Friday, January 28, 2011

Newsline 28 January 2011



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Newsline



Now's the time to join the NSS and help the push to separate religion from politics. Go to http://www.secularism.org.uk/join-and-renew.html

28 January 2011
 
In this week's Newsline
Quotes of the week
Essays of the week
Letters prove that the Vatican tried to cover up child abuse
Prayers at council meetings cause conflict in Portsmouth and Hawaii
Religious leaders demand the inclusion of RE in new Baccalaureate
North Yorkshire is next council to cut "faith school" transport
No council tax money for evangelical church's "bible-based" kids group
Muslims charged with inciting hatred against gay people
Religious funerals fast declining in popularity
Spanish Children saying 'no' to religion classes
Secularist of the Year nominations – these are the contenders
From the web
NSS speaks out
Events
Letters to Newsline



Quotes of the week 
"Lady Warsi seems to see herself as the trade union leader of British Muslims: she can criticise them, but no one else can".
(Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph)

"There is a hidden paradox in Warsi's position. She wants to give greater voice to religion in the political arena, yet she also wishes there to be less criticism of religion, in other words, power without scrutiny."
(Andrew Anthony, Observer)

"What fuels Islamophobia is the feeling that Islam is beyond public discussion, let alone censure. ... In her speech Lady Warsi quotes St John — "The Word was God" — to prove that faith and reason are entwined. Yet for those defending secular society, it is the source of all that is wrong."
(Janice Turner, The Times)

"What these religious litigants seem to want is a trump card that puts them above the subtle considerations of fairness. And that, the courts have repeatedly said, is not going to happen."
(Afua Hirsch, Observer)

Essays of the Week
You can't allow some people to invoke 'beliefs' and not others
(Christina Patterson, Independent)

Religion's attacks on secularism are self-serving, dangerous and untrue
(Edmund Standing, Butterflies & Wheels)

Can secular governments stop the spread of radical Islam?
(Yevgeny Shestakov, RIAN)

Letters prove that the Vatican tried to cover up child abuse
Two recently uncovered letters from the Vatican provide strong evidence that, despite their claims to the contrary, the present Pope and his predecessor were well aware of the scale of the priestly child sex abuse crisis and took active steps to cover it up.

The letters make clear that the Vatican, and the Pope's personal representatives, put protection of the Church before the protection of children. It instructed bishops in two different parts of the world not to report known abusers to the police or release files.
Read the letters here .
Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, comments: "These letters show beyond doubt that the Church can never be trusted to tackle this dreadful problem responsibly by itself, but what can be done? The most effective remedy is pursuing the Vatican itself, and perhaps its leaders, through international organisations and the courts. Lawyers have got close to proving that the Vatican itself has been not just complicit, but calling the shots. These letters could just prove to be the last piece in the jigsaw.
"The letters make it all nigh impossible for the Vatican to heap all the blame for gross misdeeds on local bishops. As Prefect of the Congregation of Doctrine of the Faith since November 1981, no one knows more about child abuse in the Catholic Church than the current pope, Joseph Ratzinger. Most of those reading these letters will be asking whether the pope could not have known (to put it no stronger) about these instructions to be obstructive to the secular authorities in reporting suspicions or releasing files."
The executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, Colm O'Gorman, said that the 1997 letter was proof that the Vatican had been operating a policy of instructing bishops not to report criminality by priests.
A campaigner and survivor of abuse, Marie Collins, called on the Pope to state "that mandatory reporting by church representatives to the civil authorities in Ireland of any complaint of child abuse has his approval". 
Prayers at council meetings cause conflict in Portsmouth and Hawaii
As the NSS awaits a date for its judicial review of council prayers, a Christian Councillor at Portsmouth City Council has stalked out of the meeting because a Muslim cleric had been invited to say a prayer.

Tory councillor Malcolm Hey left the council chamber immediately after a Christian prayer, just before Alim, Sheikh Fazle Abbas Datoo, began an address to this week's full meeting of the Council.
Mr Hey returned when the prayer had finished and remained for the rest of the meeting. The Portsmouth News reports him as saying: "I did so because we are a traditionally Christian country, so Christian prayers are read as a matter of tradition. But I don't feel it's appropriate for Muslim prayers to be said, as I don't feel we worship the same God as Muslims, so I left."
Mr Hey is offended by Muslim prayers, but we doubt if this councillor who clearly takes his Christianity very seriously would also argue that non-believers are equally entitled to be discomfited by prayers of any kind at a meeting of a legislative body. The impression he appears to give is that the council belongs to one particular religious tradition – and that is surely no longer tenable.
Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: "The argument that prayers during council meetings enhance community cohesion is shown by this incident to be not just invalid, but the opposite of the truth. We fear that this kind of incident is going to become more commonplace. The only way to avoid such embarrassing and potentially inflammatory incidents is to abolish the saying of any prayers, whether of one religion or several. Councils should be secular bodies that represent the whole community."
Portsmouth's Lord Mayor, Councillor Paula Riches, who invited the Imam to read to the Council, objected to Cllr Hey's actions. She accused him of being "disrespectful". She told the BBC: "We are a multi-cultural, multi-faith city and in my particular ward I have the mosque and a Sikh temple. I'm deeply disappointed that he felt he should leave the chamber. I feel, in a way, it's being disrespectful."
But Cllr Hey was unapologetic, claiming his action was not racially motivated. He is also a member of the city council's standing advisory group on religious education, which "aims to unite faith groups across the city."
Undaunted, Cllr Riches intends to invite Catholic and Buddhist religious leaders to read prayers at subsequent meetings.
But Cllr Hey said that the mayor had not consulted anyone before issuing these invitations and his reaction to them would be the same: "I will leave for prayers by Buddhists or Hindus. They don't worship the same God as us. I would stay for a Catholic or Jewish prayer, because they do. I think we have a tradition of Christianity in this country, our legal system is based on that, and most of our official meetings have some Christian prayers or worship as part of that event. I do not think at this point in time it's reasonable to change our history and have, say, some Muslim tradition brought into that environment."
The problem of prayers at governmental events is also an issue in the USA. And now the state Senate in Hawaii has become the first to ban the saying of prayers before each session. 
The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the Senate pointing out that its invocations — often specifically Christian — contravened the constitutional separation of church and state.
That prompted the state attorney general's office to advise the Senate that their handling of prayers — by inviting speakers from various religions to preach before every session — wouldn't survive a likely court challenge.
"Above all, our responsibility is to adhere to the Constitution," said Democratic Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria after last week's vote to halt the daily prayers.
A three-member Senate committee formed to evaluate the issue recommended allowing non-sectarian, non-political invocations that avoided references to deities, but the legislative body decided to do away with prayers altogether rather than trying to find a loophole to continue them in some modified form.
The NSS's application for a judicial review is presently awaiting a date for a hearing. Read more about it here. We invite you to make a donation towards our fighting fund; and you can do so securely online or by post to NSS, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL. Thank you. 
Religious leaders demand the inclusion of RE in new Baccalaureate
Religious Leaders have stepped up their lobbying efforts for the inclusion of Religious Education in the English Baccalaureate after the Secretary for Education, Michael Gove, suggested he would "take on board" concerns about its exclusion.

The new qualification, to be introduced by Michael Gove, with the intention of driving up academic standards, requires good passes in English, maths, science, a foreign language, and either history or geography. Religious Education (RE) is not included as a humanities option.
Religious leaders have reacted angrily to the decision to omit RE from the list of core subjects. The chairman of the Church of England's education board, the Bishop of Oxford, the Right Rev John Pritchard, said that failing to take the study of religion seriously was "highly dangerous" at a time when groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) were staging violent protests against British Muslims.
Dr Hojjat Ramzy, vice-chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain's education committee, concurred –saying he was "extremely worried" that RE was not being afforded a higher status, especially given the challenge posed by Islamophobia. "In our ever-growing multi-cultural and multi-faith society, it's very important that people, especially the younger generation, are aware of the religions and cultures of others," he said.
Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews joined the chorus of faith leaders, claiming "Religious studies has proven itself to be a valuable contribution to the academic curriculum, teaching students to respect themselves and others and, importantly, build identities which contribute favourably to all areas of society."
The evangelical alliance said "RE should be taught because it underlines the importance of religion in society and Christianity in Britain".
Prior to the Department for Education's latest in a series of meetings with the Church of England, the Education Secretary said that he was prepared to listen to arguments about the contents of the baccalaureate.
Requests from the National Secular Society for a meeting with the Department have gone unanswered.
RE has become an increasingly popular subject in recent years, with the number of students studying it to GCSE level climbing from 113,000 to 460,000 over the last 15 years. However, as this forum demonstrates, the rise in popularity is largely down to the fact that many schools and students alike regard RE as being an easy subject in which to obtain a good grade.
A 2010 Ofsted study rated Religious Education as "inadequate" in one in five secondary schools in England. The education watchdog's report suggested many teachers were unsure of what they were trying to achieve in the subject.
Stephen Evans, Campaigns Officer at the National Secular Society, said "With the way RE is currently arranged, it is inconceivable that RE should even be considered for inclusion in the Baccalaureate. Mr Gove's stated intention is for the English Baccalaureate to increase the likelihood of students taking what he regards as core serious academic subjects. RE is clearly not a serious academic subject. The RE syllabus is determined locally by advisory committees, dominated by faith leaders with a vested interest in promoting the religious world view. Furthermore, many faith schools are permitted by law to teach the subject in a confessional way, so claims that RE aids community cohesion are massively overstated.
"Religion is clearly an important political and ideological phenomenon and any syllabus for a subject that covers it should be taken out of the hands of the religious establishment and be free to explore the social reality of religion. I can certainly see the value of serious academic subject that teaches a variety of worldviews, religious and non-religious, but this is not the sort of 'religious education' that the faith leaders are lobbying for.
North Yorkshire is next council to cut "faith school" transport
North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) is the latest to consider cutting transport subsidies to pupils at 'faith schools'. The council is proposing fees of between £350 and £700 per child, per year, from September 2012. This has brought the usual protests from churches and parents who see their special treatment as being a right that must be funded by other taxpayers.

But North Yorkshire Council — like every other authority in the country — is struggling with massive cutbacks. The discretionary provision of free or subsidised transport to "faith schools" is blatantly discriminatory. It is possible to have children from adjacent homes going to the same school with one going free while the other family pays, just because the child was not baptised into the relevant faith, or the parents of the other family call themselves Catholic but never go to church. 
No council tax money for evangelical church's "bible-based" kids group
An evangelical church in Bridgwater, Somerset, has been refused a grant by the local council for "children's activities" on the grounds that taxpayers' money should not be used for proselytising.

Newtown King's Church applied to Sedgemoor District Council for £285 for a daily two-hour 'programme' for youngsters in the Newtown and Victoria areas during the Easter holidays. But Sedgemoor District Council's grants award committee rejected the bid at a meeting last week, saying as a secular authority it could not be seen to support a religious organisation.
Cllr Bob Filmer told the meeting: "It is a very worthwhile project but I would be less happy about supporting an evangelical group."
Councillors said they were concerned about the church's statement in its grant application, which said its aim was to "glorify God in all aspects within the local community."
Afterwards, Keith Barnard, from the St George's Hall-based church group, said the children's activities would be Christian-based and include bible stories, but denied there would be any evangelising. He said: "We are a Christian organisation but we aren't brainwashing kids. Everything is so politically correct nowadays. The main purpose of the activities is to give children on the estate something to do in a happy environment." Mr Barnard added the group had not yet decided if the activities would go ahead. 
Muslims charged with inciting hatred against gay people
Two Muslim men have been charged with stirring up hatred against gay people for handing out leaflets outside a mosque calling for homosexuals to be executed. It is the first such prosecution in this country.

The men charged were named as Razwan Javed, 30, and Kabir Ahmed, 27. They are accused of handing out a leaflet entitled The Death Penalty? in Derby.
The leaflets, which were also pushed through letterboxes, are understood to have called for homosexuals to be executed. The defendants will appear at Derby Magistrates' Court today.
Sue Hemming, a lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "The charges relate to the distribution of a leaflet, The Death Penalty?, outside the Jamia Mosque in Derby in July 2010 and through letterboxes during the same month. This is the first-ever prosecution for this offence and it is the result of close working between the Crown Prosecution Service and Derbyshire Police."
See also: US Evangelicals incited the murder of Ugandan gay activist
Christian gay-bashing returns with a vengeance

Religious funerals fast declining in popularity
The Co-operative Funeral Service is reporting what it calls "a major cultural shift" in funeral arrangements as religion declines and more personal, affirmative send-offs increase in popularity.

A new report The Ways We Say Goodbye is the first study of its kind to draw information from the arrangements being made at funeral homes across the UK as well as from the public.
Its findings have been backed by the country's leading funeral historian, Dr Julian Litten, who says, "Funeral traditions are fundamentally changing, and I would expect contemporary funerals to overtake the more traditional sombre events within the next ten years. The splendour and ceremony once favoured by the Victorians is returning, but with a modern twist. High profile funerals, such as that of Princess Diana and, more recently, of Jade Goody, have encouraged people to adopt a fresh approach."
Funeral Directors at The Co-operative Funeralcare report that recent requests have included pink Cadillacs, a milk-float cortege, woodland burials and live jazz at the graveside. Mourners are watching firework displays, wearing bright colours, blowing bubbles and releasing balloons during funeral events.
An ICM poll of 2,000 British adults backs these findings. It revealed that more than half of the population (54%) would prefer their send-off to be a celebration of life than a simple church service with hymns, and almost half of the population (48%) are keen for their funeral to reflect their favourite hobby, colour, football team or music. 12% wanted a humanist or specifically non-religious funeral.
Half of today's funerals (49%) are a celebration of life and one in ten includes no religion at all. One in three funerals now includes a favourite pop song, football theme or hobby.
Spanish Children saying 'no' to religion classes
Demand by primary and secondary school pupils for religion classes dropped by 0.5 million in Spain over the last decade, Ministry of Education statistics revealed. The ministry announced that just over three-quarters of 2.7 million children in primary schools and 55 per cent of the country's 1.8 million secondary pupils opted to take religion during the 2008–2009 school year.

Twice the proportion of pupils in private schools chose Catholic religion classes, although fewer than one per cent of pupils in either the state or private sector studied other religions. 24 per cent of pupils in primary schools received no religious education at all.
Under education laws passed with heavy resistance from the Catholic Church in 2006, religion classes were made optional. 
Secularist of the Year nominations – these are the contenders
The nominations for Secularist of the Year 2011 are now in and they are as follows:

There were three nominations for Tim Minchin, one from David Cutts who said: "His show (at the O2 on Tuesday and around the country in April) is loud, funny and terrifically rational, communicating strong humanity at the same time." Berni Lowe nominated Tim for his sterling work in debunking many of the myths of the Church and of religion. His skilful use of lampoon and reductio ad absurdum successfully ridicules the ridiculous. His, often frequent, use of strong language is at the same time shocking and provocative, adeptly calling into question whether we should be more offended by his words or the words and actions of church leaders. Finally, his Peace Anthem for the Middle East featuring the refrain 'You don't eat pig. We don't eat pig. Why not not eat pig together' is a work of pure genius.
Susana Sainz Garcia said of Tim: "I love the way he gets to produce great songs with lyrics full of humour to help see the non-sense of religions. In his latest show, which is on tour, he has a great speech about the idea of an object being sacred in which he defends the right for everybody to believe what they wish about what is sacred or not but that does not give anybody the right to tell us what we can do or not, or as he put it: nobody tell us what cartoons we are allowed to draw or not.... I do not want to spoil the speech if you are thinking of going to see him. It is great! He also defends life in itself with no need of the supernatural to make it great. You can find his songs and lyrics here and you can see some of his videos. The pope song is non-censored.
Jenny Southwell and a number of others nominated Sophie in 't Veld, the Dutch MEP "who runs the committee to promote secularism in the European Parliament. She works very hard to promote secular ideas in an institution that is increasingly influenced by religious bodies, particularly the Catholic Church. She needs every support she can get in this vital work."
Anthony Cox suggested Salmaan Taseer, who was murdered on January 4th after criticising Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Anthony said: "I feel it is important that we support those in countries who fight secular causes in the most dangerous of environments.
From the Guardian:
Many of Taseer's Twitter followers were retweeting his old messages full of courage, humour and, above all, his humanity, his decision to stand with Pakistan's most powerless citizen, a poor non-Muslim woman languishing in a death cell. In one of his messages, he had said that he'd not bow down even if he was the last man standing. Only eight hours before his assassination, he tweeted an Urdu couplet by Shakeel Badayuni featured and translated by a Pakistani media blog Cafe Pyala
:

"My resolve is so strong that I do not fear the flames from without
I fear only the radiance of the flowers, that it might burn my garden down."

Matthew McCarthy thought Sarah Palin deserves the prize because "she has done more for the cause globally to ensure Church and State should be kept apart than any other public figure." For similar reasons, Beverley Charles Rowe wants to nominate the pope "who has turned more people against the catholic church this year than any paid-up secularist."
Anthony Niall plumped for comedian and commentator Pat Condell for his "witty and brave critique of Islam which leaves other more anaemic sections of the secularist movement standing."
Will Perry suggested Christopher Hitchens — "not because this may be your last chance to honour him — but because he has led the fight against the ghastly and the gullible in the crucible of contrition with his face to the bitter wind, and he has not blinked, not once."
C. J. Wilton thinks James O'Malley and the crew of The Pod Delusion. "In two short years they have provided an erudite and irreverent news platform for Secularists and Non-Believers."
Mandy Henson thinks Peter Tatchell would be a worthy winner "for his many secular campaigns during the year, including defending free speech for homophobic street preachers and seeking to extend marriage rights to gay people."
Bill Garland said Ricky Gervais deserves the prize for his "courage in pushing his atheism down the throats of Middle America at the Golden Globe presentation. Boy, they didn't like it." Ricky Gervais's fundamental error was to attack God:— The Australian
Marco Tranchino puts forward Geoffrey Robertson QC for his book The Case of the Pope and his support for the Protest the Pope demonstration.
Penny Thornton nominated Polly Toynbee, saying "I feel that the philosophies and ideals of secularism are always to the forefront in her many excellent articles in The Guardian and other newspapers and that she reaches and influences many people and enables them to see the world and events in this country in a new light."
The NSS Council now has the task of deciding, in conjunction with our generous sponsor, Dr Michael Irwin, which of these worthy nominees will receive the prize, and the result will be announced at the Secularist of the Year lunch, to be held on Saturday 19 March in central London.
It's a great party, congenial and warm and welcomes secularists from all over the country as well as many of our honorary associates. It includes a three course lunch with aperitif and coffee and all the entertainment that makes for a memorable afternoon.
Tickets are now on sale. They cost £45 each (special rate of £15 for students) and can be purchased securely online or by post at NSS (SoY), 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL. Please remember to mention the names of everyone in your party and whether any of them have special dietary requirements.
We look forward to seeing you there! 
From the web
Don't miss Suzie's Story .

Atheists have their own "burka moment" in Florida .
NSS speaks out
Terry Sanderson was on Premier Christian Radio discussing whether the BBC treats Muslims with kid gloves while permitting Christians to be insulted.

Keith Porteous Wood was on BBC Radio Somerset talking about the whole day broadcast of the King James Bible.
Events
That's another fine dress you've gotten me into – an exploration of the more subversive elements in the films of Laurel & Hardy. Generously illustrated with clips from their films. Presented by Terry Sanderson at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL. Friday 11 February, 7.30pm Admission free. A GALHA event .

Bristol Secular Society will be holding a formative meeting at the Ship Inn, 7–9, Lower Park Row, Bristol, BS1 5BJ at 7pm on Monday 14th February, 2011. More information from: seculardom@virginmedia.com .
2010: Not Such a Good Year for God. A talk by Mike Granville, at the Sheffield Humanist Society. 2010 saw the Pope come to Britain and attack our traditions of secularism and tolerance in a visit that cost us all millions. But what else was going on? Church attendance continues to slide but we sense that the voices of religious leaders are still heard, revered and, if anything, increasing their influence. They are even claiming to be a persecuted minority! What do we learn from 2010? Is "God" Fighting Back? Wednesday 2nd February, 8pm, at The Friends Meeting House, 10 St James Street, Sheffield. More information .
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 Martin Hatter:
I wonder whether those people rushing to defend Peter and Hazelmary Bull's right to discriminate based on their Christian faith would feel the same if Christians were refused access to, say, a Muslim or Atheist-owned B & B. I doubt it. Instead, we'd probably have to hear about how they're being "marginalised" again. Discrimination only seems to register with some people when they're on the receiving end of it.

From Andy Tallis:
I was amused to read in the last issue of Newsline that an unmarried couple had managed to stay together in Peter & Hazelmary Bull's Chemywhatsit B&B despite its strict "married-couples-only" policy on double rooms. But I'm afraid that this pales in comparison to the irony of what some of the usual suspects have been publishing. The Christian Institute have accused gay couples of trying to "destroy the business" by swamping it with bookings. Most amusing though was the apparent suggestion by Hazelmary Bull, the Christian Institute and the Daily Mail that somebody phoning Hazelmary Bull and calling her an "abomination" who'd "go straight to Hell" was particularly nasty and hurtful language. Some Christians love calling gay people the exact same thing and worse, and often claiming to "love" us! This does not surprise me, though in my experience "Christian" homophobes are always very quick to get upset when the boot is on the other foot and gay people dare to (verbally) fight back!

From Sue Cauty:
Re Daniel Knowles' Telegraph article (Essays of the Week, Newsline last week). The second comment on that article, by Edith Crowther, is excellent. She includes a link to EuropeNews December 26th 2010 – an enlightening in-depth review of the book Al Hijra: The Islamic Doctrine of Immigration, by Sam Solomon & Elias Al Maqdisi. Solomon explains 'Hijra' (immigration) and the 'Stealth Jihad' or Trojan Horse that will lead to full jihad. This is a serious book – the reviewer refers to 'heavy prose' but nonetheless recommends it. Sam Solomon, an eminent Islamic scholar, has advised both the USA and UK governments about this doctrine, and Edith Crowther, an Arabic scholar herself, wonders why they are not taking notice. This book would no doubt be an NSS best seller – a must-read that will really get the dinner tables humming!

From Justin Ord:
Tony Loraine asks (Newsline last week) why he continues to spell "god" with a capital "G" – why indeed? This is a practice I stopped some time ago and I've often contemplated writing to Newsline myself to raise this point for discussion.

From Al Grandy:
I think we should continue to use the capital G for God, as it emphasises the absurdity of the word and notion. When I coined the word 'Goddledegook', to mean religious nonsense, I wanted the 'capital G' to be capitalised for the above reason.

I believe that using capitals only strengthens the supposed authority of religious figures and doctrines; I feel that as a secularist I should 'practise what I preach' — to borrow a religious phrase — and not treat those of a religious bent differently or with any advantage. I find a better alternative is to drop the capitals and use inverted commas instead – this lends a certain air much more in keeping with my beliefs. A couple of examples to illustrate the point: "his holiness"; "the right reverend"; "the catholic church"
I don't apply this rule to individuals like Jesus and Mohammed who, after all, are known by their given names.
From OIlly Dean:
On capitalising 'God', it's grammatically correct to capitalise the names of fictional characters: Darth Vader, Sherlock Holmes, Bilbo Baggins, etc all get capitals. Not doing so for God only gives him special status, which is surely the opposite of what a supporter of the National Secular Society wants.

From John Rushby-Smith:
Of course I should have pointed out that the main reason Roy Plomley placed the Bible and Shakespeare on the Desert Island was to stop his castaways from choosing one or other of them, as doubtless every bishop and actor would otherwise feel obliged to do – and probably many politicians too. Just because the books are already on the island doesn't mean that the interviewees have to open them, but I still submit that few would come to harm through reading these cornerstones of the English language, however distasteful some of the content. Those really offended by their presence could always burn them – and without fear of retribution to boot.

From Fred Jones:
I think the interminable Thought of the Day debate may be causing correspondents to view the Desert Island Discs (DID) "one book" policy a little too suspiciously. The reason for it seems pretty clear to me. Desert Island Discs has been running since the very different times of 1942, and I suspect that the majority of subjects in those days were making the rather boring choice of the Bible or the works of Shakespeare (perhaps because they thought it made them sound more pious or erudite). So DID simply included these most common choices by default, forcing the subject to make a more personal book choice which shed more specific light on their character. Let's not get carried away with conspiracies.

From Denis Watkins:
Alex Leitch, last week, questions why the egregious Thought for the Day is not ousted by some of the many inspiring thoughts from secular contributors. I suggest two main reasons. The first is that the devoutly Roman Catholic Director General behaves as if he is the sole arbiter of whether TFTD continues, and a supine BBC lets him. The second reason, related to the first, is that thoughts from secular sources would expose the strained and hollow meanderings of TFTD. Imagine a contribution from Richard Dawkins contrasted with that from the Pope (on the evidence of his last appearance) or The Archbishop of Canterbury and you get the picture.

From Leni Gillman:
I don't know if you have had any feedback on the Any Questions programme broadcast last Friday, and its follow up Any Answers on Saturday. It was a fascinating lesson in what being on a panel does to normally disputatious people when confronted with a question on Islam. Suddenly they go all cuddly and quiescent, and everyone loves Islam.

Lady Warsi must have thought she scored a bullseye with the unanimous support she received from the docile panel, which had two natural Tories among their number. The response on Any Answers on Saturday was similarly unanimous but in expressing utterly opposite views, none of which were racist or bigoted. I have written a review of the two programmes in case anyone would like read about the extraordinary differences between a BBC hand-picked panel and the discerning listeners who responded. Please let know – via the NSS - if anyone would like to see it.
From Robin Paice:
Baroness Warsi wrote: "And in the road, as a woman walks past wearing a burka, the passers-by think: 'That woman's either oppressed or is making a political statement'." What other explanation is there? I really would like to know.

From Hugh Shipman:
The one conclusion the Chilcot Inquiry into the causes of the Iraq War will not make is the role of 'faith' in the decision to commit British Army to war.
 
The reason given for supporting George Bush's determination to go to war was "weapons of mass destruction", in spite of a lack of evidence. In George Bush and Tony Blair we had two leaders who had made the intellectual leap into believing in a God, in spite of a lack of evidence. They were therefore able to apply the same 'faith' to their certainty about Weapons of Mass Destruction where a rational person would have relied solely in weighing evidence.
 
Once a politician has admitted to having a religious conviction voters should beware, because they have admitted a willingness to believe things, and thus make decisions, not based entirely on facts.

Further, it is often asked why the leader of a left leaning British political party could align himself so completely with a right wing zealot like George Bush. The answer clearly lies in a personal rather than a political alliance, and this is obviously because they both enjoyed kneeling on the floor listening for supernatural messages. That was their relationship, and that was why Britain was dragged into that war in spite of the manifest opposition of the majority of the public.
I hope Sir John Chilcot is limited by lack of 'faith' to making an 'evidence only' conclusion to his report.
From J.P. Wright:
Graham Wright is right about the bible. Those who are fans are products of the education of a bygone age – empire, the bible and the birch. The much-vaunted contribution that King James has made to our language is dying with that generation (though Shakespeare's is not). Perhaps they are trying to justify time wasted by finding some worth in what they were forced to study. Given the limited amount of time available for education, and the huge volume of great English literature, there is no justification for studying the rantings of a bunch of middle-eastern loons, whether as literature or as a moral guide. Amen.

From Paul Braterman:
If you want to help remove Institute for Creation Research, Creation Ministries International, and Answers In Genesis articles from Google Scholar – sign the petition. Then pass it on to your friends.

I was appalled to see that they were there. If you don't believe me, try "Noah's flood". And a flood of signatures is what Google deserve for this nonsense.
From John B. Corcoran:
Recently I took part in a MORI poll and was not impressed with the rigorousness of the methodology. For each question you can only give answers from a list provided on a particular page of a book, the alternative was to be undecided or refuse to answer. After twenty minutes of having to give answers only from a list, the last question was truly biased. "What is your religion?" the answer to be given from a list of ten religions plus "other religion". When I raised my concerns about such a biased Q&A I was told by a surprised interviewer, who had not realised there was a discrepancy, that on his computer there was an extra answer "no religion"! Clearly, I had been the first to question the validity of the survey. There was also no indication as to whether it was the religion of the society you were brought up in or if you were currently an active practitioner. So when the next MORI poll shows a big increase in people professing to be religious, be sceptical and angry.

From John Wainwright:
I agree with Guy Burch and Graham Wright (last week's Newsline) about the literary merit of the Bible. A few fine phrases that have made it into common usage hardly qualifies it as good literature (it's not even good fiction), and these slender virtues are far outweighed by the grim verses celebrating vengeance and a bronze age moral code. (I've made a start compiling my own list of favourite bad bits of the Bible and would welcome any further suggestions from Newsline readers!)

However, I have to stick up for Shakespeare. I'm sorry to hear that Guy Burch has been bored by Shakespeare (haven't we all?), but saying that he has a "lovely turn of phrase" is like dismissing Einstein for coming up with a nice-looking equation. For what it's worth, my overwhelming experience of sitting through Shakespeare plays has been positive.
For those that are interested, the Christian Institute Website is an excellent resource. Anything vaguely liberal or progressive appears on there before you can say "Guardian". It's frequently highly distorted of course, but (as in this case) it's generally easy enough to see through and often quite amusing.
From Christopher Turner:
A popular interpretation of 'chav' is that it's an acronym for Council House And Violent. Perhaps we could refer to a fundamentalist as a 'plav': Patriarchal, Literalist And Violent.

From Gary Gilden:
I must share this with you: I have for some time been quite successful in getting letters addressing the 'god bothering' brigade published in the main newspaper for Norfolk, The Eastern Daily Press. Today they published a response to my last letter inviting me to attend an upcoming Alpha course where I could 'embrace the living jesus christ' if I had the guts!. Not a very christian attitude I thought.











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