28th October 2004
From Nicholas Young:
To the questions posed by the Newsline editor: "Should Newsline ease up on
religion? Is our forthright criticism and contempt for religious
power-seeking offensive?", I have to answer no and yes respectively. Whilst
secularists certainly shouldn't hold back from criticising religion I feel
that Newsline frequently goes way over the line of acceptability
(particularly in the letters it publishes) when it picks on particular
individuals or groups as targets. Last time I looked the NSS website
suffered from similar problems.
If the Pope (and in an age when virtually no-one knows the origin of that
word why not call him that) holds views that are vile, unpleasant and damage
the world then you should certainly say so. But surely we should pity him
and those like him rather than just taking the easy option and hurling
insults at them.
Not only does this sound cheap; it's simply unpleasant and it's incredibly
counter productive. Of the people I come into day to day contact with the
vast majority are, by nature, secularist; however, having been brought up in
a culture that admires religion they unthinkingly recoil from what is
seeming unthinking prejudice towards it. Whilst it's true that this
prejudice is nowhere near as insidious as that which is seen towards
secularism from many figures in public life this really doesn't matter. If
we want to have an effect in the world we need to persuade as many people as
possible that secularism is worth fighting for. This isn't helped where for
many their first contact with the NSS has the effect of ensuring it's also
With all the harm religions do to the world can we not try to hold our
tongues where it's wise to do so and better use our voice where it really
From Peter Arnold:
Don't ease up. If anything hit harder but with more craft, and at least
maintain the wit. The objection is against juvenile name-calling and the
sort of hysterical nonsense we criticize in religious brain-washing... wild
verbal thrashing about like small boys boxing for the first time, or a US
president bombing terrorism.
From Chris Bartlett:
I think that Peter Mitchell raises an important question. We are not, after
all, the National Atheist Society. It is very important we make people who
hold beliefs welcome. However the question of where we draw the line surely
rests on the issue of who is for secularism and who is against. It would be
wrong to poke fun at those who hold personal beliefs but believe that those
beliefs should not be imposed or promoted by the state on others. However,
we are surely entitled, if not duty bound to scorn and ridicule those who
seek to hijack the state to impose their superstitious, baseless and often
dangerous belief systems on others. I am afraid that I feel sure that the
Pope is just such a person, he may have talked about peace here and there,
but he has caused the deaths of thousands if not millions of people through
his opposition to birth control and is ultimately responsible for the
cover-up and thereby the continuance of abuse of many children in Vatican
run schools to mention just two examples. He clearly is against secularism
and therefore is clearly in direct opposition with our position as
secularists. The beliefs he is trying to enforce on the rest of us need to
be met with a level of ridicule worthy of their irrationality.
From Cameron Lowe:
I have never thought, as Michael Paul (Letters, 22 October) apparently does,
that the overall tone of Newsline was sneering or superior but I agree with
the gist of the views expressed by Peter Mitchell (same issue) and Ian
Tierney (Letters, 15 October).
If I am wrong in believing it likely that Newsline and the website are seen
by 'enemy spies' or by some church members who could be persuaded that
secularism has its merits and that it is not synonymous with atheism, please
read no further.
We get angry when religious extremists make derogatory and offensively
personal remarks about those who do not share their faith. I cannot see that
as a good reason to respond in kind.
I see our self-imposed task as being trying to win a lot of arguments. In
every-day life, resorting to personal insults is often just one stage short
of losing one's temper as well as the argument.
The numerous published and broadcast contributions by NSS staff, Council
members and Hon Associates have generally struck me as models of how to put
across strongly held views with persuasive force. Many of them are very hard
for the supporters of religious privilege to rebut. I cannot remember any
that I would have thought likely to upset (as distinct from cause to
disagree with) nominal or moderate CofE, CofS or even RC
members. The big thing to me is that such contributions may not only help
persuade the non-religious to promote secularism but may also win some of
the vital 'swing voters' to our side.
The web has plenty of pages full of 'rear window sticker' poking of fun at
faith and the faithful (easy targets). Tastes differ, so some quips appeal
to some people. It should, I suggest, be for anyone who wishes to make up or
distribute such trivia to do so but without letting their association with
NSS be known. I am reminded of 'bringing the profession into disrepute.'
Ian Tierney mentioned the NSS website. Two questions:
(a) Are there atheists who are not secularists?
(b) Are there no persons of faith who are secularists (openly or just in
their own minds)?
Anyone who visits the Gift Shop on the website has to scroll down a good bit
before they escape promotion of atheism. What would have been wrong with
describing the mug people as Heroes of Secularism? Surely we want the help
• Fair-minded persons of faith.
• People who object to religious privilege and prejudice but do not much
care whether god(s) exist and cannot see why others get so worked up about
the meaning of life and all that stuff.
• People who have serious doubts (agnostics?)
Why risk switching them off by promoting any ism other than secularism?
From Maurice Hill:
Michael Paul says attacks on the pope almost persuade him to become
Christian. What does he think he is now? This Pope is a brainwashed senile
nincompoop who is doing irreparable damage to the minds of children. NSS
should be even more vigorous in its attacks on this obscenity. Catholicism
is a Punch and Mary show. Punch harder! Delenda est Vaticana.
From Russell Pearce:
In response to the current Newsline and the discussion on the strength of
opinion regarding religion, and its adherents: I have to agree with the
sentiments of Peter Mitchell. I joined the Secular society after listening
to a speaker at a discussion club in Brighton, firmly in the belief that the
organisation used energy wisely in pursuit of a free and open society, with
disestablishment as a goal and the removal of personal religious belief as a
measure of selection criteria to determine whether one could enjoy the right
of freedom of speech. Sadly, I have found I was very wrong is this
I have no wish to join in a witch hunt, and will be making my membership a
"once only" experience.
From Barry Johnson:
It cannot be denied that the Pope is, amongst other things, a demagogue.
That he is terminally ill merely confirms that he is broken down. To call
him a 'broken down demagogue' is merely succinct.
To suggest, however, that we should be tolerant of him or of his outlook and
that of the church which he leads is, to me, frankly intolerable. The
catholic church has scant tolerance of anything outside of its dogmas and
creed and deserves nothing but the most vigorous and rational polemic that
can be thrown its way. Go ahead, Mr Paul, test the paradox of becoming a
From Rasjidah St John:
In writing and speaking in public, we secularists should at all times keep
to criticisms of religion itself, and never make personal attacks on
religious individuals. Are we ourselves without fault, as individuals? Is my
character beyond criticism?
Drawing the line may often be difficult. But rude remarks about the
character of the pope or of the archbishop of Canterbury I find are often in
bad taste, and do not advance our argument. Much better to stick to the
feebleness of their pronouncements, and to what they do with our money, or
politically, or with the power that they have acquired.
It makes me sad, too, that I have had to stop subscribing to a certain
secular magazine, because it keeps on publishing lavatory jokes, of the kind
much appreciated by 6-year-olds, but not by me. Such jokes are irrelevant to
our arguments. We can express our frustration without resorting to
pettiness. We can be forthright without being shabby.
From Peter Hearty:
There is a growing tendency for Christians in general, and Roman Catholics
in particular, to portray themselves as victims of an increasingly secular
and intolerant world. We have seen it in their objections to BBC Current
Affairs' coverage of their churches' shady practices, in their effective
banning of Popetown and now in their attempts to defend the outrageous views
of the prospective European Justice Commissioner, Rocco Buttiglione.
I would urge all readers of this newsletter not to be taken in by this
transparent attempt to avoid the consequences of its own policy. The Church
is never happier than when it is reveling in its own martyr status (save
perhaps when it's actually making martyrs of others).
When Catholics plead pity for their old, infirm pope, bear in mind that this
is the same pope who has opposed gay rights at every turn, who has
perpetuated downright lies about the effectiveness of condoms, who has
denied family planning to women throughout the world and who has made it
quite clear that he thinks a woman's place is firmly at home looking after
babies. If he isn't up to the job then he can always resign and let a
younger man, one less inclined to play the sympathy card, take the office
Several people have written to say that the pope, both as an individual and
by virtue of his office, should be treated more respectfully. This is to
attribute a degree of "holiness" to an institution which is thoroughly
undeserving of any such respect. The Catholic Church is a powerful, wealthy,
worldwide organisation. Where it is in a position to do so, it has no
hesitation in exercising its authority without fear or apology. Both it and
its representatives should attract the same level of criticism as any
political party. Next time you are asked to spare the poor pope's feelings
ask yourself this question: Would I spare Tony Blair's or Michael Howard's
feelings if they supported similar policies?
As to not having a good belly laugh at Catholic beliefs: this is a church
who claims to be led by an infallible pope, given his authority from a
man/god born of a virgin, who is transubstantiated from bread and wine
daily. If that isn't worthy of mockery then what the hell is?
From Ian Robinson:
Whilst we should not ease up highlighting religious infiltration into
everyday life, in ways and in places that it does not belong, there is no
need to use language that will offend people unnecessarily. A simple
statement of the facts is all that is needed. There is no need to include
descriptions like ³a broken-down demagogue² after outlining that the Pope
has expressed an opinion. The same applies for other juvenile remarks.
It adds nothing for those of us who agree that religion should be kept out
of public life. It does however have the potential to alienate people who
are sympathetic to our position but do not feel strongly enough about it yet
to get involved. We need to state the facts and counter arguments as we see
them and leave it at that. Let's occupy and hold onto the high moral ground.
From Paul Rattenbury:
Ease up? The Editor's question - possibly subconsciously - contains the
hidden conflict as old as religion itself - ie criticism and contempt.
Criticism is, or should be an intellectually based logical and rational
analysis, whereas Contempt is of course an emotional response, often
irrational in that it frequently lacks a deep understanding of why 'they'
believe and behave in such illogical and frustrating ways. Contempt is thus
in the same psychological camp as the emotionally driven irrationalities of
religious beliefs. I would simply ask all fellow members of our splendid
Society to read Professor Robert Hinde's 'Voltair Lecture' "Religion and
Darwinism" available in transcript from the British Humanist Association.
This is unquestionably the most rational and informative appraisal yet, of
how and why religions are so embedded in the minds of mankind. In other
words before attacking your enemy, you need to know not only what he
believes but as important WHY he believes it. Indeed one of the most
psychologically perceptive religious teachers many centuries ago advised his
followers to "Love your enemy", a bit of lateral thinking that opens up
whole new vistas of constructive and powerful gambits on the chessboard of
From Henry L'Estrange:
It is very rare that I feel moved to comment on what other people write in
to letters pages, as they normally seem to miss the point and get upset over
nothing. However, I had to respond to Peter Mitchell and Michael Paul (I was
going to let Ian Tierney get away with it as a one-off)!
There are millions of people out there who dare not criticise organised
religion and its self-appointed "leaders", despite the fact that they
frequently do terrible things and damage people's lives.
I am normally very amused on a Friday afternoon by the arrival of Newsline,
and greatly enjoy reading it, trying not to read out every single thing to
the Catholic colleague on my left (though often failing!).
Mr Mitchell says "A truly effective secular movement, dare I say it, should
in the final analysis be able to incorporate people of any belief...". Well
I for one sincerely hope it does not. If people are so wrong as to hold
these unfounded beliefs then perhaps they need to refer to the definition of
"secular" in Mr Paul's good dictionary.
As for Mr Paul's reference to "sneering, superior tone", that is something
you commonly find among Christians. Perhaps he'd like to pay his
subscription or desist from writing any further messages?
Oh dear, I seem to be sniping now. Still, I do feel a whole lot better. My
main point was that I think it is very important that Newsline is able to
"poke fun" as well as making the serious points, because otherwise all these
religions are treated with a respect that they frankly don't deserve!
Yours in happy disbelief,
P.S. I for one whole-heartedly agree that the Pope is a senile old twat, or
"a broken-down demagogue", as you more politely put it.
From Dave Pearson:
I have to agree with Peter and Michael but, at the same time, I think your
question as a result of their comments is somewhat missing the point. It's
not so much about wanting Newsline - or the NSS in general - to "ease up on
religion", it seems to me that it's more about the highly judgmental and
sneering tone that creeps in from time to time. Frustration can be expressed
without being unnecessarily negative.
From John Dillion:
Why should Newsline pull its punches on religion and the religious?
Religious belief is ridiculous and therefore those who espouse such beliefs
invite ridicule. Some NSS members, it would appear, feel that the religious
are owed deference or respect. Why? Surely all secularists see religious
faith as nonsense. Can we respect those who adhere to nonsense? The NSS
should remain at all times robust in its rejection of and contempt for
religion. We cannot allow a misguided sense of fair play to obstruct our
freedom to expose the absurdity of religion no matter how strongly it is
From Jim Quinn:
Religion is pompous, superstitious, ignorant. It thinks secularism is evil.
I am not evil. Yet we must take care with the language we use, or perish.
New Humanist last month had ***ing on its garish front cover – this shamed
me. Unwin previously too - because it did not accuse Williams directly but
resorted to name calling. Secularism shamed me. Do you understand?
Ross W. Sargent:
In response to the question of whether Newsline goes too far, and whether it
descends to what Michael Paul calls "the level of the gutter", my own answer
has to be no. Take Paul's view of Karol Józef Wojtyla as "a terminally ill
man who is struggling desperately to fulfill what he sees as his mission on
earth." Paul is of course welcome to his opinion, but I see a deluded,
authoritarian, arrogant old man who thinks he has a hotline to the creator
of the universe. This, he believes, gives him carte blanche to impose his
views on others - his attempt, via intermediaries, to influence the wording
of the European Union constitution is but one recent example.
This man is responsible for an incredible amount of death and suffering
through the lies his church spreads about AIDS transmission and condoms. He
is responsible for the deaths of women in backstreet abortions, the
relegation of women to the position of subservient baby producers by denying
them effective contraception, and, by that same denial, consigning whole
families to poverty as they try to cope with the consequences of too many
children. Wojtyla may well deserve tolerance but he deserves no respect -
call it as you see it, and I see a doddery old fanatic and a source of
worldwide misery and guilt. Paul, and the other writer on this subject Peter
Mitchell, would appear to have forgotten how utterly absurd the claims of
religion are. Why anyone promoting drivel, and most particularly attempting
to enshrine such drivel in law, should be referred to in respectful terms is
a mystery to me. Just because someone like Wojtyla has risen to the top in
his particular community does not mean he is deserving of respect from those
outside that community - and he is to be tolerated only when he and his
cohorts stop imposing their delusions upon others. In the struggle against
religiosity (in the sense defined by the New Shorter Oxford English
Dictionary as "Affected or excessive religiousness") ridicule, in my
opinion, is a valid and worthwhile weapon.
From Ralph Herdan:
There are several among your correspondents who appear to believe that it is
not the business of secularists to attack or deride religious faith, but
rather to engage with it in rational debate on matters of common concern.
This is fine in principle, but the separation of church and state is far
from complete, and powerfully entrenched religious interests are constantly
at work, with the aid of the state itself, to inhibit any such debate if it
cannot in these days be altogether prevented. In Britain, in areas such as
education and the broadcast media, official religion is given privileged
access and largely unchallenged by controversy.
Under these circumstances well-aimed satire and derision may be the only
effective weapon available to secularists.
From Kevin West:
I have some sympathy with the views expressed by Ian Tierney (NSS Newsline
15th Oct 2004), that there should not be a personal campaign against
individuals, who have as much right to worship whatever deity they so choose
as I do to deny its existence. I also believe that it is wrong to pursue the
French line. Banning religious symbols is an infringement of liberty. They
must be allowed to wear the shirts that show what team they support. At the
same time I should be free and comfortable to display my non-belief.
The real focus of The Secular Society (sic) must be to campaign against the
seepage of religion into public life and its public financing. I think most
religions probably see us as the biggest threat to their power and not each
other. Already there are frightening alliances between religions, especially
christianity and judaism. How ironic that atheists just might turn out to be
the only group that can unite disparate religions.
I think Jonathan Miller has it just right, in that we can only win this
argument by logic and education. If people choose to ignore it then so be
it, we can do no more than keep trying (and never to give up).
Of course we can be accused of the same blinkered approach as believers,
that of slavishly sticking to a dogma of disbelief regardless of any
evidence. On this theme I rather enjoyed the philosopher Colin McGinn's take
on this. He said that he hoped that there was a god and an afterlife, but
the lack of evidence convinced him there wasn't. We must always stress that
we are ready to be proven wrong, just give us the evidence.
I recently read a posting to the newsgroup soc.atheism which amongst many
other interesting points said:
"Online debates are proof that people generally don't like to admit to being
wrong, so they'll just stick to their beliefs."
I think this is true of most debates. Most people generally do not change
their minds on this because they are so closed to or frightened of the
alternatives. Can you imagine how difficult it must be to accept that you
may have been wrong in one of your fundamental beliefs all your life. This
process seems to take, as it did for me several years. It seems that the
biggest threat to what would be the continued inevitable steady decline in
the numbers of religious believers is the removal of free speech.
Unlike Colin McGinn's journey into disbelief, mine was entirely liberating,
although I can still remember the comfort of an afterlife as a child. I
wonder if the Secular Society has examined this aspect from the child's
point of view.
From Peter Hughes:
It is easy for many of a non-religious bent to feel contempt for religious
beliefs and the religious. This is mirrored in the contempt that some (not
all) believers give to the non-religious. It can be fun to vent one's
annoyance with a few derogatory remarks here and there. There are websites
where this kind of thing goes on, and they serve a useful purpose.
But the NSS, at least as I understand it, wants to get things done. It wants
tolerance and respect between religious and non-religious. Respect goes both
This is a very important cause in this country today, a noble cause. But the
cause of tolerance is not helped by sniping and griping! The cause is helped
by pointing out situations which are considered unjust, and rationally
explaining why they are unjust and how they can be helped. Perhaps this will
not make for as interesting reading, in a tabloid sense. I hope, however,
that the NSS is not simply looking to entertain its key audience with tales
of 'those silly believers'.
Why should believers not be welcomed into the society? Do gay rights groups
mock straight members? Do civil rights groups mock white members? It is very
easy to get many atheists to support secularity. However, what is necessary
for the secular future of this country is to win the hearts and minds of
religious people over to secularism, and this is not helped by insulting
them. This may be the "best of causes" but it is going about its business in
the worst of ways.
From R. Sneddon:
I think that to express much of its criticism in aggressive/tabloid tones is
not the best way to approach these issues. Although I have met many
Christians whose faith based attitudes are superstitious and disturbing,
there are many people of Christian and other faiths who have a well balanced
and deeply caring attitude to life. It is wrong to lump them all together.
Writing comments in an angry/sneering way simply comes across as angry and
sneering and detracts from the central message.
Looking at books about Christianity I find that where the religious score is
that they produce simple books for the non-specialists that present their
viewpoint. These may appear scholastic and convincing, unless you have read
round the subject. So many sceptical books are only readable by those who
have some specialist knowledge and enjoy some heavy reading. There appears
to be a lack of well researched, non-specialist sceptical books and
articles. Maybe it is in this area that Newsline/The Freethinker may have
an important contribution to make? It is by making the reasons for
non-belief commonly available that will do most to undermine religious
propaganda. Maybe the successful Alpha Course level could be a model for
Also I think there is an undue prominence given to gay rights issues.
Although it is important to speak out against all forms of prejudice, I feel
that there are many more issues that humanists/secularists ought publicise
From Dennis Parkes:
I, of course, fully concur with your attitude to religion. When the enemy,
who used every foul means of torture against non-conformists when they held
the upper hand, starts to squeal you know that you are winning. It is no
time to relent.
One more point. There is a lot of disquiet at the moment about the prospect
of Turkey joining the EU and bringing with the prospect of 'Asian religion'
in the form of Islam. I should like to point out that 'Asian' religion has
dominated Europe for nigh on two thousand years, unless we count Palestine
to be in Europe. Our true cultural progenitors were the Greeks, many of whom
were very sophisticated Rationalists. (I think it was Proxagorus who said
'if horses could talk and carve statues, God would be a horse').
When the christians gained control we entered a thousand year period during
which, as Gibbon remarked "not a single invention or development to
ameliorate the human condition was introduced." It took the Renaissance to
start the long climb back to decency, against bitter resistance form the
soft and gentle children of Jesus and their torturers. We are winning! Keep
up the good work.
From Sue England:
I too have not liked the sneering tone of Newsline for some time, because I
feel it will alienate people who I would like to pass it onto. I agree with
most of the sneers, and often enjoy them, but as a member of NSS Scotland
steering group, working in this field is a big thing for me. Others who
fundamentally agree with our aims but are not so "Excited" on the issue may
find it off-putting. Do ourselves favour and tone it down a bit. The facts
themselves speak volumes to the rational and concerned.
From Robert Stovold:
Peter Mitchell states that secularism "is based on reason and tolerance",
and asks whether our interests lie in "the promotion of secularism or the
denigration of religious faith". The two are not necessarily mutually
exclusive; many aspects of religious belief are unreasonable, which makes
them legitimate - or even mandatory - targets for rational criticism. The
key word here, though, is "rational". I believe that the NSS should be
fiercely rational in attacking religious beliefs; however, I share Peter
Mitchell's dislike of ad hominem attacks on religious individuals - attacks
which will, I feel, only build walls.
From Ian Smith:
Your correspondents Ian Tierney, Peter Mitchell and Michael Paul have taken
the words out of my mouth.
I look forward to Fridays as I do Sundays. Unfailingly I tune into Radio 4
at 7.10am (there's devotion for you!) to listen to the "Sunday" programme's
weekly catalogue of religious idiocy and threat, if only to recharge my
secular batteries. More optimistically I anticipate the Friday Newsline
offering, looking for information, stimulation and items to forward to
friends. But worryingly, of late, this eagerness has been tempered by the
somewhat childish sniping and denigration of which your correspondents
complain. By the same token, I would suggest, the effectiveness of
Freethinker (to which I subscribe) is diminished by the 'yah-boo' tone of
some comment; to the extent that I have, through shame, often refrained from
passing on the magazine to others, whereas otherwise I would certainly have
done so. Quite simply, the tone now (sometimes) tainting Newsline does not
commend the reasonableness and humanity of our stance and cause to other
From Des Langford:
This week in Newsline there were a number of comments by readers complaining
about what they saw as an excessively derogatory tone in criticising
religion. I take the opposite view- I love the heretical tone of the
Newsline. I find it extremely refreshing for atheists to have such an outlet
in which we can make our views known in no uncertain terms without
pussyfooting around the sensitivities of the superstition-mongers. All fair
satire, sarcasm, irony or whatever, say I. Religious believers are not
inclined to be ultra sensitive about the feelings of the non religious when
they insult our intelligence. Regarding criticising personalities , the
Pope is just as fair game as a politician - both have significant power and
influence, which they use to try to dictate to others. Who would hesitate
about lampooning a politician? I personally find programmes like "Have I Got
News For You" very unfunny, but I do not object to their political satire.
Of course it may be a good idea in some circumstances to tone down our
messages when we put our case to the outside world, through media such as
TV, radio and the press. Where we are seeking to persuade the undecided it
probably does not pay to risk offending sensitive souls. However, even here
there is a counter argument that hard hitting criticism and satire (such as
Monty Python's "Life of Brian") may be useful in influencing the undecided,
because it brings home the absurdities of the religious position more
forcefully, and in a humorous way.
Marketing tactics depend on the audience and the occasion. It seems to me
that Newsline is primarily aimed at the converted. Therefore there is little
risk of alienating potential converts. As long as it is not libellous, or
illegal , or inaccurate , or inciting hatred, I think we should be entitled
to say whatever we want.
From Chris Hobson:
I would like to add my voice to that of Peter Mitchell and Michael Paul on
the subject of personal abuse of our opponents. I don't believe that name
calling helps our cause and we should try to stick to the facts. I still
think that we should be very robust in our criticism of those who oppose us
and on the whole this should be easy because in almost every case we have
the facts on our side. Not only are we, generally speaking, in the right but
we can usually prove it too. We should leave the name calling to Jesus who
according to the New Testament was a past master at it.
Secondly, on the subject of Peter Vardy and his creationist schools. I have
been taking a look at the CADPAG website and found quite a lot that
interested me there, particularly an ignorant and bigoted Christian called
Gary who said much to help our cause and horror stories from relatives of
students of other Vardy schools. It brought to mind a quote from Robert G.
Ingersoll, "I have no confidence in any religion that can be demonstrated
only to children. I suspect all creeds that rely implicitly on mothers and
nurses." Well nowadays Vardy's particular brand of Biblical literalism
cannot even be demonstrated to children as the website tells of a 12 year
old getting detention for refusing to believe that the story of Noah's Ark
was literally true.
The NSS is absolutely right to oppose all faith schools but both Vardy and
the CofE are sadly deluded if they think that their attempts to indoctrinate
our children are going to result in a Christian revival. In fact, by
bringing the absurdities of his religion once more into the public eye I
think that Mr. Vardy is more likely to hasten Christianity's demise
From Martin Noble:
Should the NSS ease up on religion? It is a hard question until you separate
religion from belief. There are many interpretations but I am happy with the
idea that belief just is another human sense like hearing, sight or the
sense of smell. However it the most powerful of all the senses because it is
the greatest motivational sense. Belief can drive a person on to achieve
what others might say is impossible. Most of the great works of humanity
derive from one persons belief in the outcome and they prevail against all
the odds. Whether they want to climb a mountain, sail single-handedly around
the world, construct an impressive building, survive a perilous situation or
persuade the world that the environment needs protection.
Religion on the other hand is hierarchical power structure which recognises
the power of human belief and seeks to control it. Once controlled the
individual is diminished, personal responsibility is removed and one is
obliged take another's view and interpretation of the world irrespective of
their own senses. Thought becomes reduced to a dependence on slogans or
Clearly religions are not the only groups in society which recognises the
power of belief, many political organisations operate in the same way.
The technique is simply to list a whole set of things which the society in
question would naturally agree with and then add one which one would not
necessarily have included in the list but which seems, at that moment, to
follow. Would Moses have got away with imposing the Ten Commandments if he
had not told the wayward Israelites that they had come from God? Hardly.
They would all have nodded in agreement and then ignored them. (Truth to
tell, I expect they did anyway.)
Constant repetition of a statement will eventually embed itself in the human
mind as if it were a fact to be regurgitated without thought at an
appropriate moment. These familiar phrases offer a sort of comfort
especially if everyone around you does the same. For instance 'Ein Reich!'
well yes, true at the time, 'Ein Volk!' still true, 'Ein Fuhrer!' oops...
how did that get there? or 'God bless America'... well ok if you like, 'One
nation'... A good unifying statement, 'under God'... Oh dear, all that
effort by the Founding Fathers and the Enlightenment Movement usurped in one
This also applies to small groups of people meeting to work for something of
mutual interest, say looking after the less able or less privileged members
of society. This is a true flowering of humanity putting a belief to work
but is also a place where the religions can proselytise and take the credit
from the human belief and assign it to the god of their choosing. Once that
has been accepted by the group then the religion has taken charge and the
members are diminished.
None of this is necessarily a bad thing and only becomes such when it
becomes an imposition and the belief in the god becomes an entrance ticket
to the group and a bar to others who may also wish to join the group but
still wish to retain their own ability to choose their personal belief.
So back to the question, should the NSS ease up on religion? No. Should we
ease up on promoters of a particular belief? Not if we disagree with them.
Ease up on belief? Yes, absolutely. Ridiculing someone's belief just causes
an instinctive defensive response. I can't remember how many times I have
found myself defending a position that I really didn't believe in. Ridicule
is an effective weapon against slogans but rational argument challenges both
sides review their beliefs.
From J H Hatfield, MA (Cantab), MEng (Cantab):
I thought you might like to see the email sent to Mr Edward McMillan Scott,
MEP for Yorks & Humber region. It is one thing to oppose the Vatican,
another more demanding to explain to the prelates (on their own terms) - and
to the wider community they have led astray for so long) – just why it is
that Christianity is a tradition we would be better off without?
Dear Mr McMillan Scott
...I am concerned - seriously concerned - about the Roman Catholic Church
seeking (as it has done during so much of European history) to extend its
influence in the newly enlarged and still developing 'European Union'. If
the EU is to survive and to achieve its foundational aim of fostering peace
in Europe, then it is essential that it should be established and remain a
secular institution, free from religious interference. We need only look
back into the history of Europe - or across the Atlantic today - to see what
happens when politics gets mixed up with shallow and mistaken religious
My concern is focused this week by the proposal to appoint Mr Buttiglione to
the position of Justice Commissioner. His connections and opinions appear to
make him entirely unsuitable as a candidate. It is really important that the
EU should not be subverted by a third party such as the Roman Catholic
Church - which seeks constantly to exert its sinister influence through the
agency of the Vatican state (not-withstanding that the Vatican is not a
member of the EU) - and in any other way it can..."
I realise few people have much interest in Judaeo-Christian scripture – but
for the few who may be interested I have presented at
http://www.authentic-christianity.org an analysis which thoroughly
contra-indicates the doctrine of the Xtian church. In particular Chapters 13
and 15 present key evidence and conclusions - against which I do not believe
the established church has any valid defence.
From Joe Otten:
It took me a month or two to get used to the tone of the weekly email rant
that appears under the name 'NSS Newsline', but now I enjoy it thoroughly.
So I suppose it gives good entertainment value to most of us, but perhaps
doesn't appeal so much to those on the edge. If we were as big as the God
industry, no doubt we would have a huge range of weekly publications to suit
I don't think we need to be nice to religion. If you want to be nice, join
the BHA. It is important for the NSS Newsline to retain the irreverence and
humour that makes it a joy to read. That said, I wouldn't miss the name
calling if there were less of it. And the archbishop Unwin in-joke? I think
it ignores the difference between comprehensible gibberish (Unwin) and the
use of incomprehensible jargon (Williams) to hide the likely incoherence or
absurdity of the intended message. To put it another way Unwin ought to be
incomprehensible, but isn't. Williams ought to be comprehensible, but isn't.
Clerics portray an image - that I expect they believe - of uprightness and
sincerity. Merely being disrepectful can make us look like the bad guys in
some eyes. On the other hand a reasoned attack, rounded off with an epithet
should only offend those who want to be offended, and reach those who can be
From Stephen Hume:
I whole-heartedly share Michael Paul's distress at 'the frequency of quips
and derogatory remarks on this website'. To refer to Hitler as a 'Short-arse
little Nazi' is to descend to the level of the gutter: he was a terminally
ill man who was struggling desperately to fulfil what he saw as his mission
on earth. One's views on that mission should not detract from appreciation
of the bravery of his struggle.
And Mr Porteous Wood might like to find out what 'insipid criticism vs.
relentless Papal gay hatred' actually means - any good dictionary will tell
him - before misusing it.
I have been reading the Newsletter for a few weeks because my ex-wife
forwards it to me; I have to say that its sneering, superior tone almost
persuades me to become a Neo-Nazi.
From Denis Watkins:
You should not desist from attacking religion and if that involves a bit of
polemic then so much the better. Indeed, I find the critical comments about
Newsline just a touch precious. One of the attractions of The Freethinker
for me is that it is one of the very few outlets for vigorous anti clerical
sentiment. In any case whatever is said against religion on Newsline is
minor league when compared to the readiness, even today, of many believers
to consign those who do not share their superstitions to hell.
Perhaps some of the critical comments about Newsline come from covert
Christians? What was Jesus supposed to have said? "By their fruits ye shall
From Jason Callis:
I can see no point in needlessly offending people... but I think such silly
beliefs should be open to ridicule... and the Pope and Vatican have
entirely too much power and we should be aiming to get their UN observer
I have read your newsletter for the last couple of years, and it always
entertains and at times scares me a little! I think you have the right
mix... the newsletter is for us to enjoy, I can see keeping some of the
more colourful descriptions out of official press releases would be of
Freom Diana Foweraker:
As a disabled person myself, I agree it is offensive and probably
counter-productive to vilify the Pope on account of his age, disabilities,
frailty or illness, for these are things he cannot help and has no control
over. However, he did have a choice about joining and becoming head of an
institution which in the past has been responsible among other crimes for
the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Although the Pope has made
some attempt to apologise for these crimes and cannot of course be held
directly responsible for them, during his Pontificate he has encouraged
discrimination against gay people, backed the oppression of women, and
denied millions the right to control their own fertility. His opposition to
the use of condoms has led to the spread of AIDS in the poorest countries
and he has made little effort to stamp out child abuse amongst the Catholic
priesthood. He is generally held to have been one of the most reactionary
and conservative Popes in recent history.
Some commentators believe that Hitler was suffering from Parkinson's Disease
at the end of his life. Should we therefore soften our attitude to him on
the grounds that he was "a terminally ill man who was struggling desperately
to fulfil what he saw as his mission on earth etc etc…"?
I am not suggesting that the Pope should be compared with Hitler, but to
argue that anyone should be above criticism simply because they are weak
frail and/or suffering from a terminal illness could lead to all kinds of
From Ian Lowe:
It could be said, in fact, that Newsline doesn't go far enough in it's
vilification of religion!
re the letters of Peter Mitchell and Michael Paul, before spending sympathy
on John Paul II, they might want to consider the human misery that this
"terminally ill man who is struggling desperately to fulfil what he sees as
his mission on earth" has directly caused - the Vatican's lies about
condoms, the complete ban in catholic nations on abortions even in the case
of child rape, concealing the abuse of children in the church's care homes,
covering up the activity of paedophile priests...
On any scale of justice, the gentle decrepitude of John Paul II is out of
all relation to the suffering his rule as Pope has overseen.
As a for a "sneering, superior tone", well hardly. If the clear and accurate
comments made within secular Newline are enough to convince a reader to
become a christian, then the vitriolic anti-atheist bile spewed by the
churches will be enough to cause an instant re-conversion to satanism! (and,
no doubt, a place awaits in her Majesty's Navy...)