Search This Blog

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Love and devotion, Muslim style

Here’s an example of the way religions sometimes define love: go and beat the shit out of yourself.

A 47-year-old Muslim from Rugby in Warwickshire has been given a six-month suspended prison sentence – according to the BBC and others – for encouraging his ten-year-old son to beat himself with an implement that sports blades and chains in a ceremony called zanjeer matam, which commemorates a seventh-century martyrdom in the Muslim world.

Really relevant to today’s innocent ten-year-olds living in the UK, what?

The BBC story tells us that the man – who can’t be named for legal reasons – is “the second Muslim to be convicted of cruelty as a result of allowing a boy take part in the ceremony”.

The ritual was said to have happened at a Birmingham mosque. The guilty man, who pleaded not guilty, said he acted out of “love” and “devotion”.

Should we naïvely believe that these two disturbing incidents are the only ones that have ever happened in the UK, or just the tip of an iceberg? Maybe something in between? Given (a) that religionists go in for ceremonies, (b) that this is a ceremony and (c) that there is an implement made specifically for the purpose (as depicted by the BBC website in the picture shown here), it would be reasonable to believe that it’s happening all the time.

Friday, 30 January 2009

How to be a proper man: get religion

According to some mainly African God botherers meeting in Guyana at the moment, religious beliefs have a profound effect on how ideas of sexuality and masculinity are shaped.

You bet your sweet arse they do. After all, much of the time and energy expended by so many of the frothing variety of religious folk – and there are a helluva lot of those in African countries – is spent telling people what they should do with the bits of their anatomy that most people don’t see.

A story from Ekklesia – a Christian think tank very much not at the frothy end of religion, so much so that it has a place in our sidebar links – tells it like this:

Religious beliefs have a profound influence in shaping the consciousness of men and their concepts of masculinity and sexuality, members of an expert inter-faith panel told participants at an event in Georgetown, Guyana, focused on seeking ways of promoting positive masculinity.

Religious institutions prescribe boundaries, impose sanctions and affirm identity, the panellists said.

Thirty-five pastors, church leaders, theological students and lay persons from Guyana, Jamaica, Barbados, South Africa, Malawi and India gathered in the Guyanese capital [. . .] for the event sponsored by the Women’s World Day of Prayer and Bread for All, Switzerland.

I’m not quite sure what “positive masculinity” is, or what is wrong with allowing the feminine side of men to play its role, just as the masculine side of women plays its role when it is needed. It’s about balance.

But ideas of “manhood” are big with some people, including those from many of the African countries, whose rabid, fundamentalist bishops indulge in so much wailing and gnashing of teeth over people’s sexuality.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Wilders film: censorship in the House of Lords

There was to have been a showing of Geert Wilders’s film Fitna in the House of Lords today – but the usual whingeing and whining by complaining Muslims, followed by supine appeasement by those in authority, has ensured that freedom of expression is once again trampled into the ground.

The decision to cancel the showing was taken last Friday after Lord Nazir Ahmed kicked up a stink and had a powwow with government chief whip in the Lords and leader of the House. For some reason the meeting also included representatives of the Muslim Council of Britain, the British Muslim Forum and other representatives of Muslims in Britain.

Just what has it to do with Muslim organisations what our peers watch in our legislative building? The film was to be shown, we assume, so their lordships could view it impartially and see what all the fuss is about. Presumably it wasn’t just for pleasure, or else they could watch it on YouTube or on this blog.

Now that the screening at the House of Lords is not going ahead, all protests and demonstrations have been cancelled, too, and Ahmed has termed the decision as “a victory for the Muslim community”.

A victory for twats like you, you censoring berk, yes, but not a victory for free expression or democracy.

Well, we can always console ourselves that, every time idiots take a decision not to show the film, a blogger or two somewhere will embed it on their blogs. We’ve done it here a few times (including on the link above).

And it’s worth saying this as often as possible, fellow bloggers, because they may one day just get the message: they may realise they can’t really gag free speech; realise that, every time they succeed in killing one showing, there will be more hits on YouTube and elsewhere; realise that they ought to shut the fuck up and stop trying to trample on the freedom of expression that we in the West are quite used to, thank you very much, and would rather like to keep.

Whatever you think of Wilders, his views and his film, people have a right to see it, and he has a right to be heard. Anyone who doesn’t agree with him can still protest, can still demonstrate, can write to newspapers, can write to and create blogs, and few people in the West would seek to stop them from doing so, as long as it’s all done peacefully.

It has to be remembered that, although Wilders now faces prosecution (see that link above), the film itself does not feature his words: it features words from the Koran about what Muslims should do to non-Muslims and juxtaposes those threatening words with pictures not only of terrorist acts but also the words of Islamic preachers spouting hate. But the charge is about more than just the film: it’s about his statements in various media.

The Dutch Court of Appeal also doesn’t like the idea of comparing the Koran to Mein Kampf. “The Court of Appeal considers this insulting to such a degree to a community of Islamic worshippers that a general interest is deemed to be present in order to prosecute Wilders because of this,” it says.

See the charge in full here. Meanwhile, in case you think online petitions help, here's one you can sign to support Wilders.

The malevolence of Catholic prelates

Catholic bigots are at it again. Not happy with claiming condoms have holes in them that can let AIDS through (as some goon in the Vatican has claimed) and saying that gays are “aligning themselves with minority groups to present themselves as people under persecution” (I’ll come to that in a mo), gays are now told they're a threat to longevity.

Pink News tells us that the Roman Catholic church in Scotland has launched another attack on gay and lesbian people.

This evil organisation’s spokesman, Peter Kearney, is quoted as saying, "There is an overwhelming body of evidence showing that same-sex relationships are inherently unstable and reduce the life expectancy of those involved."

We’re not told what the overwhelming body of evidence is, but there are a lot of ancient poofs who are happily inhabiting this side of the grave. Or perhaps he means AIDS. Yes, of course: only gay people get AIDS. Perhaps it’s not that, but something else. God’s wrath, perhaps.

Anyway, he leaps to his conclusion from talking about a couple of kids who have been adopted by a same-sex couple after the children’s grandparents were deemed to old to adopt.

Kearney is quoted as having told the Daily Mail, “This is a devastating decision which will have a serious impact on the welfare of the children involved.

"With this in mind, the social work department has deliberately ignored evidence which undermines their decision and opted for politically correct posturing rather than providing stability and protection.

"It is impossible to see how this decision is in the best interests of the children."

I’m reminded of the lunatic Cardinal Joseph Devine, a leading light (and leading bigot) in the Catholic Church in Scotland, and here’s where I come to the quote in the intro. Last year he accused gays of aligning themselves with minority groups to present themselves as people under persecution, citing their attendance at Holocaust memorials. It's really hard to see how anyone could sink lower than this.

So I’m pleased to say I allowed my anger to get the better of me when I blogged something about this gobshite and his malicious claims in August last year. And I’m glad I did. The more I read about these revolting, disgusting, sickening and evil people, the angrier I get – and so should we all.

Devine also implied last year that, because Oscar Wilde had served two years’ hard labour for his conduct with a few young men, the likes of the gay actor and campaigner Ian McKellen should, too. The post last August noted how McKellen had had a go at this excuse for a human being for his intemperate claims.

And of course these religious nutters lie. They simply lie.

Perhaps they ought to read Exodus 20:16, the ninth Commandment. Something about bearing false witness, if memory serves.


Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Religious barbarism

This should come as no surprise, of course, but it’s worth reminding ourselves now and again of just what chilling possibilities lie ahead if we continue to allow the creeping Islamisation of Western democracies.

A Saudi businessman has been sentenced to four months in prison and 200 lashes by barbarians in that country for hosting a mixed concert at his fun park in what the Muslim world calls a “holy city”, that of Mecca.

He was arrested after an argument with agents from the powerful religious police, who ordered him to end the concert, the daily Okaz said, as handed on to us by Austalia’s Courier Mail.

“A court found the man guilty of hindering the work of the agents of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, known as Muttawa,” says the Courier Mail, “and involvement in ‘organising a concert where men and women mix’.”

Ooh. How utterly obscene!

It continues:

The ultra-conservative kingdom applies a strict version of sharia, or Islamic law, which imposes segregation between the sexes.

It is also the only country where women are not allowed to drive, and they have to cover themselves from head to toe while in public.

On a lighter note, there is some small compensation for their not being allowed to drive. At least they can ride a bicycle (or “burcycle”, and the clue is in the word), which allows them to cover up and be on wheels at the same time – courtesy of a sort of mobile shed.

I wrote an article for G&LH recently that covered that – and more besides.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

All things vile and horrible . . .

If anything is going to discredit religion it’s religionists themselves. The nuttier ones, obviously.

It’s now emerged that the conservationist, TV presenter and documentary maker Sir David Attenborough (pictured) gets hate mail because he doesn’t credit God for all things bright and beautiful in the world.

“They tell me to burn in hell, and good riddance,” he says.

When viewers ask him why he doesn’t credit God for the flora and fauna, “They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in East Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator.”

Quite! And a few other things, too. I mean a lot of other things. Scores. Hundreds. Too numerous to mention.

Well said, Sir David!

The Telegraph tells us:

In an interview with the Radio Times, Sir David, 82, attacked the “terrible, terrible” fact that some British state schools are allowed to teach children that creationism and evolution have equal merit.

“It’s like saying that two and two equals four but, if you wish it, it could also be five. This is one of the errors. Evolution is not a theory. It is a fact, every bit as much as the historical fact that William the Conqueror landed in 1066. Indeed, more so, because all we have to tell us about William are a few bits of paper here or there – not very much at all. For evolution we have much more evidence: palaeontology, embryology, biology, geology.

“Darwin revolutionised the way we see the world fundamentally, but his basic proposition is still not taken on board by a lot of people.” Sir David acknowledged, however, that “it would be a very bold scientist, and certainly not me, who believes it’s the be-all and end-all”.

Monday, 26 January 2009

The man who put the “no” in “Genoa”

The National Secular Society reports that, after protests from the Catholic Church, the atheist bus campaign that was planned for the Italian city of Genoa has been cancelled.

The city was chosen because it is the home of the reactionary head of the Italian Catholic Bishops Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco. He is an implacable opponent of all progressive legislation, including that related to artificial insemination and gay marriage.

When the archbishop discovered that the Italian Union of Atheists and Rationalist Agnostics had arranged to plaster the city's buses with the slogan “The bad news is that God doesn’t exist. The good news is that you don’t need him”, he furiously protested to the bus company and the advertising agency that was dealing with it. Like little sheep they immediately cancelled the campaign.

The archbishop was “delighted” with this result, which illustrates just how frightened the Catholic Church is of competition, albeit on such a small scale, and how repressive and bullying it is when anyone dares question its corrupt hegemony.

Today, a Catholic group called the Christian Reformists has launched its own ad campaign, putting up more than 5,000 posters around the capital that state, “God exists, and even atheists know it.” Nobody called for it to be banned.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

In defence of Geert Wilders

The Dutch parliamentarian and filmmaker Geert Wilders is now facing a possibly protracted legal fight after a Dutch court ordered his criminal prosecution.

Wilders, you’ll remember, made the short film Fitna, which last July seemed to get the all-clear from the Dutch prosecution department. Well, you can make up your own mind, because we’re embedding it again at the bottom of this post.

Wilders, who is also leader of the Freedom Party (PVV), is being told that his statements – written, spoken and filmed – regarding Islam are “insulting”, and the court has declared that they “substantially harm the religious esteem” of Muslims.

Well poor ickle hard-done-to Muslims! Did they have their itty-bitty esteemy-weemy substantially harmed, then, by a movie that points to the worst parts of their hideous scriptures?

Anyway, an international campaign has now been launched, and you can read about it on a site that we’ve just added to our sidebar, that of the International Free Press Society (IFPS). Check it out. It highlights how our words are being censored by those who are happy to let Islamisation continue to creep into our Western way of life.

On this page, you can read about its Defend Geert Wilders campaign, and maybe help it along.

It also gives an account of the latest threat to Wilders, and includes his words, “If I have to stand trial, I will not stand trial alone, but also with the hundreds of thousands of Dutch people who reject the Islamization of The Netherlands.”

In the society’s own words:

He will also stand trial with those in The Netherlands and beyond who reject government prosecutions of free speech. In recognition of this dire situation, the IFPS immediately calls on every supporter of free speech to come to the aid of Geert Wilders. To assist in this effort, the IFPS has launched an international campaign in defense of Geert Wilders and his freedom of speech.

Here, again, is the video:

Saturday, 24 January 2009

The cat’s out of the bag

Homophobic Christians in the USA have, as Pink News puts it, “discovered” President Barack Obama’s support for LGBT rights.

As Pink Triangle reported on Wednesday, the new president’s gay-rights intentions are right there on the White House website.

The Pink News story tells us:

The American Family Association has a long history of homophobia. In an alert to supporters the AFA’s Rev. Donald Wildmon said:

“This is only the beginning of Obama’s plans to reshape society. His view is that unborn babies aren’t worth protecting and that homosexuals deserve special rights.”

Not special rights, nincompoop. Just the same rights you have to be heard (though hopefully they won’t, like you, spread toxic views about the place); the same rights you have to recognition of their relationships; the same rights you have to live their lives unmolested and without constant attempts to change Federal and State constitutions to prevent those relationships becoming marriages.

In short, the right to live as citizens, like so many members of other minorities you don’t have your vitriol-soaked knife into, without constantly having to worry whether they’ll get the same even-handed treatment from their government and communities as you expect to get.

Now get this:

The editor of claimed that the new President “intends to use his office to promote and maintain the sexual deviant criminal behavior of homosexuality (with malice aforethought).

“Civil officials who approve of homosexuality make the civil government a vile cesspool from which the abominations vomit out across the land.”

Oh, wow! Can we hear that again?

“Civil officials who approve of homosexuality make the civil government a vile cesspool from which the abominations vomit out across the land.”

Great stuff! There’s more. And I’m sure there’ll be more to come as intentions and policies begin to be felt in the form of action. Far from turning the other cheek, this type of Christian is about as uncharitable, intolerant, fanatical, small-minded and bigoted as they come.

Somehow, while I’m not a Christian, I can’t bring myself to believe that the majority of Christians are like this. This breed are an abomination of the kind that even the mad, genocidal, tyrannical Yahweh of the Old Testament couldn’t have dreamed up.

Friday, 23 January 2009

How to create a successful marriage

Here are the keys to a successful marriage – well one of them. Rule 1: You can hit your wife to force her into sex, provided you don’t bruise or draw blood.

This good advice was given in 2003, according to The Times, but has only recently come to light. It came from the wise lips of one Samir Abu Hamza during a lecture in Sydney.

Now, Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has called on Hamza to apologise.

Hamza – who advised his all-male audience to “shape up” their wives by beating them – also ridiculed the law that prohibits marital rape. “Amazing. How can a person rape his wife?” he asked.

The lecture was called “The Keys to a Successful Marriage”. The Times tells us:

He added that if a husband demanded sex, his wife must respond immediately, even if she was in the middle of chores.

“If the husband was to ask her for a sexual relationship and she is preparing the bread on the stove she must leave it and come and respond to her husband,” he says in the sermon.

“In this country if the husband wants to sleep with his wife and she does not want to and she hasn’t got a sickness or whatever, there is nothing wrong with her she just does not feel like it, and he ends up sleeping with her by force . . . it is known to be as rape,” he adds. “Amazing, how can a person rape his wife?”

Amazing. How can a person without a brain give a lecture?

Rudd says violence against women is not acceptable – under any circumstances.

To be fair to what are called Muslim “leaders” in Australia, some of them have taken this shitbag to task, too.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Legal, decent, honest and truthful?

As we suspected, the ad on the sides of buses in the UK saying there’s probably no God does not break any advertising rules. The link above is to the Advertising Standards Authority’s ruling on the issue, one paragraph of which says:

The ASA Council concluded that the ad was an expression of the advertiser’s opinion and that the claims in it were not capable of objective substantiation. Although the ASA acknowledges that the content of the ad would be at odds with the beliefs of many, it concluded that it was unlikely to mislead or to cause serious or widespread offence.

Pretty obvious, really, since to say the ads are in some way inaccurate or factually wrong could be tantamount to saying there is a God, and the ASA has sensibly not got into this argument, but clearly had to make its view known, since there had been 326 complaints from nutters. It now regards the subject closed. We'll have to read what we will into the code of advertising: that it has to be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”. Is the bus ad all four, then?

But will this ruling mean that Ron Heather, the bus driver who refused to drive a vehicle with the ad on it, will now be told he has to? I doubt it, somehow. Religion may lose the odd legal or quasi-legal argument, as here, but people will continue to appease it and kowtow to it for some time.

Nonbelievers need not apply

Mark Damazer, the controller of BBC Radio 4, has had a go at answering what I assume were hundreds of emails sent earlier this month on the perennial question of opening up Thought for the Day to nonbelievers.

For the benefit of non-UK readers, TFTD is a slot that allows only people who believe in invisible beings to talk for about three minutes about matters of the moment as viewed from their religious perspective. It is right in the middle of a flagship, three-hour news programme, but some befrocked geezer is allowed to sit there and pontificate without any challenge whatsoever.

Nonbelievers need not apply.

A concerted email campaign was organised, beginning last year with making contact with a number of people – me included – who would pledge to send an email or letter to the BBC. I don’t know how many did so, but I suspect it was quite a lot.

I didn’t expect we’d change the BBC’s mind, but here, in its entirety, is Damazer’s response (which I suspect is the same as has gone to the rest of the campaigners):

I regard this as a genuinely difficult question. There may be a case for widening the pool of contributors on Thought for the Day by having someone with an avowedly non-religious perspective. However on balance the BBC’s position is that it is reasonable to sustain the slot with believers. Let me now set out the reasoning.

Thought for the Day is a unique slot in which speakers from a wide range of religious faiths reflect on an issue of the day from their faith perspective. In the midst of the three[-]hour Today programme devoted to overwhelmingly secular concerns – national and international news and features, searching interviews etc. – the slot offers a brief, uninterrupted interlude of spiritual reflection. We believe that broadening the brief would detract from the distinctiveness of the slot.

Within Thought for the Day a careful balance is maintained of voices from different Christian denominations and other religions with significant membership in the UK. We are broadcasting to the general Radio 4 audience which regularly engages with the comments and ideas expressed by our contributors from the world’s major faiths – whether they are believers or not.

Outside Thought for the Day the BBC’s religious output contains both religious and non-religious voices in programmes such as Sunday, Beyond Belief, Moral Maze. In these programmes atheists, humanists and secularists are regularly heard, the religious world is scrutinised, its leaders and proponents are questioned, and the harm done in the name of religion is explored.

Non-religious voices are also heard extensively across the general output in news, current affairs, documentaries, talks, science, history. These programmes approach the world from perspectives which are not religious. As, of course, do the other 2 hours 57 minutes of Today.

Yes, atheists are heard in other programming. So are religionists. Since neither side has to put its cards on the table if it’s talking of, say, diet, trombones or whippet fancying, it’s not relevant. It’s relevant only if someone is on there as a nonbeliever, an agnostic, a sceptic, a whatever.

Note that he says there may be a case for having nonbelievers, then says that “on balance” they won’t. What sort of “balance” is he “on”? Either there may be a case or not. If there may – i.e. it is likely, it is possible – then why not introduce it? It would certainly liven up the slot, if only because it would get the religionists twitching and having to come up with better arguments than they put forward in what are, for some (not all), rather wishy-washy, insipid little homilies that are immediately forgettable.

And this word spiritual. Nonbelievers can be “spiritual”, too, but to say “the slot offers a brief, uninterrupted interlude of spiritual reflection” suggests not. It depends on how you interpret spiritual, of course, but many of us use the word to convey the idea of stuff that transcends the physical, yes, but not in the way of sky fairies: merely in the way of an experience and appreciation of beauty, of meaning, of inner peace, of abstract contemplation and no doubt you could come up with a number of other things.

As for the rest, well, make your own mind up – and leave a comment.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Obama’s LGBT creds

He may declare his Christian credentials and have held his hand on a bible during his inauguration, but Barack Obama has made clear his gay-rights intentions, and there’s already a statement on the White House website on gay rights.

Which is more than can be said for his Christian predecessor.

Under the more general heading “Civil rights” comes a subheading “Support for the LGBT community”.

It begins with an excerpt from a June 2007 statement Obama made, in which he said:

While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It's about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.

Then come eight areas in which Obama promises to help the LGBT community: “Expand Hate Crimes Statutes”; “Fight Workplace Discrimination”; “Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples”; “Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage”; “Repeal Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell”; “Expand Adoption Rights”; “Promote AIDS Prevention”; and “Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS”.

So far, so good! Let’s hope he’s not got at by the forces of religious evil.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Divisive religion

We in the UK are more comfortable with racial diversity than with religious differences, it seems.

Well that’s hardly surprising. Being of one race or another doesn’t necessarily predispose one to an opinion on the origin and daily maintenance of the universe or what its inhabitants should be doing with their naughty bits. Being of a religious disposition usually does.

And religions differ in some of those things – and many other issues, too. The more tiresome, interfering religious types – the ones who really get on your tits – are also more likely to excite feelings of alienation both from one another and from freethinkers, sceptics, atheists, agnostics (whatever you want to call those of us who will surely burn in hellfire for eternity).

The finding comes in a survey, reported in today’s Daily Telegraph.

Many people believe religion is more divisive than race, according to the study, which was carried out by Ipsos MORI for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It suggests that there has been a substantial shift in public opinion.

The Telegraph tells us:

It [the survey] found that Britain is “increasingly at ease with racial diversity”, according to the Commission, with 84 per cent of people agreeing that “ethnic groups should be free to celebrate their customs and traditions while seeking to integrate into the British society”.

More than half of people disagreed that “people who move to Britain from abroad should leave their old traditions behind”, while less than a third agreed.

A total of 75 per cent of respondents said they would be “happy for [their] child to marry someone from another ethnic group”. Fewer people (70 per cent) said they would be happy for their child to marry someone of a different faith.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Not doing God

I feel sorry for the likes of the BBC’s Jeremy Vine. A committed Christian, he says he would feel uncomfortable about talking about that fact on air for fear of being labelled a nutter.

“You can’t express views that were common currency 30 or 40 years ago,” the 43-year-old Radio 2 presenter tells the Telegraph.

(Tony Blair, too, refrained to getting too religious in office for fear of the same, and his propaganda chief, Alastair Campbell, once famously said, “We don’t do God.”)

“Arguably,” says Vine, “the parameters of what you might call ‘right thinking’ are probably closing. Sadly, along with that has come the fact that it’s almost socially unacceptable to say you believe in God [. . .]

“Once I put my cards on the table about my faith in discussions, it becomes problematic.”

The Telegraph cites an interview Vine did with Reform magazine, published by the United Reformed Church, in which he says he’s forced to separate his personal beliefs from his role as a presenter.

But ’twas ever thus, wasn’t it? What’s he whining about? I’ve been a journo, and managed to resist going on about my addiction to Superman and Batman comics and my lack of Christian faith when I was on air or writing for a paper.

But it’s more than that. Vine, along with the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, thinks the territory is hostile for believers now.

But are they right? Is it really seen as a nutty thing to be a Christian? I’d say not. What these people, I suspect, are perceiving is more open hostility to the rabid end of Christianity (and Islam, and Judaism, and the rest) that wants special privileges and special schools and to stick its oar into every corner of public life, instead of quietly getting on with its beliefs, its rituals and the companionship its adherents no doubt feel by belonging to an organisation.

People have begun to question publicly the existence of God and to wonder why religion has to be so prominent in public life. For this, they are often seen as “militant atheists”, instead of people who are reacting to organisations that have had it all their own way for centuries.

There’s also a decreasing belief in the supernatural, and a decrease in churchgoing. It’s a natural shift in the worldview – or, in the case of the UK, national view, because, as Blair is quoted as saying in the Telegraph story, “If you are in the American political system or others then you can talk about religious faith and people say ‘Yes, that’s fair enough,’ and it is something they respond to quite naturally.”

But if there’s no perceived need for something it tends to go out of fashion. Perhaps a critical number of people now don’t see the need for religion any more and are more vocal about it, but are quite happy (as I suspect most are) to let those who do believe get on with it.

But, quite rightly, they don’t want to hear it banged on about on a Radio 2 show that’s about playing music and having phone-ins on matters of the day.

Personally, I don’t consciously crave to see an end to religion or to see its continuance. I’m just not bothered either way. If it dies out it dies out. So did the burning of witches, hipster flares and rickets.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

BBC spending; Poster to print

The BBC is spending a minimum of £10 million a year on religious propaganda, it has been revealed.

The Religion and Ethics department that is spending the money has been accused of undermining the BBC's obligation to impartiality. The information was elicited through a Freedom of Information Act request by National Secular Society member Alan Rogers, who asked the Corporation how much it spent on its religious affairs department in Manchester.

In response, the BBC told him that the all-inclusive cost of the unit, programmes, staff and overheads in the financial year 2007/8 was £9.8 million.

This, of course, is only the tip of the religious iceberg at the BBC. Money taken from other budgets for religious programming is also substantial. For instance, the drama series telling the story of the last days of Jesus, The Passion, last year cost £4 million and that was from the Drama Department budget. The BBC launched accompanying literature with help from the Bible Society.

According to the BBC's latest annual report the amount of religion broadcast on BBC radio rose from 1,078 hours in 2006/7 period to 1,114 in the 2007/8 period.


To celebrate and support the “atheist” posters appearing on buses in Britain and the United States there is now a poster (A4 size) available on the Humanists website (see sidebar), which you can print and display.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Off the buses

Onward, Christian soldiers, come and march all over our pathetic, pusillanimous faces, why don’t you?

The attitude of the passenger-transport company First Bus is disgraceful and an assault on free speech. What kowtowing spinelessness!

What can they have done to get me so jacked up? Well, there’s a bus driver, Ron Heather from Southampton (seen here in a BBC picture), who refuses to drive any that have the “atheist bus” slogan on them, which reads, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” (See our last entry on the atheist bus, with links, here.)

The BBC news website tells us that First Bus has told Heather it will do all it can to ensure he doesn’t have to drive one of the buses with the slogan on them.

Heather is said to have reacted with “shock” and “horror” when he saw the slogan. He hadn’t heard of the “atheist bus” campaign by now? He, a committed Christian? And just what is shocking or horrible about a point of view?

The illogicality of all this is that religion is always dealt the trump card. What about the thousands of ads on buses all over the world that thousands of drivers probably don’t agree with?

Would a teetotaller be allowed to choose buses that don’t advertise vodka? Would a deep-green environmentalist who thinks we should all travel by public transport be allowed to avoid driving a bus that advertises the latest Toyota saloon? What about the Muslim who didn’t want to drive a bus with a Christian message on it? (Come to think of it, he’d probably get his way.)

And what about an atheist who didn’t want to drive a bus that carried religious tosh? After all, the “atheist bus” campaign came into being by way of a reaction by its founder, the comedy writer Ariane Sherine, to ads on buses that said non-Christians would burn in hell for all eternity.

What of the driver who found that to be offensive? Would First Bus have gone to the trouble of rejigging its driver-to-vehicle schedules to allow him/her to drive a bus without the slogan? Doubt it, but we’ll never know.

The fact is that Heather is refusing to do the job he was paid to do. He knew there were ads on buses – have been for decades. He must have known, therefore, that there would be some he wouldn’t agree with.

No company is going to allow a driver to opt out just because the bus carries a particular slogan – except in this case, it seems. So why should this one be the exception?

Could it be that it’s about religion? And not just a slogan about religion, but a slogan that has a dig at religion (although a very mild one, it has to be said)?

First Bus should hang its collective head in shame.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Opting out of talking to invisible people

Welsh education has moved a step towards sanity with the news that sixth-formers are now to be allowed to opt out of collective worship in schools.

This happened in England in 2007, so why the delay?

It’s upset religionists, of course – not Catholics, surprisingly, who have welcomed the move, seeing compulsion as counterproductive.

As things stand, students can be excused this idiocy only if their parents have made the request. Now, they’ll have the opportunity to make their own decision, and many students interviewed on the BBC's Welsh news last night welcomed the move.

The objection to this belated piece of sanity has come from the Union of Welsh Independent Chapels, which says the Welsh Assembly Government is throwing “1,500 years of Welsh Christianity to the wind – at the very time when young people need a sound moral and spiritual dimension in their lives more than ever”.

The morals-from-religion argument again. No religion = no morals. Yeah, right.

Dr Geraint Tudur, the union’s general secretary, says, “Over the centuries, Christianity has been the bedrock of Welsh identity and morality. This is a secular attack on that Christianity – an act of betrayal by the Assembly Government. We urge assembly Education Minister Jane Hutt to reconsider.”

That bedrock of identity and morality also ensured that, when the Chapel held sway, you might lose your livelihood if you didn’t attend. Is that the kind of bedrock Dr Tudur wants to see?

And what happened to choice? Why should students of any age be forced to worship an entitity that has never been proven to exist – and never will be?

The sooner all school students can make the choice, the better.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

School may have to admit kids who are “not interested in the faith”

Catholic school governors in London are upset because they can't continue to favour families to do the mojo.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the governors of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, described by the paper as “one of London’s leading Catholic comprehensives”, having a bit of a dingdong with the Diocese of Westminster, which they say is forcing the school to discriminate against practising Catholic parents.

Oh, diddums!

According to the chairman of the governors, Sir Adrian Fitzgerald, the school’s new admission criteria no longer allow the school to favour children from committed Catholic families. “He is so angry that he has complained to Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pope’s right-hand man in matters of doctrine,” says the Telegraph.

Fitzgerald says that the Vaughan is no longer allowed to favour “families who go to Mass every Sunday, parents who have their children baptised within a year of birth, children who have made their first confession and first Holy Communion, families who are actively involved in their parishes or the wider life of the Church, and parents who have shown their commitment to a Catholic education for their children”.

Well, as long as public money goes into these places, schools shouldn’t be able to pick and choose.

And, anyway, wouldn’t they want non-Catholic kids, so they can convert them? Wouldn’t taking kids from practising Catholic homes just be preaching to the converted?

Perhaps taking kids from non-Catholic homes is too much of a challenge. Or perhaps those directly concerned with the indoctrination of the kids might find themselves challenged by views that don’t quite fit the ridiculous dogma.

There’s also a parish priest who – hiding behind anonymity – pulls no punches in his criticism of the diocesan authorities.

He says, “What is the point of having Catholic schools, supporting and encouraging the Catholic life of the parishes, if they are going to be filled with children who are not a bit interested in the Catholic faith?

“I have never come across such a spineless, lily-livered bunch as our bishops – they just don’t want to stand up for anything that might cause offence.”

That may be so, Father Anonymous, but the fact is that it’s a school, and it has a catchment area, and schools are for the community around them, and it may be the nearest school for many families, and they may just like to have their kids in a school – which is using taxpayers’ money, let’s not forget – that’s handy and close to their homes.

More Christian equality

Loving Christians are about to get up to their old tricks again in Scotland, where a gay minister’s been appointed to a congregation there. Moves to block the appointment of the Rev. Scott Rennie – who makes no secret of his sexuality – are imminent, it is said.

Rennie was installed at Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen with a vote of 60–24 by the city’s presbytery. He’s just finishing a ten-year stint as a minister at Brechin Cathedral in Angus.

He separated from his wife and moved another man into the manse, where they’re both currently living.
Sources within the Kirk are quoted in the Scottish newspaper the Press and Journal as saying, “It is highly likely that critics will lodge an appeal to block the move within the next ten days.”

The odd thing is that Queen’s Cross Church is renowned for its liberal-minded attitude, and its current incumbent has been involved in a number of LGBT issues over the years.

The Church of Scotland General Assembly is divided over civil partnerships as things stand, and is due to make a final decision in May.

We have laws in Britain to prevent discrimination in employment on the grounds of sexual orientation, among other things – although women get a rough deal at the hands of loving Christians, too. Once again, religion is treated differently. If the man’s been appointed, then, quite simply, no objection should be raised on the grounds of sexuality. If it turns out he can’t do the job, that’s another matter.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

We the undersigned are being bullshitted

I do wonder about the efficacy or otherwise of these Downing Street petitions. I occasionally sign one, knowing full well that the eventual response from the Prime Minister’s office will be a load of bullshit. I guess I do it because someone has asked me to, and I don’t see the harm in it – except for the time it seems to waste.

The latest – for me, anyway – is the excuse for a response that has come from a petition about sharia law.

The petition reads, “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to stop Islamic Sharia Law being used in Great Britain.” The details are then given thus:

“The most senior judge in England and Wales has said that aspects of Islamic sharia law could be used in the UK, provided they don’t conflict with existing laws. I say that Islamic sharia law should not be used in the United Kingdom and the Prime Minister should do everything within his power to stop it being introduced.”

Completely ignoring the fact that Muslim women – probably the greatest victims of this Dark Ages system – can feel coerced into having something dealt with under this religious excuse for a legal system and then come off the worse for it, the Prime Minister’s office fobs us off with this:

Shari’a law is the code of personal religious law governing the conduct of Muslims. It can extend into all aspects of people’s lives – personal, religious, family, civil and criminal.

Shari’a law is not part of the law of England and Wales. The Government does not intend to change this position in relation to the whole or part of the United Kingdom. However, provided an activity prescribed by Shari’a law does not contravene the law of England and Wales, there is nothing to prohibit it. Muslims can, for example, wear traditional dress and follow dietary rules. They are completely free to worship in the way that they want.

There can never be reliance on the fact that an act is permitted under Shari’a law as a justification for committing what is, under the law of England and Wales, a criminal act. Nor, for example, could someone expect a civil court, in reaching a decision on a contractual case under English or Scottish law, to apply the principles of Shari’a law.

Criminal matters, both small and serious, will always be heard in a Crown or Magistrate’s Court in England and Wales, and in Sheriff’s Courts in Scotland. The decisions made in an alternative court will not be recognised.

Yes, we know everything has to comply with British secular law, but we also know that the Arbitration Act allows sharia decisions to be considered and that subsequent courts – i.e. proper courts – are likely then to rubberstamp them.

We saw just after Christmas how one of Britain’s most senior legal figures, Baroness Butler-Sloss, reckons sharia divorces should be recognised by courts and the government.

But we’ve also seen examples of how sharia law can disadvantage women, and not just in marital disputes, but also when a criminal act has been committed, e.g., in this case, assault.

Nothing less than a firm statement saying no to sharia law, and affirming that matters of divorce will go through the British civil courts and antisocial behaviour will go through the criminal courts, will do.

Enough appeasement to religion goes on in our legal system as it is, with Jews and Muslims allowed to slaughter animals in ways that are deemed barbaric by the Farm Animal Welfare Council (see the third paragraph of this post from last November) and unacceptable to most caring people and Sikhs allowed to do away with the motorbike crash helmet everyone else has to wear.

If we keep giving way, we’ll keep giving way.

Prince Harry needs to grow up and so do we!

So young Prince Harry has done it again. In a video shot 3 years ago, the endearingly gaffe-prone prince gently joshes one of his Army comrades as "our little Paki friend", and the whole anti-racist circus swings into action once again, blowing it up out of all proportion. Yes, it was a silly thing to say and just plain wrong, but to the level-headed this will register only as a youthful gaucherie, a misdemeanour, not the heinous "crime" that the anti-racist lobby is desperately trying to pump it up into.

Feigning outrage with all the theatrical zeal and artifice of Kate Winslett winning a Golden Globe, the usual attention-seekers are strutting about demanding ever more fulsome apologies, with some loony-tunes demanding a full scale mea culpa televised apology. Wankers! Prince Harry is guilty of nothing more than ethnocentric condescension, mildly reprehensible, yes, but there doesn't seem to be any malice involved and he has apologised. That should be the end of the matter. Goodness knows, we've seen him cuddling enough Aids orphans in Africa to get the message this guy is not a racist!

In any case, gay people have to put up with far worse slurs and condescension. Radio 1 disc jockeys routinely use the word "gay" for anything considered lame or crap. Via popular culture, this use of the word "gay" has crossed over into the mainstream from the same Black American subculture that augmented the homophobic lexicon with words like "gayboy", "faggot" and the even more delightful "shit-stabber" (which explains the longstanding, but largely unspoken, antipathy between large sections of the black and gay communities). Even some older people, who really ought to know better, like Jeremy Clarkson, have started to use "gay" as a byword for anything weak and useless.

These slurs against gay people are far more damning than anything Prince Harry has said, as they leave no room for interpretation. They are undeniably insulting and intended to be so. When Clarkson was censured by the BBC, for calling a particularly awful car "gay" on Top Gear, the complaint was not upheld - though, bizarrely, he was censured for calling it "a little bit ginger beer". The re-release of the Pogues record Fairy Tale of New York a couple of years ago had the word "faggot" bleeped out when it was played on Radio 1, but it was later played uncensored after listeners complained in their droves. And quite right too!

Surely, as lesbian and gay people, our shoulders are broad enough to withstand a little joshing, the occasional joke, crass comment, or even hostile criticism? Like our fellow Brits of Pakistani origin, we should be robust enough to rise above such foolishness and stop behaving like a bunch of Mary Whitehouses who have just spotted an erection at the vicarage tea party. We are not voiceless, we are not without talent, so we need not be victims. We can fight back simply by proving we are smarter, kinder, funnier and better than our detractors.

As individuals, we all need to be sensitive to the feelings of others - that is a mark of maturity - but allowances have to be made for the young, the foolish and the ignorant, for whom the internet world of FaceBook, MySpace and YouTube has blurred the boundaries of "public" and "private", as well as any notion of what is appropriate in any particular context. Rather than jumping on every unguarded remark uttered in the public sphere, we should only punish malicious intent, not immaturity, thoughtlessness, or free expression. Like Prince Harry, it's time for us all to grow up.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Christian inequality

When will religious employers be brought into line with everyone else? We hear today of a parish in the British West Midlands has banned women from applying to be its vicar, because the church there feels parishioners would be horrified and run away.

This has happened at St Mary the Virgin Church at Enfield, where the former vicar – a man – has just fulfilled a seven-year contract.

The interregnum priest, David Blackburn, says everyone has agreed that a woman priest is not wanted.

Why the hell can’t these people be brought into line with employment law, and be told that a woman will be given as much chance as a man? We know why these nincompoops don’t want a woman: Jesus chose men for his apostles. Well just look at the times he was operating in! Could a women have done that in those times? Nope.

But today a woman can. And we’ve had women priests for years now, and there are women bishops in the USA.

I think that, if I were the Parochial Church Council for that church, I’d be asking my collective self: do I really want parishioners who are so damned bigoted that they’d ban women from applying for a job that women are perfectly capable of doing?

There are 1,543 ordained women within the Church of England at the moment, and a total of 6,880 ordained men.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Misleading author

When recently I posted on this blog a plea for plain speaking I did not mention misleading authors. One such close to home is Mark Vernon, who describes himself as an agnostic.

In a series of Teach Yourself books Hodder Headline has published his book called Teach Yourself Humanism.

It is not really about the Humanist ethical tradition but about humanitarianism in a whole ragbag of ideas. As such it may well confuse any enquirer because it claims that “Humanism in the history of ideas is almost impossible to pin down”. This is not the case, of course, as Humanism is a set of ideas based on the assumption of a natural universe without any supernatural elements acting upon it and is the result of chance, necessity and choice.

Religions and philosophies that teach otherwise may include elements of humanitarianism but that does not amount to Humanism.

The title of the book is so misleading that it seems to me to be a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Cosmic semantics

The religion correspondent of The Times (UK), Ruth Gledhill, quotes her “illustrious predecessor” Clifford Longley at length on how there must be a God, or else the universe would not have developed the way it has – with great complexity.

Longley is a man often described by the BBC – whereon he frequently pontificates – as a “religious commentator” or some such. Whatever that is.

He’s taking the creators of the ad that’s being displayed on what’s become known as “the atheist bus” to the Advertising Standards Authority, because, it seems, he doesn’t like the sentence, “There’s probably no God.” Others, it seems, are equally furious.

Longley writes:

The statement “There’s probably no God”, as currently seen on the side of London buses, is untrue and dishonest, in so far as the word “probably” completely fails to reflect the true state of the scientific argument. In fact it would be honest and true to say the opposite – “There probably is a God.”

Semantics, semantics. Probably is, probably isn’t, probably schmobably, what the hell?

He cites several scientists who have banged on about how, if something or other had been a millitweak to the left or something else had been a microdibble to the right, then the universe would not have happened as it has, and there would be no life as we know it to witness its awesome beauty.

So what? The fact is that it did happen that way. That’s the way it fell. It had to fall somehow. There is no evidence whatever that such complexity had to be the work of a conscious mind. (It may have been, but we’ll never know – ever – and so no one can say either way.)

I fail to see why people who talk a lot about this can’t get their heads around the fact that things happen, and things happened one way because they didn’t happen another way. If it hadn’t happened this way, we wouldn’t be here to dwell on it. But it did, and we are, and we do, and that’s that.

Or perhaps some other life form we can’t at the moment conceive of would have developed, become intelligent and now be scratching one of its heads and doing a Longley.

As for complexity itself, well our universe has had a few billion years to develop that complexity, through a helluva lot of trial and error. A long time, that.

Perhaps it is because these wafflers pontificate so much about it that it troubles their deluded, superstitious minds – minds that seem to want to grasp at anything to prove that there’s a God, because that fits in with the comfort zone of their beliefs, a comfort zone they are unwilling to step out of.

And, as for that “probably no God” thing, the reason the atheist bus people say there probably isn’t is surely only down to the fact that they are countering the assertions of the people who say there is. After all, if you’re gainsaying something, arguing against it, you tend to say the opposite: yes it is; oh no it isn’t; oh yes it is.

Sorry, but this seems straightforward to me. Is this because I can see it without being encumbered by needless religious baggage, Clifford? Shouldn't we be applying the principle of Ockham's razor here somewhere? Or am I missing something?

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Deleting God

With less than a fortnight to go before President-elect Obama becomes President Obama – the 44th President of the United States of America – it’s unlikely there’ll be changes to the ceremony to reflect secularism.

But some American humanists and atheists feel there’s no harm in trying, it seems. They want a strict interpretation of the separation of church and state, as called for in the Constitution, and have filed a lawsuit to have the words “so help me God” deleted.

It’s a pity it has to be left to atheists and humanists. We don’t see stories telling us that people in general (whether atheist, Christian, whatever) are calling for this, yet there must be those who, of whatever belief, hold that church–state separation is constitutional and should therefore be adhered to.

Which leaves one thinking that a blind eye can be turned to constitutional anomalies if such anomalies suit those who are turning the blind eye.

Crossing boundaries

Scenes that are not quite nice – those depicting death and torture, for instance – are often censored, or partially censored by being, in theory, closed off from parts of the population (as with the TV 9 p.m. watershed). Yet for centuries we’ve allowed in our streets huge statues of a man being put to death in the most barbaric and cruel manner devised by the Romans of old.

As a symbol of Jesus’s death, the cross is a potent image for Christians. But so often we see the dead or dying man hung there with nails through his palms (or wrists) and feet and a novel form of acupuncture being performed on his head. What’s wrong with having a cross rather than a crucifix?

A priest in Horsham in Surrey is so disgusted with the Crucifixion sculpture (pictured) outside his church, St John’s, that he’s ordered it taken down. Yes, it looks a bit gruesome, but its colour adds to the horror that is already there.

It’s odd that those who would censor TV say constant exposure to violence inures young people (well, all people, I suspect) to its effects. Perhaps it makes them more likely to go and commit violence. It’s in their lives, albeit on a TV screen.

Yet we allow a barbaric form of execution to be depicted throughout the land, instead of just having the cross, minus the corpse. I remember drawing it in infant school (in a C of E school in Nottinghamshire longer ago than I care to remember). I as a six-year-old was allowed – nay, encouraged – to depict this suffering individual (usually with a thief either side of him, suffering a similar fate) in crayon.

Even if the image – the full-blown crucifix, as opposed to the clean lines of a symbolic cross – is so much a part of the landscape that kids don’t recoil in horror at it, they’re going to ask questions. Why is that man hanging there like that? Who did it? Why? Why did they have to do it like that? How long does it take him to die? Does it hurt?

So I wonder if the Rev. Ewan Souter is as concerned with the rest of these images as he is with the sculpture on his own church. Perhaps he ought to be.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Prawn cocktail, anyone?

Something called the Leviticus Challenge is being recirculated on the Internet, apparently. I’ve seen it before, but I still find it amusing and an obvious challenge to Bible literalists (read idiots).

We’ve all wondered why, if homosexuality is such an abomination and must not be tolerated, it’s OK to eat shellfish and wear clothes made of two different fibres. The laws in Leviticus forbid all of this, but people who condemn gays will continue to eat prawn cocktail while wearing cotton/polyester shirts.

The Challenge comes in a letter, written in 1999, to Dr Laura Schlessinger, described as a psychologist and outspoken New York talk-radio talk-show host (a rent-a-gob, it seems, who fails as a psychologist if she puts her religious prejudices before her patients, as we can only assume she does when she claims that homosexuality is an abomination).

She claimed that Leviticus 18:22 cannot be condoned under any circumstances, so the letter to her containing the Challenge – a letter that has so far, we believe, not been answered – reads thus (enjoy!):

Dear Dr Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

However, I do need some advice from you regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them.

1. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour unto the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. Lev 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are bought from neighbouring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

4. I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

5. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev 11:10 – it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

6. Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

7. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?

8. I know from Lev 11:6–8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

9. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev 24:10–16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.

Over to you, Laura!

Lillian's ping-pong pantomime of prejudice

Queer-hating former registrar Lillian Ladele (pictured) – a self-confessed Christian – seems about to make the next move in the ping-pong pantomime over her homophobic refusal to do the job she was being paid for.
She refused to tie the knot for same-sex couples in her role as a registrar in Islington, London. She lost her job, she appealed, she won, her employers appealed, they won, and now she seems set to appeal against that. Lots of money for the lawyers.

You can see our last post on this here.

Personnel Today tells us that Ladele’s lawyers have now asked for permission to appeal.

The story says:

Ladele’s lawyer, Mark Jones head of employment law at Ormerods, told Personnel Today that he hopes to hear in the next two weeks or so if permission to appeal has been granted. He said he could not give too much information about the appeal but that one of the grounds would relate to evidence put before the tribunal and the EAT by the council’s own witnesses “relating to the treatment of Ms Ladele and the reasons for it”.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

In the beginning . . .

How do you define creatoinism? We know what most people understand by the term: they mean hard creationism, the world made literally in six days some six thousand years ago, and all that (even if they don't believe it literally).

Then we get so-called intelligent design. All this means, surely, is that the world did come about as a result of conscious creation, but has evolved the way our science tells us is the most likely scenario. It just had a guide, that’s all, a creator.

So far, so seemingly reasonable.

In today’s Guardian, however, Thomas Crowley seems to be making the case for teaching this in schools, although he does add that

it should still take only a small amount of total class time to discuss. And it is essential for any teacher to point out that, even if “soft creationism” and “intelligent design” are true, they cannot be considered science until they make predictions that can be falsified.

However, he ends thus:

But as long as science cannot explain how our universe evolved from nothing, scientists should not be so quick to dismiss the “soft form” of creationism. And the subject certainly does not warrant arrogance from those who seem to think that scientific materialism is the only logical option for the 21st century.

OK, so we can’t explain how the universe evolved from nothing (if it did), so let’s put forward another half-baked theory, and say that, since we can’t explain it, we'll allow this theory into our thinking. Why should creationism – even of the “soft” variety that would let in some of our current scientific explanations – trump the idea that the universe is just, say, a big thought in the brain of a turtle?

What Crowley doesn’t say is that scientists dismiss creationism not because they can’t prove there’s no god (no one can prove there’s no god), but because the theories we have make more sense, and over the centuries have methodically dismissed theories that preceded them – theories that would have seemed the only logical explanation at the time until knowledge filled the gaps.

By all means let’s cover in class the fact that many people believe in this stuff. That, after all, is part of studying belief. However, it’s worth repeating something we said last September:

So let’s talk about creationism in class. It’s an itch waiting to be scratched. It’s there. You can’t avoid it. It’s part of the “where did we come from?” question. But it should have been nipped in the bud in early schooling, like the existence of Santa Claus and fairies at the bottom of the garden and a moon made of green cheese and little green men on Mars.

It is a useful vehicle for exploring how early people probably formed models of the world and had to fill in the gaps. But let’s not waste too much time on it in science lessons that should be spent exploring science and the scientific method.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Please use plain English

On the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) e-list John Hunt has quoted someone from another list as saying, “Spirituality is distinct from religion, but I doubt you could suggest it could ever be secular.”

The word spirituality has become popular recently amongst religious believers because, I think, they feel it sounds modern and inclusive and does not put people off like the word religion. It is just a substitute word.

I don’t want to play along with their publicity campaigns so I recommend following the advice about meaningful discussions given by Epicurus in one of his letters 300 years before there were any Christians.

He said:

In the first place, Herodotus, you must understand what it is that the words signify, then with this tool we are in a position to test opinions, inquiries, or problems, so that our proofs may not run on endlessly untested, nor the terms we use be empty of meaning. For the primary signification of every term employed must be clearly seen, and ought to need no proving. This is necessary, if we are to have something to which to refer the point at issue, or the problem, or the opinion.

There is a lot to be said for plain English and simply asking others what their words mean.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

How not to cooperate with the law

One wonders why bishops in the Republic of Ireland are not keen to give up the secrets of the pervy priests in their midst. Odd that they shouldn't wish to see justice done.

According to Ireland’s online Sunday Business Post, “Catholic bishops have refused to give the state details of specific cases of alleged clerical abuse that were requested as part of a major child protection audit.”

This means’ that a “key section of the first-ever audit into the Church’s handling of abuse claims” will have to be dropped. Result? “The Sunday Business Post understands the watered-down audit effectively gives a clean bill of health to all Catholic dioceses regarding their compliance with guidelines on reporting suspected abuse.”

These devious Catholics have got out of giving up their guilty on legal advice. They said they’d cooperate only if “the state would assume liability in the event of lawsuits by alleged offenders who may have been named in the audit”.

So it seems the Catholic bishops are more afraid of fending off lawsuits than doing justice for those abused; daren’t see justice done in case it costs them money, and bugger the victims (pun intended). They should, of course, have dealt with them as soon as they knew who they were, and handed them over to the secular authorities.

The story ends: “It is understood that lawyers for the state and relevant dioceses are continuing to negotiate terms under which bishops would be able to supply specific details on cases of alleged abuse.”

Negotiate? If they refuse, aren’t they simply obstructing the course of justice? And isn’t that a crime?

One wonders if your Joe and Jane Public would get away with such an obstruction.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Go unfrock yourself, Ratzo

This kind of language really pisses me off:

During an interview on [. . .] Radio 4’s Today programme, Cardinal [Cormac] Murphy-O’Connor [Catholic leader in England and Wales] said that the pope “wasn’t condemning anyone or any person” with his comments.

The cardinal went on to say that the pope was only trying to emphasise the importance of the family, and the responsibility on humans to procreate.

He also said that Pope Benedict’s comments were “quite difficult to interpret” and as a result of this that he had been “very much” misrepresented in the media.

The Pope said behaviour beyond traditional heterosexual relations is “a destruction of God’s work”.

The comments concerned are those Pope Ratzo made (and has been throughly criticised for) when he said that the existence of gay people threatens humanity as much as the destruction of the rainforests does.

Ratzo is a fine one to talk of “responsibility”. The responsibility is on humans not to procreate at the moment, not to have as many babies as it’s humanly possible to have. These people obviously find it hard to see that the planet is burgeoning with life, and it’s becoming unsustainable.

Every person born is going to require food and much of his or her body is going to be made up of finite water. Then there will be the social demands: the need for more infrastructure, the demands not just for homes, but also for mod cons such as cars (and the fuel to run them), washing machines, computers, TV sets – none of which are absolutely necessary to life and limb but you know that there will be the demand, and companies will move heaven and earth (and often huge pieces of earth) to satisfy it.

Then there is the question of the industry required to provide those things that are necessary, such as clothing, tools, homes.

Sure as hell, this is going to lead to ever more people on the poor end of poor, scratching around in the earth for grains of rice, potbellied kids starving – you’ve seen the images a thousand times.

This doesn’t even consider overcrowded cities and the concomitant friction as more and more people have to reach the accommodation necessary to live alongside one another – especially those of different religions, each group making its unreasonable demands.

And what’s this that Murphy-O’Connor says about how Ratzo’s comments are “difficult to interpret”? Just how difficult is it to interpret that gay sex is as big a threat as the loss of rainforests?

As for that “destruction of God’s work”, this is just gratuitously insulting. Ratzo really should hang his head in shame – better still, do the decent thing and shoot himself.

Trouble is, one puff of white smoke and there will be an equally bigoted excuse for a human being to take his place. Which wouldn’t be so bad if the media didn’t continue to legitimise his comments by treating them as news, without severely bollocking him in their leader columns.

Halfway there

The BBC tells us that half of the Roman Catholic adoption agencies who said they’d rather close than allow same-sex couples to adopt children will now abide by the law. And that’s as it should be. What about the other half?

“The agencies were given an 21-month exemption from the anti-discrimination laws,” says the Beeb, “which came into effect in 2007, but that expired on 1 January.”

The religionists said the law, which makes it illegal to discriminate against gay applicants, went against their beliefs. The BBC story continues:

Five of the 11 agencies will now comply with the rules, while one is to close.

When the Equality Act became law in April 2007 in England, Wales and Scotland, it banned discrimination against homosexual people in the provision of goods and services, which incorporated adoption agencies.

The BBC’s religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said the Roman Catholic church denounced the regulations, claiming the rights of one group – gay people – were being placed above those of another – Christians.

As is to be expected, Mike Judge from the rabidly homophobic Christian Institute said agencies were being forced to turn their back on their faith. Tough. They’re there to provide a service, and a kids’ quality of life is far more important than a belief in sky fairies.

Judge told BBC Radio Five Live, “I think it’s iconic of a situation where you’ve got a clash between sexual-orientation rights and religious rights where, in almost every circumstance I’ve been aware of, religious rights have been seen to play second fiddle.”

Well you’re conveniently forgetting, Mr Judge, that sexuality is not a matter of choice. You do choose to believe in your mojo.