (pictured) win a gold medal for the 10m platform diving event. Fletcher received a grant through the Johnson & Johnson Athlete Family Support Program so that he could be in Beijing. Mitcham said that they couldn’t afford to pay themselves, so he’d nominated Lachlan as the support person he wanted to go with him. Afterwards, the pair shared a kiss in front of millions of television viewers during the awards ceremony.

Australia’s Golden Boy has done himself proud!

You can read all our coverage of Matthew Mitcham here.

Difficult to define?

If you take cooking seriously you might raise an eyebrow on reading an article about cooking vegetables that mentioned types of tomato and apples, peaches and gooseberries but failed to mention beans, peas and potatoes.

But this is what Mark Vernon did in his "Face to Faith" article in the Guardian on August 23 supposedly about Humanism and describing it as being more part of the liberal tradition than "mere" atheism.

He failed to mention by name anyone from the main Humanist ethical tradition and instead mentioned only people from religious traditions. An article about vegetables mentioned only fruit.

He said Humanism is hard to define, but it is no more so than Christianity.

This silly article would hardly be worthy of note were it not by a man described as being the author of Teach Yourself Humanism (Hodder Education) published this month.

We can’t say we haven’t been warned to beware.

For more about Humanism, visit the Humanists website.

Naked truth

Harvey Fierstein, at the opening night of Hair at Shakespeare in the Park, an outdoor production staged in New York City's Central Park, was asked if he would go nude onstage. Fierstein, the atheist and humanities humanist who in 2003 starred as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray and as Tevye in the 2005 revival of Fiddler on the Roof, responded to the magazine New York (25 Aug 08):

Oh, honey. In 1972, I was in Satyricon at La Mama, and we were all naked. I held a jewel in my anus. We had a big orgy scene where we wore glow-in-the dark penises and vaginas. We held them up in the air while we actually had sex onstage. I don't know how you can get more naked than that.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Respect, but not as we know it

This week, in the US, at the Democratic National Convention, Senator Barack Obama will be adopted as the official Democratic Presidential candidate.

It’s no secret that Obama is religious – in his own words, he’s “a Christian [with] a deep faith. I'm rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.”

And today saw the first-ever interfaith gathering held at the Convention. A gathering that has specifically excluded those thousands of Democrats who are of no faith, despite the Democratic Party’s much heralded need for inclusiveness and bridge-building after this summer’s long-drawn-out battle between Obama and Hillary Clinton to become the party nominee.

Ron Millar of the Secular Coalition for America wrote to Leah Daughtry, CEO of the Democratic National Committee and organiser of the interfaith event, to ask where “people of no faith” should go while other Democrats are being unified.

Apparently, Daughtry didn’t have the Christian courtesy to reply to Millar. She did, however, speak to the Associated Press: “Atheists speaking at an interfaith service … does that work? I don't quite know. But they’re part of the party, you treat them with respect.”

First, how did she think she was treating “people of no faith” with respect by lumping them all together as atheists?

How did she think she was treating “people of no faith” with respect by not inviting even one secularist to speak at the “unity” event?

And, finally, how did she think she was treating “people of no faith” with respect by claiming that “Democrats have been, are and will continue to be people of faith – and this interfaith gathering is proof of that”?

God knows!

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Undercover Mosque: the Return

This should be a nice one in the eye for the PC PCs at West Midlands Police, who tried to sue Channel 4 recently for its "Undercover Mosque" episode in its Dispatches series. Channel 4 beat off the force's attempts to sue it, and brought a libel case and a grovelling apology. (We carried several posts mentioning this programme; you can get to them here, which will take you to all posts that mention it, including this one and any future ones.)

The Guardian tells us:

It has now emerged that the same Hardcash production team have revisited the subject to "see whether extremist beliefs continue to be promoted in certain key British Muslim institutions".

In the new documentary, a female reporter attends prayer meetings at an important British mosque which claims to be dedicated to moderation and "dialogue with other faiths".

According to Channel 4, "she secretly films sermons given to the women-only congregation in which female preachers recite extremist and intolerant beliefs".

In one scene, as hundreds of women and some children come to pray, a preacher calls for adulterers, homosexuals, women who act like men and Muslim converts to other faiths to be killed, saying: "Kill him, kill him. You have to kill him, you understand. This is Islam."

Not much changes in the wacky world of extreme religion, does it? You can catch the programme at 8 p.m. on 1 September. A definite date for the diary.

Friday, 22 August 2008

An atheist prime minister?

Sounds attractive, doesn't it, to us nonbelievers, agnostics, secularists and whatnot? An atheist prime minister. A breath of fresh air after that religious nutcase Blair.

And it could just happen. David Miliband could just, one day, occupy Number Ten, and he's an avowed atheist. A C Grayling, the atheist philosopher and columnist, believes there are advantages to our having an atheist in the top job.

You might say, "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?" Maybe so. But he gives some good reasons why a nonbeliever at Number Ten would be better for the country. Have a look.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Catholic priorities

You're a religious organisation and like to help people less fortunate, and know there are many deserving causes in the world. You also have a kinky thing about what people do with their private parts. You have a million dollars to spend. How do you spend the money?

Well, you try to thwart the latter group, that's what.

According to KVEW TV, a Roman Catholic men's group has donated that million bucks to try to influence the November vote in California on changing the constitution to prevent same-sex marriage. Marriage between two males and two females is currently legal, but a vote on the constitution could put the kibosh on it.

"That [donation] makes the Knights of Columbus the biggest financial backer of proposition eight, which would negate the California Supreme Court decision requiring recognition of same-sex marriages," says the story.

This donation comes on top of $250,000 that this "Catholic fraternal organization" of bigots and loonies gave in January to help qualify the measure for the November election.

Robert Villalobos, head of the California chapter of this fraternity of fools, says the Knights of Columbus believe God created men and women to unite in marriage for the procreation of children.

And God also created cretins, it seems, who would rather spend their money on thwarting acts of love than on preventing horrors among those less fortunate. Well, that's Christianity for you. Their version of it, anyway.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Aisha: Muslims ensure more publicity for what they wish to hide

Sherry Jones's Aisha novel, The Jewel of Medina, has been withdrawn from bookshops in Serbia, lest it upset the religious sensitivities of religiously oversensitive Muslims. Indeed, there have been complaints from a "leader" there.

The meticulously researched book concerns the life of the girl whom that beardy guy Mohammed married when she was six and screwed when she was nine, according to the stories. But, from all accounts, it's not knocking copy, but tries to bring to life this central figure in the history of Islam.

Not good enough for Muslims, though, it seems. Random House consulted security experts and what Islam calls scholars (they can recite the Koran, and even do it backwards – oh, but that might be deemed Satanic), and pulled and pulped the book, trembling before possible reprisals, demonstrating that we have now reached the stage where Islam need not even shake its fist, point its finger or even say tut-tut, let alone wield its sword, before we in the West tug our forelocks, say sorry and shuffle off into the gloom of fear and self-censorship. (This act, incidentally, also led the barrister who represented Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie to call for compensation for Sherry Jones.)

However, the book got its world debut, published by Beobuk, in Serbia a few weeks ago. But it's been deemed offensive. Now there's a surprise!

This Muslim "leader" chappie in Serbia, Muarem Zukorlic, says the book is offensive, and he's demanded all of the published copies be handed in. It is considered by all Muslims as untouchable, apparently – haram. Which, as pointed out by MediaWatchWatch, where I nicked this story from, "doesn’t mean everyone else has to keep schtum".


Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Shaking hands with the devil

Oh, hello. I won't shake hands: you might catch something. Oh, yes, being gay makes you likely to pass on death-dealing diseases with a handshake. You're contagious. Or should that be infectious? No matter, but you have to be so careful, you see, because there's this magazine that says you can catch things. Just by shaking hands with gay people. No kidding.

The proof is here, in the Local, a German online magazine that quotes a German Arabic-language magazine called al-Salam. Well, you might have known religious nutters would be behind it all. If it's not Muslims it's Catholics or evangelicals.

But this magazine is passed around cafés and restaurants in and around the German capital and presents us with the ungrammatical headline, "A flesh-eating bacteria and sexual abnormality". A bacteria? Oh, well, it probably lost something in translation.

It says that gay men are hit by deadly diseases and that Muslim "brothers" should not shake their hands as "one never knows what kind of bacteria and germs are found on them".

So nice of them to point this out.

The Local tells us:

The Lesbian and Gay Association of Berlin-Brandenburg (LSVD) reported the article to the police this week, spokesman Alexander Zinn told the Local.

"We have reported it as a crime to the police and it is now being examined to determine whether it should be dealt with as defamation or incitement," he said.

The LSVD has long reported homophobia from Germany's Muslim, largely Turkish community, yet Zinn said protesting against it, or trying to bring the subject into the public arena, is fraught with difficulty.

He points out (but we all know this already) that criticising attitudes of the Turkish or Arab communities is often equated with a racist attack, he said. Well, if they're being criticised because they're Turkish or Arab, then racism might be levelled. But behind it all is Islam, a religion, a belief system, a backward and repressive belief system that doesn't, in its unalloyed form, understand the concept of freedom of expression or people's rights to respond to their natural sexuality.

Fairness and decency trump religion, for once

California's Supreme Court has ruled that doctors in the Golden State will not be allowed to discriminate against gay patients on the basis of their religious beliefs.

AFP reports that this decision overturned a lower court's ruling in favour of two Christian doctors who refused fertility treatment to a lesbian and cited religious grounds.

The woman, Guadalupe Benitez, successfully filed suit against the doctors and their medical group in 2004 on the basis that their refusal to treat her violated California's anti-discrimination laws.

However an appeal court in San Diego ruled against Benitez, a decision that led to the supreme court ruling.

In an unanimous decision the justices ruled that Benitez was entitled to be treated like other patients with the same condition, and that constitutional protections for religious liberty do not excuse unlawful discrimination.

Benitez is quoted as saying, "It's wrong and shocking that some doctors felt their religious beliefs allowed them to ignore the law and discriminate. This isn't just a win for me personally and for other lesbian women. It's a win for everyone."

Earlier this year, the state's Supreme Court overturned a state ban on same-sex marriage in a landmark decision.

Monday, 18 August 2008

It was God wot done it

Want to make petrol prices fall? Easy-peasy. Just pray to the big man in the sky.

That's what some guys in the States have been doing. And they have proof that the hand of the Almighty has reduced their gasoline prices, on average, from more than $4 to $3.80.

Rocky Twyman, a 59-year-old veteran community campaigner, started Pray at the Pump meetings at gas stations in April. Since then, the average price has dropped by around 20c per gallon (not per litre, so no big deal, but every little helps).

"We don't have anybody else to turn to but God," Twyman tells the BBC. "We have to turn these problems over to God and not to man."

Well, that just proves there is a God. The Ontological Argument, Argument from Design, deductive reasoning and so forth eat your hearts out. This is the Argument from the Petrol Pump.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

And some good news . . .

Being Muslim and being gay just don't sit comfortably together, as we know. In fact, some people have been known to be hanged just for being gay. Even if you're young, handsome and confident and in a Western-style kind of job, you have to keep one foot inside the closet, it seems.

I'm glad to read some good news – with that above reservation – from South Africa. It's in The Times (SA) and concerns a Muslim web designer who's decided to come out. And he feels happier for it. Good for him, say I.

The paper tells us:

Naufal Khan, 27 of Sandton – the brains behind the Gay Desi section of the Indian lifestyle website – said his decision had been prompted by “overwhelming support” for gay and lesbian people worldwide.

Despite coming out of the closet, Khan says he hasn’t been able to utter the words “I am gay” to his parents.

“I think it would be too much for them to handle. Rather let it be unofficial, like every other Indian family. My mom knows I am gay, but my dad is not very accepting, nor are any of my family members,” he said.

Not surprising, really, is it, when all a belief system has to go on is desiccated old scriptures written at a time when such proscriptions may – may – have made some kind of social or economic sense (as perhaps – perhaps – may have been the case in Leviticus)?

“Being Indian was the first hurdle," says Khan. "The second was being Muslim. I really did not want the mullah factory on my heels, trying to make me see the light that my ‘affliction’ was curable [. . .] My cousin nearly choked on his meal when I told him I’m gay.”

He said his cousin’s response was, “I don’t agree with it, and Islam doesn’t as well.”

Well it's time Islam learned that it's here, it's staying, it's natural and bloody Islam had just better get used to it.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Meet Baal's Bum

Thought the headline would grab you. Actually Baal's Bum is the pseudonym of an excellent blogger who does his stuff for Anal Iced Bible, which is on our list of favoured blogs. He's written to say we have honourable mention on his blog. Always nice to be recognised.

Anal Iced Bible does what it says: it analyses the Bible. But, as you'll gather from the idiosyncratic styling of that name, you may be pleasantly surprised (or not, if you think the Bible should be held sacred) by what you read there. It's exegesis not as we know it.

Baal's Bum has been a fairly frequent visitor to the comment section of Pink Triangle. And he usually has a good point to make, with some irreverence at times.

Thanks for the hon. mench, BB!

And talking of other blogs, as we were, yours truly has been invited because of his contributions here to write for the Infidel Bloggers Alliance's blog. This is an international weblog with a large team of contributors, and it's been going for a few years. Its aim is watching the more extreme elements of Islam (hence "Infidel" in the name, and, although that just means nonbeliever, it tends to be associated with Islam these days). You can find my first – and so far only – post here, but you'll have read a version of it here in Pink Triangle.

Cowardice condemned

The Independent's astute and never-less-than-interesting columnist Johann Hari is condemning cowardice. The cowardice that has meant that we are not allowed to read a book. The cowardice that has allowed Islamic threats – even if never uttered – to ensure that we are not allowed to read a book.

We looked at the story of Sherry Jones's book The Jewel of Medina a few last week. Random House pulled it – and have now pulped it, according to Hari – because it dealt with the prepubescent wife of Mohammed, some forty-odd years her senior. She was married at six, and the marriage was consummated – if that's what you can call a relationship in which a man of fifty-three forces himself on a nine-year-old girl – three years later.

Hari points out that, while you can read this story in the Koran and the Hadith (subsequent teachings based on the Koran), you can't now read them in Jones's book. And that comes down to cowardice. And it's time, says the headline above his Independent piece, we stopped "being such cowards about Islam".

You can read the article plus extra bits on Hari's own excellent website.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

That bloody woman's pet shrink resigns

The Northern Ireland shrink who claims to be able to "cure" people of homosexuality has resigned, it's emerged.

You may remember that Dr Paul Miller was the pet shrink of that bloody woman, Iris Robinson, arch homophobe and ignorant cretin, who, as well as being a Westminster MP, chairs the Northern Ireland Assembly's own Health Committee. That's right, this woman chairs the health committee. (This link will take you to all our reports on her, including this and any future ones.)

She said on a radio show (and this is what sparked the whole kerfuffle), "I have a very lovely psychiatrist who works with me in my offices and his Christian background is that he tries to help homosexuals trying to turn away from what they are engaged in. I am happy to put any homosexual in touch with this gentleman and I have met people who have turned around to become heterosexual."

Well they're either delusional, Mrs Robinson – as you clearly are – or they weren't gay in the first place. Or they're maybe bisexual and have successfully (for a while at least) managed to suppress the homosexual side of their nature. Or they've been made to feel so damned wretched in their sexuality by you and your disgusting, execrable kind that they're kidding themselves (and in the process probably bottling up problems for the future).

This bloody woman caused further uproar in July, when it was revealed that, during committee proceedings in the House of Commons, she told MPs, "There can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing innocent children."

Anyway, Miller has gone, resigned from her employment. Don't know where he's gone. Perhaps he's embarrassed by his associatoin with this loopy politician. Who knows? Who cares? Perhaps he's gone somewhere where he won't be telling gays he can "cure" them. Perhaps she ought to go, too – down a deep hole somewhere or into a convent or to the dark side of the moon. Out of politics, anyway.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Aisha author should be compensated, says Rushdie QC

The author of the novel about Mohammed's prepubescent bed partner should be compensated after Random House pulled it, says a lawyer who acted for Salman Rushdie over his The Satanic Verses.

Geoffrey Robertson QC was talking about The Jewel of Medina, publication of which was suspended earlier this month. Author Sherry Jones shold get "substantial compensation".

"We can't be overcritical of American publishers for cowering under terrorist threats," Robertson tells the Guardian. "After all, the Guardian, like every other British newspaper, lacked the gumption to publish the Danish cartoons [of Mohammed]. But all who care about free speech have a duty to make this sort of censorship counterproductive. Random House should pay this author substantial compensation, and the book should be placed on a website so everyone can read it."

Random House says: "We stand firmly by our responsibility to support our authors and the free discussion of ideas, even those that may be construed as offensive by some. However, a publisher must weigh that responsibility against others that it also bears, and in this instance we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House Inc, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the book."

The publisher can and should pay for its own security. Others will decide whether they wish to take risks, so the company has no responsibility for them. If a bookseller decides not to stock it, that's up to the bookseller, and it sounds like appeasing crap to say Random House has everyone's interests at heart, and not just its own. As for the author, she doesn't believe there's any risk involved.

"Frankly I'm more afraid of global warming than of terrorist attacks," she says. "I did expect my book would be controversial, just because I'm a pink woman writing about a culture that was not my own and a religion that is not my own . . . [but] my aim was not to provoke: it was to portray the difficulty of being a woman in that era, and to portray this wonderful heroine who overcame obstacles to become a prominent figure in Islam."

Whether there would be a threat or not, do we continue to grovel and consult a fatwa committee before committing a word to paper if it concerns their hateful religion, or do we strive for freedom of expression? What are our governments and security services there for if not to protect those rights? If Islam had not been allowed to get such a hold on such matters in the West, such things might now not be causing us so much trouble, but it's revered within the relativist agenda of the politically correct – and that is the way to total censorship.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Muslim and gay

Gays do exist in the Islamic world, and some of them are even happy. This is the good news in a new book by the editor of the gay Muslim magazine Huriyah, Afdhere Jama.

The book is called Illegal Citizens: Queer Lives in the Muslim World, and follows the lives of 33 gay people in 22 countries.

Jama says he wanted to tell of the suffering but also found some happy lives. However, it's not all pleasant for Muslims who are gay. "Horrible, horrible things happen," he says. "In many of these countries, people disappear without a trace. And that happens only because gay and lesbian Muslims have no voice. They can't object to abuse because, as far as anyone is concerned, they don't exist."

Monday, 11 August 2008

Point to ponder

I think it is worth noting in the debates about crime and behaviour generally the point that, “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments – there are only consequences.”

Robert Green Ingersoll (pictured) noted this in his Some Reasons Why (1881).

He was born on this day in 1833.

Leading luvvies lambaste disgusting Catholic bigot

I'm about to get quite angry, as the headline probably suggests, so you have been warned. This is a tale of two of the UK's leading gay actors, Ian McKellen and Simon Callow, who have laid into the revolting bigot Bishop Joseph Devine, a leading light in the Catholic Church in Scotland.

In a speech earlier this year, this abomination of a man "singled out the decision to award McKellen an honour from the Queen as an example of the dangers of the increasing power of the gay lobby", according to the Sunday Times.

This reeking gobbet of slime said during a speech at St Aloysius college in Glasgow, "In this New Year’s Honours list, actor Ian McKellen was honoured for his work on behalf of homosexuals. A century ago Oscar Wilde was locked up and put in jail." (The knighthood was actually for McKellen's work for the performing arts, but the reasons have probably become a bit blurred in people's minds since then, maybe because he was later made a Companion of Honour for his work for drama and equality, although that wasn't until the 2008 New Year's Honours.)

The implication – considering that it is couched as criticism, not as delighted wonder at how enlightened we have become since the 1890s – seems to be that McKellen should be given two years' hard labour, too, or at the very least should never have been honoured, and that no gays should be honoured.

I suppose we ought to crucify people, too, for being pains in the arses of the authorities. That's a much older tradition than putting people in the slammer for what they do with their private parts.

Devine, sinking as low as anyone can sink without chewing into the subsoil, also accused homosexuals of aligning themselves with minority groups to present themselves as people under persecution, citing their attendance at Holocaust memorials.


In a speech to a dinner for the gay lobby group Stonewall, which McKellen helped to found, the Lord of the Rings and Shakespearian actor said, "From the pulpit, homophobia is preached by some arrogant religious leaders who think their beliefs are superior to our inborn and, some would say, God-given nature.

"The Bishop of Motherwell [Devine] addressed his flock and told them how appalled he was that I had received an honour and that 100 years ago I would have been imprisoned like Oscar Wilde. He feels that the Roman Catholic Church is beleaguered in some way.

" 'We neglect the gay lobby at our peril,' he said. And when a mother asked him what he would do if his child said he had a mission to be gay, the Bishop of Motherwell replied, sympathising with the mother but not the child, 'I would try to handle it with a degree of compassion but would not tolerate it.' "

A "mission to be gay"? What sort of person would couch it like that? I'm willing to bet it's your own word, Mr Devine, not that mother's. And what is a "mission to be gay"? Did you have a mission to be male instead of female, to be whatever height you are, have whatever girth you have. Did you to have a mission to have two feet and two testicles? (No, scrub that last bit. People like you don't have testicles.)

Callow, meanwhile, in an interview with the Sunday Times, says senior religious figures could not accept the changing attitudes in society towards gay relationships.

"The bishop is in my view a profoundly ignorant and stupid man in his views," he said. "If he finds it offensive that gay people want to celebrate those gay people who died in the Holocaust – which was a large number of people – then he’s also profoundly unchristian.

"The church is shocked by how quickly attitudes have changed. All churches have thrived on prejudice, it’s a means of keeping people under their control and I think they are really shocked at how quickly the world has moved on, especially as it isn’t the world they would like it to be, so they cite biblical incidents as being the word of God."

The appalling Devine has since said there was no evidence he had ever preached homophobia and he insisted he used McKellen’s honour to illustrate the "power and the strength of the homosexual lobby", as if Gandalf McKellen had gone in there and said, "Hey, I'm gay, now give me a K!"

"I was certainly not saying that homosexuality is a crime which requires prison, nothing of the kind," he said.

Of course it was "of the kind", you excuse for a human being. You made an immediate comparison with Oscar Wilde. What else was that but saying gays ought to go to jail?

He goes on, "The focus was on the progress made by homosexuals rather than the suggestion that there should be any draconian laws. It is all very well people in the gay lobby demanding rights, but they are riding roughshod over the rights of others in the process."

Oh, and whose rights are those? The rights of dim-witted morons like you to deny gays and lesbians the rights others have: equality in employment and services, the right to form relationships, and so forth? Is that what you mean by "riding roughshod"?

"What I am saying is not superior," this execrable twassock continues, "it’s just sticking up for 2,000 years of Christian values."

Well, Mr Devine, I'm sure most Christians in this country would tell you to stuff your 2,000 years of values right up your cassocked jacksie if you are an example of those values in action. Only the fundies would lower themselves as far as you have stooped, and they should be made to share a cell with you if ever you do the two years' hard labour I wish you would suddenly find yourself faced with.

Now go and hang your malicious head in shame.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Damned and doomed by religion if you're gay

It's time government's communities initiative began addressing "the needs of sexual-minority young people from homonegative faith backgrounds and stop pandering to the frank homophobia exposed by some of the religious professionals and community spokespersons of all the Abrahamic faiths", according a psychotherapist who is also a Catholic.

In a Guardian article, he says, "From a psychotherapeutic point of view, one of the risk factors for mental health difficulties among gay and lesbian people is growing up, and remaining, in one of the toxic versions of the monotheistic religions."

Nothing new there, then, but that's not a criticism of the writer, Dr Bernard Ratigan, a member of the Roman Catholic caucus of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and of the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy. Indeed, it's good that he's said it.

It shouldn't need to be said, though, should it? It should be foremost in the minds of policymakers. Growing up in these overreligious environments can be toxic enough. If you're not of the approved sexuality, then you're damned and doomed.

"In Leicester, where I work," Ratigan writes, "it is not unusual for sexual-minority teenagers and young adults from the black and ethnic minority communities to seek consultations after getting little satisfaction from their religious professionals and GPs. The web is an invaluable aid for young adults, helping them find confidential sources that will take their concerns seriously without making judgments. A frequently posed question is: if my faith is wrong about my sexuality, where does this leave me?"

Often going mad, that's where it leaves you. And need we point out how many people have suffered – even to the point of suicide – as a result the fascistic nature of religion when it comes to sexuality?

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Green by name . . .

Green by name, green by nature. The naïveté of the man knows no bounds. This is Stephen Green, he of Christian Voice, an outfit that calls itself "a Christian prayer and lobby group".

We've seen how Green tried to prosecute the BBC for showing Jerry Springer: The Opera. We've also seen how he asked for his court costs to be waived once he'd lost the case (see more on that here and here and on the National Secular Society's website here, where we learn that Green has made an offer the BBC can refuse). Ironically, his pursuit of Springer may well have helped to put an end to the UK blasphemy laws, which were duly dumped earlier in the summer.

Now, my fellow blogger Barry Duke over at the Freethinker blog has drawn my attention to Green's naïve attempt to explain to us why homosexuality is wrong, in a press release entitled "Two homosexuals can't be 'one flesh' ".

He begins with a generalisation: "The injunctions against homosexual activity in scripture are not to do with promiscuity, although that it an inevitable part of both male and female homosexuality."

He doesn't explain why it is inevitable. Yes, there's promiscuity among all sexually aware beings, and that goes for a lot of heterosexuals, too. But why is it inevitable, Mr Green – for either cohort?

He goes on:

No, "thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind" is as clear as "thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbour's wife," and "neither shalt thou lie with any beast" which are the neighbouring verses in Leviticus 18. It is as crazy to say that faithful homosexuality is allowed as faithful adultery or faithful bestiality.

Again, when the Apostle Paul describes homosexual desires as "vile affections" in Romans 1, he makes no exceptions for those who really sincerely think that is "how they were born".

It is impossible for anyone with a scrap of common sense to equate the sexual dead-end of homosexuality with the life-giving God-given institution of marriage.

Civil Partnerships, or any homosexual pairings, are a grotesque parody of marriage. The Lord Jesus repeated the words of Genesis when He said "a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the twain shall be one flesh." Becoming one flesh is something a pair of homosexuals can never do. They are simply not physically and emotionally complementary like a man and a woman are.

Even the parts of the body argue against any view that homosexuality is on a par. Frustrated by their inability to enjoy sexual intercourse, homosexuals either press into perverted use a part of the anatomy perfectly designed for the extraction of water from solid bodily waste, or they engage in mutual masturbation. Neither is in any way endorsed or sanctioned by Almighty God or commons sense.

Homosexuals need our pity and the saving and healing power of Jesus Christ; they don't need well-meaning but error-strewn attempts to make them feel that something which God describes as an abomination is in any way acceptable. The loving way to deal with their problem is tough, but then the path to life was ever narrow.

Well, in a sense, he's right – if you accept (a) the existence of God and (b) that he said what we're told he said (there have been many interpretations of all that Leviticus stuff, remember). Given those things, he's right within the context of his own belief system.

Where he's utterly wrong, however, is that there's any proof of a god (or of God), let alone that primitive people writing what we now call the scriptures got it right. They've been spoken, written down, transliterated, tranlated, interpreted, reinterpreted, updated. But, of course, that is irrelevant if there was never any god to dole out the laws.

So we're left with a misguided man who never fails to entertain. We watch his antics as we would some poor sucker on a sitcom who is the butt of everyone's humour, who always slips on the banana skin, who always draws the short straw, who always gets things wrong, who always walks into the lamppost. It's almost – I say almost – possible to feel as sorry for him as we might for that sitcom character and his or her pratfalls.

It's worth adding a bit from an email the Freethinker editor, Barry Duke, sent me today. I'm sure he won't mind. "I should point out", he said, "that whenever I have come face to face with Green and his cronies, I always ask them why their perfect god, who created the perfectly designed human being, located the male G-spot up the arse. I have so far elicited many a blush, but not a single explanation."

Well, they don't explain: they just believe. And that's not a human thing to do. But, then, since when did fundamentalists understand what it means to be human?

Friday, 8 August 2008

Christianity or Islam? Take your pick

Norman Tebbit seems to think that, if we don't smarten up our Christianity, and drop all this poofy nonsense about same-sex marriage, Islam will creep up on us like the big bad wolf and eat us all up.

Well, it could well do that, anyway, but it won't be because some Christians have a sense of fairness and justice, and believe same-sex unions are as valid as opposite-sex ones.

Lord Tebbit is writing in the Daily Mail, where he no doubt feels very much at home. While he has on occasions produced bits of non-PC common sense, Tebbit is an arch homophobe. Today, be berates the Archbishop of Cant, Rowan Williams, for his having once embraced the idea that same-sex marriages are OK.

Dr Rowan Williams is a decent, likeable and intelligent man. But over homosexuality, he seems to be in a terrible muddle, saying different things to different people. Just days after the Anglican Church agreed to call a halt to ordaining gay bishops, a debate in which he sided with the conservative majority, earlier private letters have emerged in which he equates gay sexual relationships to heterosexual marriage.

These letters show that his private views may be rather different and considerably more liberal. And as a result, many of his fellow travellers, I'd assume, are confused as to what their spiritual leader really believes.

There is, of course, nothing new about homosexuality or homosexual priests and I suspect that most people these days will say "so what?"

But the Church of England still has a role to play in upholding the standards and beliefs which have shaped the society in which we live. And for the leader of that institution to appear confused by his moral standpoint is surely disastrous.

And these standards, Lord Tebbit?

Not just any old group of people shacked up together for a while, but the exclusive partnership of one man and one woman bearing and bringing up children. That way, the traditions, rules and customs of society have been passed from one generation to the next and children have been cared for in a safe, nurturing and responsible environment.

Yeah, yeah. And this somehow, magically, means that a relationship will be better, more nourishing, more supportive? We've seen the products of some heterosexual marriages, and they're far from perfect. At least same-sex couples have to make a decision to have a child (whether by adopting or by AI), and it's not going to be the result of a drunken shag, and added to the heap of kids already crowding a family that's too large for its own good. Most families are not like that, but enough are to make us wonder whether same-sex couples might, on average, make better parents.

Tebbit then weighs in with the Islam threat:

So who is left? Watch out for the challenge from the mosques. An Islam with a modern face will soon begin to present itself as the natural home for those who long for moral certainty and a new sense of discipline within society. The calls for a caliphate, a religious state based on Sharia Law, will be toned down, the firebrand preachers will be done away with by the moderates, and there will be talk of the founding of a secular Muslim state, as in Turkey.

And with no other options on the table, they may soon find that they have an awful lot of fellow travellers with whom to bolster their ranks.

The task for the imams will be to exploit the fatal weakness of the multicultural society and replace a Christian church that has lost its sense of history and direction with a Mosque that has a strong, ingrained sense of both. For Islam, that would be a justified.

But will hanging onto old Christianity solve this possibly real problem? His suggestion that it will do so brings with it the threat that a Christian country will tighten up the laws to force people to obey old biblical edicts. Laws can be tightened up without religion. Laws can be tightened up – if that is required – based on our needs and aspirations today, not of when ancient goat herders roamed the Middle East and created their laws according to their perceived societal needs.

If we wish to keep an Islamic state at bay, we need to stamp on the privileged status of all religions and keep them in the private sphere – not in the sense of never having them on display, of course, but in the sense of keeping them out of harm's way, unable to influence legislation, unable to wield power, unable to have undue influence over schoolkids. In other words, let religion be of hobby status as far as policy is concerned, having as much of the government's ear as any other group.

That way, the country has freedom of religion, and freedom from religion. The two can coexist.

With this nonsense I thee wed

So now we are to have newly approved, updated sharia marriages in Britain. Women will have equal rights. It's being hailed as something revolutionary, instead of just bringing Muslim marriages (the not-legally-binding variety in this country, so far) into line with civilised practice. Civilised practice means women have equal rights. This sort of thing should be recognised by Muslims and everyone else.

According to today's Daily Telegraph, Muslim women are to be "guaranteed equal rights in marriage under a new wedding contract negotiated by leading Islamic organisations and clerics in Britain". It goes on:

Hailed as the biggest change in Sharia law in Britain for 100 years, a married Muslim couple will now have equal rights. A husband will have to waive his right to polygamy, allowed under Islamic law, in the new contract which has been described as "revolutionary".

A man will have to waive his right to polygamy! What right? In this country, a man can take as many women as he chooses, but only one is his wife in British law. And it's British law that counts, because it's British law that we all live under (warts and all).

Something called the Muslim Institute has been working four years to draw up this contract, apparently. Perhaps it met only once every two years – who knows? Seems an awfully long time to work on what should be simple equality measures. These marriages are going to take place in Blightly, after all, not some primitive Islamic theocracy.

The story tells us:

Currently Muslims in Britain have an Islamic ceremony called a nikah (a non register office marriage) which, although it is guaranteed under Sharia law, is not legally binding and does not provide a woman with written proof of the marriage and of the terms and conditions agreed between the spouses.

Does this mean that the new arrangement will be recognised? It doesn't say. Whatever happens, what on earth is the need for another type of marriage when we have the register office? Surely, it's complicated enough already with having "marriage" for heterosexual couples and "civil partnerships" for same-sex couples.

If religious groups wish to have ceremonies to mark their unions so that they can pretend it's in the eyes of their invisible friend, that's fine, and it should be their right. As long as there's one marriage law to suit everyone and, no matter what the traditions of the religious group, the law of the land is the one that is answered to when it comes to matters of divorce and the welfare of children.

So far, with sharia marriages that aren't legally recognised, "In cases of divorces, the absence of such proof, has meant that many Muslim women have been denied financial rights," the Telegraph says.

Is this not a case in point? If women are married legally, under British law, then their divorce rights are guaranteed and any settlements will be arbitrated according to the same law as applies to others who share this soil. No other form of marriage should be recognised as anything but an informal bonding within a religious context. And there's nothing wrong with that, provided it remains at that, and doesn't try to claim any legal status.

But I suspect it will not be long before different arrangements, in law, are in place, based on one's choice of superstition, requiring yet more buraucracy, at taxpayers' expense, to maintain it all.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

How Muslims rule what we read – Part 937

Prepare to be annoyed. To be very annoyed. For those of you who like historical novels have just been denied one.
It's about Aisha, the little girl a chap called Mohammed took as his wife. I haven't read it – no one has, except the publishers and any others who have had access to the manuscript, proofs and/or advance copies – so can't comment on its accuracy or how well written it is.

But it's from an established historical novelist and journalist, Sherry Jones, who had already begun planning an eight-city book tour for her novel, The Jewel of Medina, having learned Arabic and studied scholarly works on Aisha's life in order to bring the character to life.

But Random House have pulled it. They feared it would be a new Satanic Verses. The Wall Street Journal tells us:

In an interview about Ms Jones's novel, Thomas Perry, deputy publisher at Random House Publishing Group, said that it "disturbs us that we feel we cannot publish it right now." He said that after sending out advance copies of the novel, the company received "from credible and unrelated sources, cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment".

After consulting security experts and Islam scholars, Mr Perry said the company decided "to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel".

So this is it, is it? For ever? We have to consult supersitious pillocks before anything can be published, if it so much as hints that it might have some mention of Islam and its hideous history and its frightful idelology? Are we supposed to quake in our boots, fear for our lives, our loves ones' lives, our employees' lives, our buildings, our streets lest some oversensititive Muslim gets it into his obsessed, Allah-soaked head that some kind of insult might perhaps be perceived by said same oversensitive Muslim and some of his fellows?

Is this our world now? We've seen it with the Mo cartoons and others; we've seen how Muslims here in the UK don't even like pictures of dogs on things, even though they are in a country that does like pictures of dogs on things, thank you very much!

Thankfully, not all Muslims feel the same way. Just the more vocal, it seems. And they always seem to be in a majority. Seem. Is that because others don't speak out enough? Or is it really the case that most Muslims are religion-soaked idiots? Tell me, somebody. I don't know. It just seems that way. And when do you see angry swathes of Muslims marching down a Western street crying, "Stop! Censorship is an outrage! You must allow free expression!"?

There's one at least. Not raving but frowning. For the writer of the Wall Street Journal piece, Asra Q Nomani, is a Muslim, and bemoans this situation:

This saga upsets me as a Muslim – and as a writer who believes that fiction can bring Islamic history to life in a uniquely captivating and humanizing way. "I'm devastated," Ms Jones told me after the book got spiked, adding, "I wanted to honor Aisha and all the wives of Muhammad by giving voice to them, remarkable women whose crucial roles in the shaping of Islam have so often been ignored – silenced – by historians." Last month, Ms Jones signed a termination agreement with Random House, so her literary agent could shop the book to other publishers.

But will other publishers take it, now that Random House has set the fireball rolling?

It wasn't a Muslim who instigated all this, however, but an American academic, Denise Spelling, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin and someone who is evidently an Islam apologist.

"In April, looking for endorsements," says the Wall Street Journal, "Random House sent galleys [early proofs] to writers and scholars, including Denise Spellberg [. . .]. Ms Jones put her on the list because she read Ms Spellberg's book, Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr." The article goes on:

But Ms Spellberg wasn't a fan of Ms Jones's book. On April 30, Shahed Amanullah, a guest lecturer in Ms Spellberg's classes and the editor of a popular Muslim Web site, got a frantic call from her. "She was upset," Mr. Amanullah recalls. He says Ms Spellberg told him the novel "made fun of Muslims and their history," and asked him to warn Muslims.

In an interview, Ms Spellberg told me the novel is a "very ugly, stupid piece of work".

Other bloggers are also fired by this latest threat to our freedom of expression. MediaWatchWatch has a go at it, and so does Ophelia Benson in Butterflies and Wheels, with her accustomed weapons-grade ferocity. Benson concludes:

Denise Spellberg, self-appointed censor and destroyer of books: you should be embarrassed at yourself. You should go into a very different line of work, right away – you should not be allowed anywhere near students, and you should never get another book or article published.

Our fury is limited to the words we write and speak, and that is as it should be. The fury of the Muslim will be one of fists and fire and threats of decapitation and marching and moaning and whingeing and demanding.

What we have allowed into our world now is something very dark, very sinister, something that will, if we're not very careful, soon have us culturally hogtied, appealing – before we dare to publish a word – to some bloody fatwa committee of bearded, grizzled old men who wouldn't know a good piece of fiction if they ever reached far enough into the real world to take it down off the shelf.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

JC in Gitmo

The Welsh blogger the Cynical Dragon is being cynical with the South Wales Echo again, this time over a story about a new play called Iesu! in which a female Jesus is thrown into a Guantánamo-style prison camp.

The Cynical Dragon was one of a number of bloggers, including us, who were outraged by the Echo's grovelling apology recently to Christian fundamentalists after an opinion piece on what one such fundamentalist might have made of Jesus as told in the Gospels, and might even have concluded that he was gay. For this, the writer got his opinion piece butchered in its online version. Read our take on it here, and sign the petition we talk of there here.

The Cynical Dragon wonders if the Echo will apologise for reporting this, too. Will Stephen Green and his appalling Christian Voice outfit be out complaining about this, too? Well, I doubt the paper will censor this one. It's a straight news story, after all, as opposed to a comment piece, reporting on a playwright-priest, Aled Jones Williams, who, in a Welsh-language play at the Eisteddfod in Cardiff, has depicted Jesus as a woman who, instead of being crucified, is incarcerated in a Gitmo-style prison camp and brutalised.

However, it does no harm to keep our readers alert to the fact that this sort of censorship is going on, so all power to the Dragon's fiery breath.

Back to the play. The Dragon reckons it's bollocks to portray Jesus as a Gitmo prisoner.

[T]he drama sounds a right load of balls. Anyone who thinks that putting a fictional religious character in Guantanamo and equating his fictional trials with the imprisonment of dangerous religious terrorists who'd happily kill half the world is bonkers.

He has a point. From an artistic point of view, though, my take on it (and I've posted something along these lines in the comments section of his blog) is this.

I once saw Julius Caesar set in Mussolini's Italy: costumes, sets. It was still Julius Caesar, of course, with the Bard's words intact. For me this was a way of putting a historical (and in this case literary) picture against a different background, much as you might have your same photographic subject (your wife, boyfriend, butler) in ten different pictures, but all in different settings: same subject, different impression given.

Now to me this placing of a mythical (perhaps partly historical) figure, Jesus of Nazareth, in a different setting can only help Christians (and anyone else who happens to be interested) to understand the meaning of their chosen belief system. Or, for that matter, those who don't believe it in but have an interest in mythology and religion. It's an exercise. I think it's a good exercise. I wish I could see it (if I understood Welsh).

It's part of what we as human beings do when we're doing our cultural thing: writing, acting, making music, painting, dancing.

But, to return to my analogy of a photo for a moment, let's compare a plain, representative photograph with a painting. A painter can do more, because he can inject more of his own personality into the work, and with it allow the viewer to look at something in a new way. Sometimes an artist injects something at a psychological level that he may not be fully aware of himself, something that it's not possible to realise in logical thought and talk about – but you know something is there. That's art over and above photobooth photography.

And so it is with the performing arts. Provided an audience know that what they are seeing is not meant to be a literal rendering of a factual story, they can allow themselves to be taken in new directions.

Do the Stephen Green types of Christian not wish to explore their big pal in the sky in different ways, perhaps see nuances they haven't perceived before? Don't they even conjecture that it's part of the human way of doing things that allows us to explore in this way? Do they not even entertain the possibility that, within their belief system, God gave some human beings the arts and skills to do this, as a way of speaking to others, just as there are preachers who take the word to the flocks?

Ah, but I'm imbuing your average Christian fundamentalist with imagination in this picture, aren't I? Silly me! They don't do imagination. They want that straightforward photograph against a plain background, so they can see what they've got. They want the picture in the scriptures, with no artist's interpretation that might open up new meanings for them.

Their belief is sterile. They and their belief belong together.

I am not religious, but I share the vision of this priest who is looking at the object of his veneration in a different way, and probably bringing something fresh to the minds of his audience/flock, too.