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Sunday, 15 February 2009

Religious crimes against humanity – committed out of certainty

Anti-Vatican campaigners marched in London yesterday – but, as our friends at the Freethinker bemoan today, you wouldn’t know it, judging by the coverage on the BBC.

Maybe Auntie has done more by the time I write this. I haven’t monitored every news bulletin.

But it’s amazing that so-called journos can often ignore such protests, because it’s the cuddly Catholic Church that’s in protestors’ crosshairs. And that’s religion. And it’s just not on to criticise religion. Especially on the religiose BBC.

Anyway, this event mirrored one in Rome, and the gay- and human-rights campaigner and G&LH contributor Peter Tatchell says of it:

Our aim is a Europe where people are free to practise their faith but where no religion has privileged legal status and unique access to political power and influence.

We are appalled by the Pope’s repeated attacks on the rights of women and gay people and by his wilful opposition to life-saving condom provision. The Italian government too often allows itself to be bullied by the Vatican, on issues such as same-sex civil marriage and sex education in schools.

If Catholics suffer discrimination I will be the first to defend them. Equally, when the Pope supports discrimination against women and gay people I will be the first to oppose him. That is the difference between me and the Pope. I oppose all discrimination, including against Catholics. He supports sexist and homophobic discrimination whenever it suits his intolerant interpretation of the Christian faith.

And is it just mischief on the part of Pope Ratzinger that makes him such an evil twat? Nope. It’s certainty. Some of the most heinous crimes in history have been committed out of a conviction that one’s actions are right. Ratzo believes it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an intrinsic evil on the part of someone who is seriously morally disordered, as he surely is, to bring influence to bear that discriminates against gays, women’s rights over their fertility and potentially lifesaving research.

And the latest issue of G&LH is now available online, and it’s religious certainty that is its major theme. Here’s an excerpt from its editorial, which gives you a taste of what’s inside (and there's plenty of it, so, if you thought you'd skim through it in your lunch break, think again!).

In particular, we examine the Pope's extremely homophobic Christmas message, but certainty is not confined to Christianity, as our articles from the writer and activist Maryam Namazie and M A Khan of Islam Watch testify.

Namazie writes of a new report in the UK from the Centre for Islamic Pluralism, showing that Muslim women suffer discrimination and gross bias in sharia adjudications – a report that has been welcomed by, among others, the new One Law for All campaign.

She also tells us of an event organised by One Law for All that is being held on 7 March in aid of International Women’s Day.

Staying with Islam, Khan discusses Islam Watch, a website set up by a group of Muslim apostates who left Islam when they discovered that it is not a religion at all. Khan, one of its founders, tells us of the group’s mission and describes the challenge ahead for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Popes and prattle

As for popes, the latest papal prattle to have caused a stir was that of Joseph Ratzinger (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI) who likened same-sex relationships to wrecking the rainforests when it came to the destruction of mankind.

He was taken to task over it by many people, including George Broadhead, veteran campaigner, G&LH contributor and a founder and vice-president of GALHA, who shares his views with us in this issue.

Another look at popekind comes from Matthew Thompson, whose article from G&LH’s 2005 issue has been chosen as our “Out of Print” feature this time. That was at the time when Karol Józef Wojtyla (a.k.a. Pope John Paul II) had just gone to a better place and Ratzinger had taken over. “The Pope is dead – long live the bigotry”, we said, as Thompson examined why Catholics have so many hang-ups about sex in spite of the lack of corresponding edicts in the gospels.

The Doctor in Dubai

“Surely this most progressive of programmes should not be filming one of this year’s specials in such an unsavoury place.” The words of journalist Gareth McLean in his Guardian TV blog.

He’s referring to the decision by BBC Wales producers to film part of a Doctor Who special in Dubai (“with its dubious human rights record, appalling treatment of migrant workers and flagrant disregard for the environment”), and he finds the whole thing abhorrent. Doctor Who fan and G&LH contributor Stephen Blake looks at McLean’s article.

Way out

Should those with terminal illnesses that are causing pain and distress be allowed to choose when to depart this life – and have help in dying if that is necessary? Is helping someone to commit suicide as simple as it sounds? Could a law permitting such an act cover all the bases? Or would it be a legal and moral quagmire? Neil Richardson looks at the issues for this issue of G&LH.

Doubt and certainty

In another article, Richardson, an ordained Anglican priest, explores our running theme of religious certainty when he says he doesn’t understand those who live with certainty about the mysteries of life and death, whether religious or scientific. There are those with all doubt and no faith, and those with all faith and no doubt.

Gays and the Nazis

Auschwitz Liberation Day was marked on 27 January. Many gay men were sent to the notorious concentration camp, and, in an article based on a recent talk, Colin de la Motte-Sherman – campaigner, writer and campaigner for Amnesty International – reflects on homosexuals under the Nazis.

New cop at the top

Peter Tatchell is doubtful, too, but this time it’s about the new commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Paul Stephenson, who has already been accused of being soft on homophobia. In a follow-up to the article “Murder Rap” – which we ran in our November 2008 issue – he explains why he thinks the new police chief, who approved and facilitated a London concert by Jamaican murder-music rapper Bounty Killer, is a hypocrite when it comes to hate crimes.

Tatchell has also been busy writing to the new American President, Barack Obama. It’s an open letter, written in the hope that a new broom can sweep clean when it comes to creating a better climate for gays and lesbians. We bring you his entire letter.

Doing it without God

Staying with Obama, we also have an article by Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, who believes that his new president is living proof that good character and values do not have to come from religion.

And nor does morality, argues another of our contributors, Roy Saich, who runs the Humanists website (which is a recipient of a Britannica Internet Guide Award, having been selected by as one of the best on the Internet when reviewed for quality, accuracy of content, presentation and usability). [See this blog’s sidebar for a link.]

Saich takes as his starting point ads saying “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake” – sponsored by the American Humanist Association – which have appeared on buses in Washington, DC, over the past few weeks.

What’s in a word?

In common with several royals, Prince Harry got himself into hot water again recently – this time for using the word Paki to refer to a friend and fellow officer. It was said with affection, we’re led to believe. (He’s also used the word queer – see our News section.)

But is the prince really guilty of any more than a bit of “youthful gaucherie”? Diesel Balaam thinks not, and tells us why.

On the gripe Vine

People often phone in to Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 with their opinions and gripes. He had one of his own recently: he said he found it embarrassing to talk of his Christian faith, lest he be branded a nutter.

But should one have to be embarrassed by talking of one’s belief – or, indeed, lack of belief? The editor of the Freethinker, Barry Duke, and G&LH’s very own Andy Armitage found themselves on a Radio Wales phone-in on the subject: Duke as a guest, Armitage as a phoner-in. We bring you the audio.


We say goodbye to two notables in this issue: the playwright and robust nonbeliever Harold Pinter, who famously accused Tony Blair – during a huge rally in Hyde Park against the coming invasion of Iraq in 2003 – of being a “hired Christian thug”; and Harold Blackham, thinker, writer, campaigner and author of several books, whom the veteran humanist campaigner Barbara Smoker honoured with a collection of his thoughts, Blackham’s Best, which we revisit.

Not an obituary, exactly, but a tribute nonetheless is made to another notable figure and comes in Peter Tatchell’s review of Edward Carpenter – A Life of Liberty and Love, by Sheila Rowbotham. Carpenter (1844–1929) was a prophetic gay English author, poet, philosopher and humanitarian, and, Tatchell believes, “the true pioneer of the LGBT rights movement in England”.

We feature another book review as our “Gossip from Across the Pond” feature this time, as Warren Allen Smith looks at an important new offering that is filled with acerbic humour, and is a valuable reference source and a joy to read. It’s God and the Philosophers and is by the late Paul Edwards.

And the rest . . .

We have our regular features, of course. In “Airings”, Stephen Blake takes a look at the supernatural – and pronounces himself unhappy with ITV’s latest offering of camp vamps and dodgy demons.

We have cartoons from the author of the Jesus and Mo strip and from Peter Welleman, an illustrator who has created artwork for books, board games, magazines, museums and websites, covering a broad range of subjects.

It’s never too late for a visit to the Doctor (that is the Doctor, you understand), and Steven Dean looks at Matt Smith – and then looks again, and finds him easy on the eye. Smith will be the eleventh incarnation of this 46-year-old (or 950-year-old, however you look at it) iconic figure from the world of sci-fi. Mind you, Smith would not have got the job without the intervention of Gran.

We also feature some letters to G&LH, plus news of upcoming events, plus “On the Blog” (a look at what Pink Triangle, our sister publication, has been serving up lately), and “Blogwatch”, which this time features a blogger known as Citizen Warrior, a vigorous campaigner against encroaching Islam.

And, of course, there’s our usual look at some of the news stories here in the UK and, in “World Watch”, wider afield.

All in all, we hope you agree, it’s a packed lunch with a punch, but you’ll need more than your lunch break in which to read it.

And don’t forget our archive if you missed our previous online editions, and please share us with your friends. You don’t even need to buy them a subscription, just send them the URL:

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