Friday, November 26, 2010

Newsline 26 November 2010



Newsline



"The National Secular Society has a clear focus on one objective – the creation of a secular society that is fair and just to all. Be part of the great debate about the place of religion in our society. Join the NSS – the group at the forefront of perhaps the most important debate of the 21st century. Join securely online at www.secularism.org.uk or by post at NSS, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL.

26 November 2010

 

In this week's Newsline
Quotes of the week
Essays of the week
More evangelists appointed to Lords
"Intrinsic moral evil" resides in the Vatican
The total spent on pope's visit continues to mount
New Vatican guidelines on child abuse leave the door open to more cover-ups
UN passes "vilification of religion" resolution – but with reduced support
Comedian accused of blasphemy in Spain
Religion on TV is like David Attenborough observing a species on the verge of extinction, says CofE
Civil courts in the US are barred by the constitution from ruling on matters of purely religious doctrine
Amazon shopping? You can benefit the NSS with no extra cost to you
Events
NSS speaks out
Letters to Newsline



Quotes of the week 
"In our more diverse and secular society, the place of religion has come to be a matter of lively discussion. It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue and that the wellbeing and prosperity of the nation depend on the contribution of individuals and groups of all faiths and none."
(Queen Elizabeth II, opening the Church of England synod)

"Religious leaders should concentrate on the big things: social and personal morality, spirituality, charity, kindness, condemning what is dishonest or cruel. Their remit should not include interfering between good, loving couples in their bedrooms."
(Libby Purves, The Times)

Essays of the Week
Is religion a force for good or would we be better off without it?
(Guardian debate)

What heaven it would be if religion would just shut up for a while
(Martin Hannan, Edinburgh News)

More evangelists appointed to Lords
Among the newly announced intake of peers into the House of Lords are several high profile Christians of an evangelical bent. Among them are:

  • Bob Edmiston, multi-millionaire car dealer who founded Christian Vision, one of the largest international Christian religious organisations in the United Kingdom. It is a registered charity and in 2007 had an endowment of £200 million. Its mission is "To introduce people to Jesus and encourage those who acknowledge Him to accept Him as the Son of God and become His true followers." Through two other charities he is the sponsor and chair of governors of three secondary schools within the English academy programme – Grace Academies in Coventry, Solihull and more recently Darlaston (near Walsall). The academies follow a Christian ethos – and how!

  • Sir Richard Dannatt, formerly Chief of General Staff in the British Army. An evangelical Anglican, Dannatt called for a return to traditional Judeo-Christian values in order to counter "the Islamist threat" within British society. In a Daily Mail interview, he said: "When I see the Islamist threat in this country I hope it doesn't make undue progress because there is a moral and spiritual vacuum in this country." British society, he said, "has always been embedded in Christian values; once you have pulled the anchor up there is a danger that our society moves with the prevailing wind." In his view, "There is an element of the moral compass spinning. I think it is up to society to realise that is the situation we are in." He identified aspects of radical Islam as the heart of the matter: "We can't wish the Islamist challenge to our society away and I believe that the army both in Iraq and Afghanistan and probably wherever we go next, is fighting the foreign dimension of the challenge to our accepted way of life." It is important, he added, "to face up to the Islamist threat, to those who act in the name of Islam and in a perverted way try to impose Islam by force on societies that do not wish it." He concluded: "It is said that we live in a post Christian society. I think that is a great shame. The broader Judeo-Christian tradition has underpinned British society. It underpins the British Army."

    The NSS drew attention to him bragging in Alpha News in 2007 that he "been invited to speak at an Alpha course 300 miles from his home", been picked up, "flew there for the evening, gave the talk, and flew home again" – seeming to involve 1,200 helicopter miles paid for by the public purse. He told them "It was rather good actually. You ought to try it."


  • Elizabeth Berridge is the retiring director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, which is as reactionary as it sounds.

  • Sir Patrick Cormack is described as "a committed Christian". He was a long-serving Tory MP and was a rector's warden at Parliament's parish church, St Margaret's, Westminster, from 1978–90. His voting record on abortion, homosexuality and any socially progressive legislation is appalling.

  • Sir Reg Empey is a former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and a member of the sectarian Orange Order (which has been described as "triumphalist" and which bans Catholics from joining).

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: "As if there wasn't enough zealotry in the Lords we now have more in the shape of these proven religious agitators – and not the benign sort, either. A fully elected second chamber is long overdue."

Tariq Ahmad —the only Muslim in the latest intake — seems to have a balanced approach to his religion.

"Intrinsic moral evil" resides in the Vatican
Editorial
There's nothing theologians like better than trying to decipher what the hell their colleagues are talking about. And then producing an interpretation that is equally impenetrable.

We saw a perfect example of this during the week, when the pope said something (who knows what?) about condoms and the Catholic Church's teachings on their use. Did he mean that the policy had changed? Did he mean that the policy had not changed? Was he starting a debate? Was he ending a debate?

Trying to find a way through the fog of inflated and bewildering language (why use one word when you can write a three volume treatise?) is like paddling in treacle.

But it keeps the bejewelled old celibates in the Vatican happy, helps them pass their days poring over the minutiae of what this word meant or what that phrase amounted to. It's a fascinating game when the crosswords and sudokus run out.

In the meantime, the African continent is ravaged by a disease that has no cure and which, without expensive drugs, cannot be controlled. People die — slowly — in miserable, pain-wracked circumstances. These are young people with young families. They simply responded to their bodies' urges for sexual experience and tried, at the same time, to abide by the Church's teachings. The Church's demand for abstinence is a call to deny human nature, and very few of us want or are capable of resisting one of the strongest of all life's urges (not even priests, it seems).

The victims of HIV infection leave orphaned children who then often have to fend for themselves in a cruel and poverty-stricken society. The Guardian carried a report on the mixed responses in Africa to the pope's ambiguous statement – they range from pragmatic compassion to hardline denial.

And while this happens to tens of thousands of people, the old fools at the Vatican bicker endlessly over whether the pope meant only male prostitutes, whether female prostitutes we also included, or — more likely — that it was prostitutes engaged in homosexual activities where no procreation could result. If there is any chance of procreation — adding another Catholic to the flock — the pope is adamant that condoms are verboten, even if just one of the participants is HIV positive and therefore likely to transmit it to the other.

One thing is clear – the interview on which these convoluted arguments are based were the opinions of one man. They were not an intimation that the Catholic Church is changing its teachings on condoms (no "U-turn" as some papers triumphantly announced). Indeed, it is clear that the ban on rubbers remains inexplicably in place.

The Vatican often labels other people "intrinsically disordered" and "morally evil", but its own teachings in this area are surely wickedness personified. And this week's events hold them up to a very unflattering light.

The total spent on pope's visit continues to mount
After the Government admitted this week that it had spent nearly £10 million on the pope's visit to the UK in September (not including policing or security), Edinburgh and Birmingham City Councils have also revealed they spent something like £375,000 between them on the religious jamboree.

The Scottish Government contributed £41,000 towards the cost of a Parade in Edinburgh, which travelled down Princes Street ahead of Pope Benedict XVI, but it is the City Council that has been left to pick up the tab for the remaining £251,727.

The council spent £216,141 on barriers, cones, stewarding and CCTV, and £45,517 on litter collection, litter bin sealing, extra street cleaning along the procession route and graffiti removal. In addition, £13,773 was spent on papal banners for Princes Street and environs, and £6,426 on providing first aiders, doctors, nurses and first aid posts.

The costs are detailed in a report to the city council's policy and strategy committee published on Wednesday. City leader Jenny Dawe said the cost of the operation would be met from within existing council budgets. "It has been contained within departmental budgets but, even so, it was a quarter of a million pounds, which is a lot," she said. Glasgow has yet to reveal the level of its spending.

Meanwhile, a Freedom of Information request from the NSS has revealed that Birmingham City Council spent nearly £82,000 of council tax payers' money on the few hours that the pope was in the city. The Council admits that it may not have taken everything into account when making this calculation, but this is the total as far as it has been able to ascertain.

Of course, this is only what the City Council spent – it does not represent what the police and the security services spent, which are amounts still to be revealed.

Among the costs incurred by Birmingham Council were £1,000 donation towards "a gift for his holiness" and nearly £50,000 celebrating Cardinal Newman. This was just after the Council had cut 2,000 jobs and closed care homes in order to save money. In justification, the Council said that "The economic benefits culminating in the weekend's events were calculated at over £30m and resulted in a positive image of Birmingham both nationally and internationally."

There is no indication where such a ridiculous figure came from, or how it was calculated. The "pilgrims" who attended the papal mass in Cofton Park were bussed in and bussed out with little or no contact with the city at all.

New Vatican guidelines on child abuse leave the door open to more cover-ups
New guidelines from the Vatican aimed at creating "a co-ordinated and effective programme" of child protection are to be sent out to bishops around the world. They will not instruct bishops to report sex abuse by clerics to the police, only for them to "collaborate" with the authorities when crimes are reported by others or uncovered by external agencies.

The guidelines will stress the importance of diocesan bishops convincing the public of their "effective commitment" to protect children attending church schools. It will also tell the hierarchy to be "attentive" in the selection and formation of future priests and religious.

An advance outline of the directive, which is to be circulated to the national conference of bishops, was given in the presence of the Pope at a summit of 150 cardinals in the Vatican last Friday by Cardinal William J Levada, who is head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

NSS member Sue Cox, a survivor of abuse herself and now a campaigner for others, said: "As usual, the Vatican is trying to dictate the terms. As usual they completely sideline the issues, and refuse to acknowledge their responsibility to the thousands of abused people who are still battling them for justice. The point is very much that until the church accepts that it needs to look outside the organisation and undertake full independent reviews, opens up to external scrutiny, it will neither deal with past issues – nor show any signs of moving forward."

UN passes "vilification of religion" resolution – but with reduced support
A United Nations General Assembly committee once again voted to condemn the "vilification of religion" on Tuesday, but support narrowed for this measure, that Western powers say is a threat to freedom of expression. The non-binding resolution, championed by Islamic states and opposed by Western countries, passed by only 12 votes in the General Assembly's Third Committee, which focuses on human rights (76–64 with 42 abstentions). Opponents noted that support had fallen and opposition increased since last year, when the Third Committee vote was 81–55 with 43 abstentions. The 192-nation General Assembly is expected to formally adopt the measure next month.

The resolution was amended from versions passed in previous years in an attempt to secure support from Western nations. Instead of defamation of religion, it speaks of "vilification." It also condemned acts of violence and intimidation due to "Islamophobia, Judeophobia and Christianophobia." Last year's resolution, as in previous years, focused on Islam and did not mention Judaism and Christianity.

Despite the changes, however, the United States, European Union and their allies rejected the resolution's calls for legislation banning the defamation/vilification of religion.

The text, submitted by Morocco on behalf of Muslim states, said the Assembly "urges all States to provide ... adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from vilification of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general."

Comedian accused of blasphemy in Spain
The Italian satirist Leo Bassi has been the subject of a complaint filed in the courts of the Spanish city of Valladolid by the State Association of Christian Lawyers accusing him blasphemy. Mr Bassi allegedly mocked the pope, the Catholic religion and Christian symbols during his act.

Mr Bassi was performing in the Auditorium of the University of Valladolid at a conference organised by the Republican Atheist group. The conference was entitled "Judeo-Christian roots of the West: an historical fraud to fight."

"We think Leo Bassi may have committed a crime punishable under the Penal Code (section 525.1) as the offense and derision toward the beliefs of a religious denomination," said William Garabito Efe, who made the complaint on behalf of the Association of Youth for Factual Information (Ajio).

As well as Bassi, the complaint names Republican Ateneo, and the rector of the University of Valladolid, Mark Sexton.

The complainants say that Mr Bassi was dressed as Father Christmas as he "mocked the most prominent symbols and beliefs of the Christian faith" which they considered "slander and libel" that amounted discrimination on religious grounds that could incite hatred and violence.

Religion on TV is like David Attenborough observing a species on the verge of extinction, says CofE
Despite moaning from the Church of England about how few religious services are broadcast on BBC Television, the BBC Trust says it is satisfied with the level of religious coverage on BBC1 and BBC2. In its five-yearly review (pdf), the Trust says religious programming has been "steady over time" with both channels meeting audience expectations.

The report reveals that BBC1 and BBC2 "have a shared commitment to broadcasting over 110 hours of religious programming each year. These channels met this service licence condition during this review period: BBC1 broadcast around 100 hours of religious programming in 2009, while BBC2 broadcast around 35 hours. Overall reach of religious programming on BBC television was over 28 million in 2009, a figure broadly similar to 2005. The volume of programming has also remained broadly stable since 2005, in contrast to other channels – Channel 4's output has fallen from 76 hours to 49 hours and ITV1's from 67 hours to 21.45."

The report also says that "BBC management is committed to broadcasting a minimum of one major religion series on BBC2 every year and a major series on BBC One every other year. Much of BBC1's programming is accounted for by three major strands, Songs of Praise, which reached 3.4 million viewers each week in 2009, and Big Questions and  Sunday Morning Live, discussion and debate formats broadcast on Sunday mornings. BBC Two's religious output is less regular with a focus on factual programming such as Around the World in 80 Faiths which reached nearly 2.5 million people every week."

The Trust says that although their review focuses on TV coverage, it should be noted that there is much more (some would say excessive) religious coverage by the BBC's news output on radio. Radio 2 and Radio 4, as well as BBC Online, more than make up for any deficiencies in TV coverage.

The Church of England said religion on TV was in danger of the "David Attenborough effect" – that is "always reported from the point of view of an observer of a fascinating and increasingly rare species, rather than explored as something of fundamental importance to the vast majority of the country."

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: "Far from what the CofE claims, research shows that religious programmes are of minimal importance to the 'vast majority of the country'. We feel that the level of BBC TV coverage is about right. This is in stark contrast to Radio 4 where on top of the ludicrous amount of specifically religious programming, no opportunity is missed to insinuate religion into any other programme. So far, the weather report for inshore waters has stumped them, but I am sure they will find a way." 

Civil courts in the US are barred by the constitution from ruling on matters of purely religious doctrine
In an affirmation of the constitutional separation of Church and State, a Court of Appeal in the United States has ruled that civil courts must stay out of religious disputes that can only resolved through interpretation of religious doctrine.

The Fifth District Court of Appeal this week issued a writ of mandate directing the Fresno Superior Court to set aside a summary adjudication in favour of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America and Jerry A. Lamb. Lamb is one of two claimants seeking control of the bishopric and hence church property in the Fresno-based Diocese of San Joaquin.

While civil courts may resolve church property disputes on the basis of neutral legal principles, Presiding Justice James Ardaiz explained, whether Lamb or John-David Schofield is the bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin "is an issue the First Amendment forbids us from adjudicating."

The litigation in Fresno is the result of a schism within the Episcopal Church over issues such as the ordination of openly gay and female priests and the parent church's approval of same-sex unions and of same-sex marriages in states where it is legal. Schofield identifies with conservatives who oppose the Episcopal Church's "unilateral decisions about theology, sexuality, and ordination" as they claim them to be inconsistent with Anglican doctrine.

At the other end of the scale, this blogger asks: what has been the point of all the violence, murder and maiming in Afghanistan when the country remains a vile and corrupt theocracy that kills apostates and tortures women?

Amazon shopping? You can benefit the NSS with no extra cost to you
The NSS has an arrangement with Amazon that if you access their site through our website (click here or on the logo at the bottom right of our home page) they will pay us a proportion of the money spent. It doesn't cost you any more, but it helps the NSS funds.

The range of goods they sell and the prices they charge will surprise most readers. So, if you're shopping with Amazon this year, for example for seasonal gifts, please remember to visit their site via ours and you'll be giving the NSS a seasonal gift with no cost to yourself.

And as an alternative to Christmas cards, why not consider sending out our excellent little pamphlet Did Christians Steal Christmas? which is an antidote to the annual claims by religious activists that Christmas is being destroyed by political correctness. Our well-informed little tome, by Robert Stovold, reveals that, in fact, the mid-winter festival was originally a pagan delight that was usurped and overlaid by Christian "traditions". Buy it from our shop (where there are many other goodies to choose from).

Events
NSS AGM tomorrow (Saturday) at Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL. Open to paid up members only. 1.30pm for 2pm start.

Apostasy, Sharia Law and Human Rights – a conference to mark Human Rights Day. Saturday 11 December 2010, Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL. The conference will highlight urgent cases including Pakistani Asia Bibi who has received a death sentence for blasphemy, Palestinian Waleed Al-Husseini who has been arrested for criticising Islam and campaigners in Iran charged with 'enmity against God' and demand their unconditional and immediate release. Conference registration begins at 10.00am for 11.00am start and ends at 19.00 hours, after which there will be a social gathering at a local pub.

Panel discussions include 'International Apostasy and Religion,' 'Ex-Muslims in Britain and Europe' and 'Multiculturalism and Multifaithism versus Universal Human Rights.'

To book a place at the conference, please complete the booking form. Tickets are £10 for individuals; £25 for organisations and statutory bodies. the conference is free for CEMB members and asylum seekers. The conference is sponsored by Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Iran Solidarity, National Secular Society, One Law for All and South Place Ethical Society. More information or email onelawforall@gmail.com.

NSS speaks out
Terry Sanderson was quoted on the front page of the Financial Times about the Church interfering in the Murdoch/BSkyB bid which was partially taken up by the Irish Times (disclaimer: we were not supporting the Murdoch bid, merely questioning the appropriateness of the Church's attempt to influence it).

Terry Sanderson was quoted in a Press Association story about the comments made by a CofE bishop on the upcoming royal wedding  This was widely quoted including in the Sun, the Mirror, The Times (subscription only online), Belfast Telegraph, The Age in Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Irish Independent and many others.

It also resulted in Terry Sanderson being interviewed on BBC TV News and the BBC website. The Bishop's subsequent apology resulted in the NSS's quotes being used again in newspaper reports around the world.

Terry Sanderson was on the BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme talking about the threats to universal welfare provision posed by the growth of faith-based welfare. He was also on Radio Sussex and Surrey talking about the Panorama programme on extremism in Islamic schools. Keith Porteous Wood was on LBC Radio on the same topic. Terry was also on BBC Radio Newcastle about the pope and AIDS.

Keith was interviewed about recent NSS representations to the Education Secretary about the threats to cohesion posed by minority faith schools. It was broadcast both on France Inter, and the rolling news station France Info.

We were also quoted in a story about the Government revealing that the Pope's visit had cost it in the region of £10 million.

Letters to Newsline
Please send your letters for publication to letters@secularism.org.uk We want to publish as many letters as possible, so please keep them brief: no more than 250 words . We reserve the right to edit. Opinions expressed in letters are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the NSS.

From Paul Orton:
As a secular atheist I often wonder if the NSS should be solely for non-believers like me? Surely secularism is a political concept advocating the separation of church and state, and is therefore open to all – religious as well as non religious. I spend a lot of effort trying to persuade others, many of whom are religious, that secularism is a neutral stance that benefits everybody. Some show signs of agreeing, but I am not helped in my argument that secularism is so closely identified with atheism, and that the NSS is a solely atheist society.

I would like to see the NSS supporting the development of secularism by encouraging religious secular societies. I realise the theological difficulties many will have with this, but it is the National Secular Society, not the National Atheist Society. I am probably in a minority of one here, but I would like to see an inclusive NSS that embraces secular religionists. I can't be the only one that sees secularism as an anti-theocratic political struggle, rather than an anti-theist one.
Terry Sanderson writes: Paul, this is a big issue and one that we intend to discuss and debate over the coming year with a view to making some fundamental changes in the NSS's objectives. I introduced it in the annual report and I hope that all members will become involved in deciding the future structure of the NSS. The debate starts tomorrow (Saturday) at the AGM. Hope you can be there, but it is only for fully paid up members.

From Paul Braterman:
According to the Guardian, one third of English parish churches have the right to charge neighbouring properties for their own repairs. The standard search does not reveal this, and the Guardian advises against carrying out a special search, which will cost £150, because you can insure against this risk, but only if you don't know about it.
Ed: This is a complicated subject covered by this and some Wiki articles, for example. 

From Ken Partington:
Mike Reid's method of removing Jehovah's Witnesses from his doorstep is very plausible, but might initiate an uncalled-for discussion. I prefer to tell them that I am: "A Communist, an atheist and a blood-donor" – the three attributes guaranteed to make them scurry away never to return.

From Rob Jamieson:
A couple of Jehovah Witnesses came to my door recently and shoved a Bible in my face and indicated some passage concerning God's wonderful powers. I responded by asking them if God was omniscient and knew everything that happens in the past, present and future. They confirmed that this was so. I asked "If this is so, he knows who will join him in Heaven and those who will go to purgatory, hell or whatever other fate he had in store. Why then does he not dispense with the farce here on earth and conclude the matter here and now?" Their answer, "Well, he had to prove it to the devil". I'm not convinced.

From John Blake:
I was told recently that if they come to your door, you simply say "I used to be a Jehovah's Witness". They retreat at a rate of knots because they are not allowed to talk to people who have left their "faith". A friend of mine used to keep a hatchet by his front door and always opened the door with it raised at shoulder height. He had a coal fire but the hatchet was great for putting the fear of (insert name of imaginary deity) into them.

From Mike Granville:
It makes my day if the Jehovah's Witnesses come calling. Sadly, I think they have crossed me off their list, or possibly put some secret coded sign on my front door.
 
We in the NSS should see it as our duty to keep these people occupied for as long as possible, so that they do not spend that time with gullible people.
 
However, if you really can't be bothered, I recommend that you get a Bible, go to the nuttier or nastier bits and put a post-it note to mark those. By the time you've done that a dozen or so times, you'll be ready. Then, when they come calling, you take out your Bible and watch the look of terror in their eyes as you ask them to explain your favourite bits. This is not what they have been trained for!! They'll be off double-quick.
 
I prefer to keep them here. It's the nearest I get to blood-sports. My last caller was here for an hour, but, in fairness, I would have to say that he tried to get away twice.

From John Matthew Bostock:
I have written to Newsline in the past on the subject of Jehovah's Witnesses, who, generally speaking, are very 'nice' people. I have debated with them and always found them to be polite and to end the conversation when I have suggested ending it.

Many people assume that JWs believe the same things as other Christians but this is not the case so Mike Read is totally wrong in his suggestion that you could mention the 'soul' when in discussion with them, to make them go away. JWs do not believe in the soul. (Get to know your adversary, as I suggested before) so his 'put down' would have no meaning and they would not reply in the way he says that they might. May I suggest that all 'polite' atheists just ask them to leave?
 
On the subject of 'child abuse', as discussed by several contributors. I do use the term when discussing Catholics and Muslims because they use Hell to instill fear in their victims. I know of several grown up Catholics who have an unnatural dread of Hell so I do suggest that they were abused as children by those who instilled this fear.
 
Consider those scientists who maintain their religion in the face of massive evidence to the contrary: they cannot do proper science due to their religious upbringing. Is this not a failing of parents in their child's education? Parents who regularly hand over their children to religious fanatics (people who believe in fanciful ideas like virgins giving birth or white horses transporting people to Heaven and many other such ideas are fanatics) are failing in their duty. I have never heard of a scientist becoming religious after an atheist upbringing. Look back in history to those great scientists who were held back by religion. Newton for one, Descartes for another, they were great but could have been greater. Religion has to be kept out of education and away from all except consenting adults.

From James Jones:
I enjoyed reading Mike Reid's method of dealing with Jehovah's witnesses, and thought I might share my own. I ask them to "hang on a sec", while I fetch a pad and pen. I then ask them for their names and addresses. They almost always ask why I want this info, so I tell them that a team of local non-believers will be calling round in the next few days to convert them to atheism. They never give out the info, and they don't hang around. Come to think, I haven't seen any for ages, so it must have worked. "Result!" as they say.

On the subject of faith schools, are we missing a vital point? Surely, it must be a breach of a child's basic human rights to force them into a single-faith educational environment?
 
Should it not be that they are all educated equally, by the state, regardless of their parents' beliefs (or, in many cases, purported beliefs)? In a modern (allegedly), secular (ha!), multi-cultural (undoubtedly) society, should we not be giving them a balanced education, informing them about philosophies and religions, not teaching them just one as "fact"?
 
Have we forgotten the Cold War, when we were all appalled at the brainwashing and indoctrination techniques of the Communist Bloc? Do we totally fail to recognise our hypocrisy when we campaign against repressive regimes throughout the world? Can we seriously claim to be that much better, when we actively continue to force mumbo-jumbo on generation after generation of innocents?
 
From Claire Poyner:
Gay scientists have isolated the Christian Gene .

From David Warden:
David Cade (Newsline 19 November) suggests that I have failed to appreciate a 'moral responsibility to ensure that children are not knowingly given into the permanent care of individuals known to suffer from homophobia… or any kind of child-abuser'. The distinction we must draw in a sane society is between a genuinely-held belief that something is morally wrong (in this case, homosexuality) and violent aggression towards gay people. If we cannot make this distinction between thought and action then we face the absurd prospect of the state removing millions of children from all parents with 'unsound views'. This looks like the kind of vicious society that George Holyoake was struggling against in the first place.

From Harry Perry:
The linked data from the letter on crime and religion (Newsline 19/11/10) shows US figures. I have previously searched on this for the UK and found that non-believers here are a little over-represented in the prison population. I can't give a source at the moment but I don't think they all appeared in front of Cherie Blair!

A story exactly four years ago on this same topic had Keith Porteous Wood commenting.

This story reports the clear over-representation of religious people in relation to sex crimes (surprise, surprise) and those of eastern religions in relation to fraud. These correlations may be more to do with cultures and preferred careers (eg Indians in accountancy and business) than religion.

Bearing in mind our probably justified perception of Muslim communities and families as being 'protective of their privacy' and dealing with things 'in-house' my guess is that a fair amount of Muslim-on-Muslim crime goes unreported, especially domestic violence and marital rape, both sanctioned by religious doctrine. These won't appear in the data for prisoners.

I am sure a research project on this whole area could provide some useful ammo for debates about the moral superiority of religious believers.

From Shaun Joynson:
In addition to your excellent table showing that crime is actually much lower in US states with lower religiosity, I have another example. 

One would have thought that being religious would have instilled an innate sense of morality into all citizens that would be strong enough to keep them on the straight and narrow even in the toughest of times. 

Take a highly religious country like Iraq. When Saddam Hussain fell, there was a gap between the fleeing of the Iraqi forces and the arrival of the invaders.

Surely that should have been a time when religious morality would have kicked in automatically to keep the population in order until a new government could be established. Instead what did we see? Widespread looting and the sickening site of men stripping bare the very hospitals their wounded children were being treated in. If ever anyone ever tries "religion reduces crime" on me, I always quote that as an example to shut them up.

From Mark Francis:
I am quite happy for my son to learn about religion and all different kinds of religions. Compulsory religious studies classes at schools are one of the main ways of spreading secularism and atheism we have. My 12 year old constantly questions his teacher – especially about how many animals could fit in the Ark, why does the Bible teach that the value of pi is 3 (Kings 7 verse 23) and why should we not suffer a witch to live. The teacher – who seems to push an exclusively Christian viewpoint, despite [my son] attending a non-denominational school generally answers his questions by accusing him of disrespecting other peoples' religion and telling him to shut up.

I have explained to him that this is how religion works, viz:

  1. you have to respect them & they do not have to respect you
  2. give your money over.

From John Dowdle:
In your Newsline edition dated 19 November, there was reference to Muslims creating a parallel society in Canada. Orthodox Jews and Christians have been doing the same thing for centuries around the world. If Canada wants a sense of national identity in young citizens, perhaps they should introduce a form of national service? Maybe this should be considered here too?

In the UK, the State is relying upon religious organisations to take up the slack resulting from Big Society budget cuts to deliver schooling (NOT education), hospitalisation (NOT healthcare) and charity (NOT social services).

In education we must stop religionists controlling schools and the minds and bodies of our young children. We are failing our children right now. We should:—

  • Establish a secular home schooling organisation, to help secular parents home-educate their children, to stop their contamination by religious viruses and brainwashing by religious schools. I believe religious instruction in a child's home-education is not legally required. We should provide parents and children with a valued and independent education service now that the UK State is abandoning them.

  • Work with like-minded community schools to take advantage of the "free" policy to set up public sector secular schools, in which only comparative religious mythology is taught to comply with the national curriculum. Children to be encouraged to adopt a free-thinking and independent approach, with particular emphasis being placed on communication, literacy, numeracy, science and information technology, to equip them for their future lives.

From Richard Eastburn-Hewitt:
I sent the following email to the BBC's World Tonight programme following an item on the forthcoming royal nuptials:

All organisations, be they large, medium or small, either evolve or devolve. The time is fast approaching for our nation to change the form of its head of state. Nobody, in this modern age, should hold any office for life, and no head of state should hold office without the express consent of the people. That is the very essence of democracy.
 
This country is multi-denominational and for this reason it is inappropriate for it to be headed (even nominally) by a king or queen who is, ipso facto, the head of the Church of England. This gives one religion precedence over all the others, and places unelected bishops into the parliamentary system – again, counter-democratic.
 
The present sovereign has fulfilled her duties as head of state in an exemplary manner, but this is no guarantee that those who follow her will be even satisfactory. Under the present system there is no lawful way in which the nation can remove its head of state – once more, showing how undemocratic the system is. The time for public debate on this matter has arrived, don't you agree?

From Bob Coalbran:
With regard to the matter of indoctrination of children into religions raised by David Routledge. I recently attended a talk given by the American psychologist Darrel Ray which had been organised jointly by the Birmingham & Lichfield Humanist Groups. Darrel Ray is the author of the book The God Virus – How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture and his promotional talk has been filmed on at least three previous occasions. These can be viewed online via these links: New York City Atheists and YouTube (the talks given in San Diego and Ireland and other snippets).
 
The talk and the book itself provide a useful framework within which he highlighted the many similarities between viral infection & the spread of religions by a mixture hypnotism, guilt, cultural activities, peer pressure etc. Whilst personally I found his headline argument (that all religions are in reality completely separate viruses that manipulate aspects of human behaviour) hard to accept, most of the talk effectively addressed the matter of how religions gain access to impressionable minds especially of children. For anyone wanting to read the book, copies can be obtained from Amazon UK priced at £9.33 (post free).

From Ollie Killingback:
John Radford's comment that "It is perhaps a small point, but 'catholic' means 'Universal; of interest or use to all men; all-embracing, of wide sympathies, broad-minded, tolerant' (Oxford English Dictionary). By no stretch of the imagination does this describe the Roman Catholic Church" reminded me of when I was a young clergyman (oh, the errors of youth!) and used to annoy the RCs at ecumenical meetings by referring to them as "The Italian Mission" on the grounds that it was at least an accurate use of language.

From Joan Wade:
Thank you John Radford for drawing our attention to the Oxford University Press's definition of the word Catholic and I don't think it is a small point. From now on I shall always refer to that religion as Roman Catholic. It reminded me of the recent BBC Radio 4 programme with Andrew Marr discussing John Foxe's Book of Martyrs: A History of the Lives, Sufferings and Deaths of the Early Christian and Protestant Martyrs in which William Tyndale's gruesome strangling and burning at the stake was vividly described. During a discussion on the Reformation, the point was raised that it came about not just because of Henry VIII needing a divorce (RCs always emphasise that point!), but because England wanted a new church of its own, free from foreign rule and interference in Rome that had lasted 1,000 years.

I'm so glad to be a secularist free from all the never-ending nonsensical religious warmongering and conflicts.

From Gill Primett:
The Right Reverend Pete Broadbent said: "Marriages should be about family, not some piece of national flim-flam paid for out of our taxes, for a couple whose lives are going to be persecuted and spoilt by an ignorant media". Why has he been suspended from public duties? Does the Church of England not encourage debate? Are senior C of E staff not allowed to question an expensive practice that has been shown to fail, in the long term, on many occasions, in recent years? Although I am an atheist and a secularist, I think it was brave of Rev. Broadbent to "stick his neck out" – I hope he does not get "the chop".

From David White:
Regarding the Christian babysitter problem, David Routledge asked in his letter, "which things are harmless and which things are harmful?" The effect that something has on a particular child will depend upon the temperament of the individual child and upon the family that supports him or her. On judging things one must apply the 'can they handle it?' test. For example, one could ask: "Is it right to ask a person to sit on the jury in a murder trial?" The answer is: not if the person is a child. Why? Because the child would not be able to handle it. Something can be right in the healthy adult world and yet still be harmful to children and other vulnerable people.
 
In attempting to identify harmful teachings, the first thing to look out for is a lack of balance. Teaching children when to forgive and when not to forgive is healthy, whereas the instruction always to forgive is a harmful one. Different churches can produce different results even though they are reading the same verses from the same bible. At one extreme, overemphasis on punishment may cause a child to become paralysed for fear of offending 'the LORD', whereas at the other extreme, a church that overemphasises forgiveness will attract those members of society who will not take responsibility for their own mistakes and who are not the sort of people you would want your child to be mixing with.
 
The second thing to look out for is the classic marketing ploy of 'selling someone a problem that they don't have' (and then selling them the solution). Before a child goes to church, he or she may never have thought about the possibility of life after death. When they go to church they are sold the idea that there is the possibility of life after death but unfortunately they are denied it. Your child goes to church without a problem, but comes home with one. When they go back to church they are sold their 'salvation' to their 'problem' (see the 'gospel' according to 'John', chapter 3, curse 16). A seemingly innocent question such as, "What is the purpose of life?" could also fall into this category.
 
The third thing to look out for is 'Gordian Knots' which include contradictions. Contemplating the idea that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, and yet is not responsible for evil, or the idea that the Son is equal to God and that the Father is equal to God but that the Son is not equal to the Father cannot be healthy for anyone's mind.
 
The priority given to different teachings is just as important as the teachings themselves. Some churches seem to have an ethos of institutionalised cowardice. Valuing their book's commandment to "turn the other cheek" more than they value their own children, they attempt to rear a generation of Gandhis. They often fail and instead castrate their children of their ability to stand up for themselves.
 






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