7 March 2014
In future we will no longer be publishing letters as part of Newsline – you can join in the debate on the NSS facebook page, on Twitter (via @natsecsoc), or at the Secular Café website, a secular-based forum for discussion of all topics.
Letters to Newsline: 7 March 2014
The practice of getting owners of properties in parishes in rural areas to pay for the maintenance and repair of our rural churches is without doubt an anachronism, which is as out dated as the divine right of kings. Many rural parishes are experiencing a drastic decline in their worshipers who also tend to be more on the mature side. Some parishes I am informed do not have a resident incumbent vicar, and services can sometimes only be held every two or three weeks, as one vicar may have to cover, two or three parishes in their remit!
Not only are the parishioners getting more mature by the day but also the churches they worship in leading to a problem as to who should pay for the upkeep of the churches? Coupled with the fact the congregations have declined to the extent that revenue is insufficient in many case's to maintain their churches leaves some local church parish's with an insurmountable problem.
But it is very unchristian in my view to demand that folks, who may have no interest in their religion to pick up the tab, for maintaining a building that only benefits the few. Such actions by the Church of England in demanding money from innocent locals, will not endear such folk to the church, and will in the course of time leave the church ever more isolated than they are today. It is about time the church adjusted itself to the 21st century?
The second news item in the latest Newsline concerns the infamous Chancel Repairs Act 1932 which allows some 5,000 Church of England parishes legally to demand contributions from specific parochial residents for the upkeep of the local church. Most people are ignorant of this wrong and unjust law which has its roots in Tudor times. The liability comes with the house. What religion you have or even if you have none, you are still liable. The amount demanded can actually exceed the value of the parishioner's house. In a case in 2007, a 68-year-old farmer was ordered by the court to pay almost £225,000 to the local church. His legal bill in attempting to challenge this demand was even greater. Such a mediaeval law has no place in an increasingly secular, multi-faithBritain. The Church of England has vast assets and should assume the responsibility of maintaining its own buildings.
Towards the bottom of the article was a link to a No. 10 petition calling for this law to be repealed. I attempted a similar petition in 2011/2012 but got only 209 signatures. The current one, which closes on 11 September 2014, is doing better with 255 but you need 100,000 signatures to (virtually) guarantee a commons debate. Could not the NSS and Newsline champion this petition? Newsline could give it front page billing every month and other means could be found greatly to increase the number of signatures. I believe that this is a winnable fight. The CofE is relying on ignorance. I would not be surprised if most MPs knew little or nothing about it. If we could only significantly widen knowledge of this iniquitous Act, then I think that we could get rid of it. To do this would not cost a great deal but victory would be a great step forward for secularism.
THE AMERICAN RELIGIOUS RIGHT
While I accept that homophobia is an important ingredient in the frantic thrashings of the American religious right, I do not think it is the only one.
A wild animal is always most dangerous when it is cornered – and this applies equally to the religious animal.
The decline in religious affiliation in theUSAand across much of the civilized world is causing extremist religionists of all types to resort to ever-more frantic courses of action.
The use of lawfare and attempts to influence legislation negatively by extremist religionists has to be expected. We have seen similar actions in this country too.
Whenever a snake is dying, there is invariably a thrashing around of their tail. This is what we are witnessing in theUSA.
However, it is at this stage that our opponents are most dangerous.
They will do anything to survive – and they say they don't believe in evolution!!!
I think time is on our side but the ride will only get wilder.
We have to hang on and outlast them in terms of utter persistence.
THE 'REVEREND' RICHARD COLES
How I sympathise with Leni Gilman (Newsline 21 February) in her impatience with the BBC, in particular with their allowing the 'tiresome' Richard Coles to pompously use the title Reverend when the programme he is presenting is not a religious one. His colleague Ernie Rae was evidently ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1971, but he does not push this down our throats even though his programme, 'Beyond Belief', is about religion and ethics.
When Coles took up the Saturday job I telephoned him at his church and tried to tell him how irrelevant his title was to the programme; and later the BBC told me it was at his own insistence. I'm also surprised to learn from Leni that he's privileged to have as much as an hour and a half: When did the Beeb give us that long for a play on R4? Thank goodness there's R3 on a Saturday morning!
Such was the volume of Irish immigration to the US, not only in past decades, that New York hosts a regular St Patrick's Day parade (March 17th).
But some party-pooping was sure to occur. At least one Catholic school, probably more, refused to allow pupils to attend if any LGBT group joined in. Perhaps the good Catholic staff members of the school think being gay is contagious.
Anyway, protecting the children (or so it's claimed) has always been a good excuse for homophobia. It was the spur for our own defunct Section 28, andUganda, predictably, is using child protection in its protest against alleged international 'blackmail' (withdrawal of aid in response to its vicious anti-gay laws). But if anything promotes (that word again) blackmail it's laws of just this kind. We saw plenty of it before the part-decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, and not a little under Section 28.
A highly courageous film for its day, before 1967, 'Victim', had such blackmail of a lawyer as its theme. In recent years, unchecked abuse has been shouted at Pride parades from the steps of - St Patrick's Cathedral,New York, no less. Perhaps the school(s) mentioned haven't heard yet the recent message from Pope Francis: that gay or straight, looking for God one's own way is what matters.
Letters to Newsline: 28 February 2014
IS COMMUNISM A RELIGION?
G.G.G. Tingey makes some interesting points about communism and its parallels to religion, in terms of organisation, behaviours and outcomes. These ideas are clearly worthy of further examination for the betterment of society.
However, when he says that Michael Igoe is committing a fallacy in saying that communism is atheist he is wrong.
Atheism = disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.
Religion = the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.
Marx may have sported the most luxuriant of beards, but I don't think anyone considered him to be a god.
G.G.G. Tingey's letter in the Newsline of the 21st February claiming that Communism is a classic religion is fundamentally wrong. Communism/Marxism is based on a materialist philosophy which claims the primacy of matter over spirit, meaning that conditions dictate consciousness.
In contradistinction to this, religions subscribe to an idealist philosophy, which claims that the opposite is the case: spirit creates consciousness which in turn means that human conditions are dictated by some Supreme Being or beings.
G.G.G. Tingey is also quite wrong with his/her nine tests:
1 There are no "holy books" for communists. Most communists are followers of Karl Marx who founded Scientific Socialism. Like any other science it is based on material facts, which are open to revision.
2 The words of Marx and his followers are continuously questioned, and have been revised when proven wrong.
3 Communism of course has sub-divisions (not "sects"). There are bound to be disagreements in any movement.
4 There is no history of communist factions ("sects") fighting each other, either by open warfare or in internal pogroms.
5 It is nonsense to claim that communism is "structurally based on the RC church, complete with its own "holy office"! Who/where is the communist pope? – where is Communism'sVatican? – its hierarchy of cardinals, bishops and priests? – its cathedrals and churches?
6 The gulags were created by a bastardised form of socialism – which Marxists, then and now, would treat with similar contempt to that which they have for the Magdalene laundries!
7 The same bastardised form of socialism – which Marxists, then and now, would condemn the ill-treatment of innocent victims.
8 Communism – not being a religion – can't persecute competing religions!
9 No communist would deny evolution, whatever Trofim Lysenko (whoever he is) says.
Secularists should respond G.G.G. Tingey's claim that Communism is a religion in the same way as we do to the contention made by theists that atheism is a religion. It's like claiming that baldness is a hair colour!
G.G. Tingey (Newsline 21st February) questions my use of the term atheist in connection with communism (in particular with the old USSR variety).
It's hard to question the list of similarities he cites between religion and communism. I agree with most of these. In particular, there's a demand for unswerving allegiance in practice (whatever you may actually think) to a list of demands from some higher source or book. And to express disagreement, in both cases, is guaranteed to cause trouble, as much in theVatican, the 'Bible Belt' or under Mr Putin.
However, there's a question of derivation. Atheism is thought from the Greek a-theos ('without a god'). Communism, like religion, has a dogmatic system - but no god belief. It, like fascism etc, is its own god. You can offend against both just as easily, without even trying or intending to, and suffer for it, but only on Earth.
There is a strong link between both ways of thinking. The word 'religion', Latin in origin, means, essentially, 'binding' or 'fastening tight'. It has its grip on you, like other extremes. There was a good point made by the only openly atheist ancient poet, Lucretius (1st Cent. BCE): Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum. Translated as: 'To think of the evils religion has caused!' Godliness isn't alone in that.
I have to disagree with G. Tingey who insists that "communism is a classic religion" (last week's letters to Newsline).
Your criteria for a religion is not the ones most scholars use anyway. It is Ninian Smart's seven-dimensional model of religion that seems to hold most favour with academics. (He also discusses nationalism and Marxism, by the way.) It is all too easy to show a correlation between religion and communism (amongst many other things) but hopefully I don't need to remind Mr Tingey that a correlation does not mean that they are one and the same.
Attending football matches shares many of the qualities of attending church services but nobody is suggesting they are one and the same, are they? The sooner this tired old cliché that "communism is a religion too" is finally laid to rest the better off we will all be.
THE RC CHURCH AND THE WELFARE STATE
Vincent Nichols, the RC Archbishop of Westminster, condemns the Government's stance on welfare as 'immoral'. This comes soon after the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child condemned that church for its grossly immoral failings that allowed the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children. Could his stance have been to deflect public attention from that?
The welfare state has a cycle of dependency, with less able women (often from that background) incentivised to have more children than average. These children often end up depending on welfare and forming the 'problem families' that account for much of crime, disorder 'unemployability', etc.
And, these mothers often have their children at a younger age than average, resulting in an exponential growth in the proportion of the population represented by this group.
Another big factor is the RC Church's deterring these women who are its members from artificial contraception and abortions.
The government that he criticises is democratically elected, so can be ejected by the voters. When church leaders face the same disciplines, their lecturing of politicians will become credible. That said, the criticism of politicians by religious leaders might diminish if the politicians ceased their craven supplication to religions, to win more votes!
Until the many sins of his church are put right, we should all tell Cardinal-designate Vincent Nichols what Clem Attlee famously told Harold Laski: "A period of silence on your part would be welcome."
AUSTRALASIA: AN EXAMPLE TO THE UK
It was pleasing to read Terry Sanderson's report in last week's Newsline that parents in Australia and New Zealand are increasingly successful in petitioning politicians to remove evangelists from schools. I've always felt that Australasia can lead not only the west but the world in enacting social reform - as both countries have in the past - because political leadership there is the least hampered by corruption (Transparency International ranking), or by imbedded tradition and vested establishment interests.
Doubly pleasing because it's another example of enlightened progress since the years I lived there: in Australia ('72-'82), when although religion wasn't exactly "in your face", it could make conversation tricky; and in New Zealand ('85-'91), where it turned conversation treacherous. The move away from oppressive religious prejudice towards rationalism is always liberating, with the freeing up of speech allowing long denied truths to be publicly aired, like the blasphemous gems occasionally heard from gutsy Aussie and Kiwi politicians.
Britaintakes so much longer to modernise politically. A cautious foot forward, a reactionary step backward. Mr Sanderson is right to say that for a similar rejection of religious proselytising in UK schools the initiative has to come from the parents: only courageous individuals it seems can breach the defensive walls of religion-biased sclerotic institutions and a government bent on maintaining religious privilege.
RESEARCH ON GENDER SEGREGATION
One Law for All (in conjunction with Southall Black Sisters and Fitnah) is conducting a survey as part of a research project investigating the nature and impact of segregation, specifically gender segregation, at universities in the United Kingdom.
If you have experienced gender segregation at a university, please take a few moments to respond to the questionnaire online by 31 March 2014.
This research project is conducted in full compliance with the Ethics Guidelines of the Social Research Association. Your data will be treated as confidential and your participation will remain anonymous.
For more information about this research or to provide more in depth information, please contact: email@example.com.
Letters to Newsline: 21 February 2014
STEINER FREE SCHOOLS
In his blog post on 13th Feb, Terry Sanderson rightly highlighted the way the C of E is keeping itself alive by its presence in schools, and I particularly agree about the way "spirituality" is used as a soft sell for religion.
There is a specific problem with the new raft of Steiner free schools which are beginning to show up around the country. In Stroud we are awaiting the decision from the government on whether one of these "spiritual science" schools will be opening in our town. There are already over 30 Steiner businesses, schools, colleges and kindergartens in the area, and we are in danger of suffocating under this blanket of spiritual nonsense.
These schools, whilst claiming to "respect the religious views of individual families" are soaked in spirituality of a very specific kind – anthroposophy. This belief system features reincarnation, alternative versions of evolution and human history, elemental beings, two Christs, prayers (which they call "verses") and a general worldview at odds with modern science.
The teachers are often untrained except in anthroposophy, and the whole package is sold as humanist and progressive, which it is not.
These schools are even more of a danger other "faith" schools in a way, because parents usually do not realise the religious nature of the education they are choosing; the profound religiosity does not become apparent until after families have committed themselves.
COMMUNISM IS A CLASSIC RELIGION
Micheal Igoe, I'm sorry to say (Letter 7th February) has repeated an old fallacy.
This fallacy is always used by religious believers as a stick to beat secularists & atheists.
Here is what he said:
President Putin is well-known as an ex-officer of the old KGB, a feared arm of the strictly atheist USSR,…..
Err, no, actually.
Communism is a classic religion.
I think that Bertrand Russell was the first to note this, but the behaviour of both individual Marxists, and marxist organisations, and the construction of their internal power organisation and hierarchies conforms to classical religious behaviour. For example: people read a set number of Trotsky's saying each day, just as if he were Jesus, or Mahmud. Or appeal to "the historical inevitability of the revolution" etc …
I may add that it ( marxism/communism ) passes ALL the tests, if one cares to list them:
1] It has a "holy" book or books.
2] The words in those books may not be questioned, even when demonstrated proven wrong.
3] It has sub-divisions and sects and "heresy", and heretics, in Trevor-Ropers phrase are "even wronger" than unbelievers.
4] Those sects fight each other, either by open warfare and/or in internal pogroms.
5] It is structurally based on the RC church, complete with its own "holy office"
6] Which leads to the gulag – the communist equivalent of the churches years of penitence and autos-de-fé
7] Thousands if not millions are killed in the name of the "holy cause" to bring about a supposed millennium
8] It persecutes all the competing religions
9] In some sects it even denies Evolution by Natural Selection (look up Trofim Lysenko)
Can this persistent myth about communism being "atheist" please be laid to rest?
G. G. G. Tingey
My impatience with the BBC grows by the week, so I now call it theBritishBroadcastingChurch. They seem to create opportunities to shoehorn in religious discussions whenever possible, and seek out religious devotees for panel shows and presenters.
For a long time now I have had to turn off Radio 4 on a Saturday morning because the tiresome Rev Richard Coles has 1½ tedious hours to fill with his cloying sanctimonious claptrap. People like the odious Cristina Odone are frequently invited to impart their bigotry and support for the appalling RC church and similar institutions.
In the past I have been a strong supporter of the BBC because I feel that its public service ethos is of great value. But in recent years its intrusive religious proselytising has often driven me away, and like James Jones last week, I feel those preoccupations make the BBC look increasingly anachronistic.
Sadly they show no awareness of this as they stick rigidly to their TFTD policy of allowing only religious thoughts for any day: secular ones are strictly off the BBC agenda. The bias is so obvious it is thoroughly alienating for anyone with no religious affiliation, and we too pay our licence fee. It's time the BBC was called to account for all its audience.
GIRL GUIDE PROMISE
This letter from Jill Slocombe, chief guide of the Girlguides Association appeared in The Times on Monday (18 February, 2013)
The Church of England General Synod has just debated Girlguiding's Promise (Feb 13). Before we changed the Promise, we heard that many girls struggled with it and said it was often a barrier to joining our charity. Our trustees took this very seriously. Being open to all girls is one of our most deeply held commitments. I was immensely proud of the care our volunteers invested in forming the Promise with its pledge to actively "develop my beliefs" and "be true to myself". People have told me this wording demands meaningful thought about beliefs and values.
But of course with over half a million members it was inevitable not everyone would be happy. A few members have told us that as part of their Promise celebrations they chose to say words before making our Promise that made clear what their personal beliefs are. This seemed no problem to us. And it was heartening to see Synod commended this pragmatic approach.
But I would like to be clear that none of this changes the decisions that came out of our careful consultation last year. We are absolutely clear that the words of the Promise, and our commitment to one Promise for All, have not changed.
Letters to Newsline: 14 February 2014
I have recently trawled through all the 5000+ petitions on ePetitions.direct.gov.uk, and select some that may be of interest to readers, excluding those that soon expire. Excuse any oddities of English – the titles are copied 'as is' from the site:
- Abolish Faith Schools
- Abolish the "Lords Spiritual". Church reps should be ordinary "Lords Temporal"
- Ban the wearing of a burka or any other face covering during any court proceedings
- Ban the wearing of any face covering beyond the entrance of any taxpayer funded building
- House of Lords Religious Representation Reform
- Make Humanist weddings in England legal as they are in Scotland
- Legalise Outdoor Marriage Ceremonies … about Neo-pagan & Wiccan marriage, in particular
- Pardon for all gay men convicted for indecency in private under section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885
- Stop FGM in the UK Now
Most of these are not being actively promoted or publicized and are awaiting casual browsers to come across them, on that unwieldy site. So let's get the word out about some of these – the pages have social media sharing buttons on them.
ANTHONY LEMPERT ON MALE CIRCUMCISION
Last Sunday, in my role as chair of the Secular Medical Forum, I did seven consecutive interviews on various BBC local radio stations discussing October's resolution 1952 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which called ritual circumcision a violation of the physical integrity of boys. Also on each of the shows was Shimon Cohen from Milah UK arguing that it is a parent's right to permanently mark a child with the parent's religion and a child's right to have this done to him. Unsurprisingly, he sought to trivialise the harms.
Here's a list of the programmes with links: Radio Nottingham. starts at 1:08:30; Radio Manchester, starts at 1:24:05; Radio Derby, starts at 1:41:10; Radio Oxford, starts at 1:52:00; Radio Sheffield, starts at 1:10:40; Radio Newcastle, starts at 2:21:2; and Radio Jersey, starts at 2:51:08.
BBC & THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND
Bill Turnbull and Susanna Reid were reporting this morning on the latest nonsense regarding women bishops.
They even had a lady guest on, discussing the subject - and all their brows were furrowed in deadly earnest, as befits a matter of such import. So important, in fact, that I was driven to mute the sound.
Why does the Beeb insist on continuing to report the machinations of the CofE as if what they represent has some basis in reality? They might just as well bring us "Breaking News" on the internal politics or power struggles of Santa's elves.
Is there any hope that one day soon the BBC might be dragged screaming into the 21st century? I am not holding my breath.
James H. Jones
RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM AND THE GUIDES
I do not know if Glynis Mackie would consider her self a religious fundamentalist, but that is how she appears to me and no doubt others. She is the leader of the 37th Newcastle Guide unit and was threatened with expulsion from the National Association for refusing to remove the phrase "To love my God" from the oath -in line with the new guiding promise. However the national association has now lifted the threat, and has allowed this troupe of guides to include the phrase to love my god in the promise.
Glynis Mackie has been reported to have said that "the girls should be allowed to choose which vow they make" and that she also refused to force her members to comply. This beggars belief, is she saying that all the girls under her command have said with one voice we want to keep this wording in? Would these girl guides have the same choice as young female Muslims when it comes to wearing the Burka or the Niqab? If the National Association for Guides allows this to happen, are they not opening up the girl guides to a form of religious segregation, with some being religious groups, and others being non religious groups, which defeats the whole object of the girl guides as being all together in the first place? And is it not an odious thing to do to blame the children for her actions, when it is her actions that are forcing the children to not omit the god phrase from the promise! Has this woman not made a monkey out of the authority of her National Association! When fundamentalism raises its ugly head, all sorts of folk get hurt?
Letters to Newsline: 7 February 2014
HOMOSEXUALITY IN SOCHI AND THE 'MOTHER CHURCH'
The Winter Olympics atSochiwill be marked by numerous processions. But not just of the athletes; world-wide protests are planned againstRussia's recent anti-homosexuality legislation, a stiffer version of even our own benighted Section 28.Sochi's mayor has actually claimed there are no gays in his city, despite the existence there of at least two gay bars. Those must be lonely places.
As is commonly the case, the new law seems to associate homosexuality with paedophilia, for which there is no evidence, in banning "propaganda" for both. But that association continues to provide a pretext for homophobic violence, not only inRussia. Only 'traditional', so-called, intimate practices are now permitted. Tough luck, then, for a modern-day Dostoyevsky or Tchaikovsky.
Interviewed on BBC Radio in the last day or two, a rather bilious member of the Russian legislature referred toLondonas a 'devil city' and to theUK's own lawmakers, for their less restrictive rulings, as 'smarter than Jesus Christ'. That description seems to apply more to himself and his colleagues. Christ is nowhere on record as having even mentioned homosexuality. In fact, he barely referred to sex at all. Perhaps, in believers' minds, he should have, but didn't get round to it. That was left to the ex-Pharisee Paul, who never even met Christ.
President Putin is well-known as an ex-officer of the old KGB, a feared arm of the strictly atheistUSSR, which banned the importation of Bibles or similar religious works. In upholdingMotherChurch, has he perhaps seen the light? If so, his new laws suggest very little real illumination.
RELIGION IN THE BROWNIES
Did you know that although the Brownies updated their promise in September, Some groups are still singing the original Brownie song/prayer at the beginning and end of each session?
This should be highlighted to other parents as I only discovered it by accident and have had a bit of a problem finding a group willing to adapt the words to accommodate our secular stance.
According to the brownies: "Although we have changed our Promise, the 'traditional song' has not been formally changed but leaders are able to make changes in their unit if they wish. As we are very new with the changes in the wording of our Promise, not everything has caught up with this more open approach."
I do believe in the sincerity of the Brownies to eventually change the wording, our own local one is doing so as we speak, but parents will need to ask for this to be done.