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Letters to Newsline: 17 May 2013
What is the appropriate secularist stance on faith schools?
The exchanges reported in Newsline between John Hunt and the Network of Sikh Organisations regarding the establishment of Sikh schools in Britain, and many other similar items, lead me to question 'what is an appropriate 'secularist' stance on faith-based schools?'
It seems to me that provided a faith-based school (proposed or existing) fulfils the following four (general) conditions, it would not be contradictory to the secularist ethos of liberty and non-preference to faith-based organisations: 1. Does not promote violence, intolerance or discrimination towards anyone; 2. Does not receive any public funding (directly or indirectly, central or localised); 3. Does not limit the availability of places at non-faith schools in any given locality; 4. Clearly identifies itself as being faith-based, and provides details to the parents of prospective pupils on what this entails.
Requirements 2.-4. should be relatively easy to measure and monitor (in the case of 4.) Requirement 1., on the other hand, is unlikely to ever be capable of fully objective measurement in a manner that would be acceptable to both followers and non-followers of a particular faith. Which can only lead to the simple conclusion that all faith-based schools should be either rejected (in the case of proposed schools) or converted to become secularist schools.
Cancelled BBC documentary
Is the BBC's mysteriously cancelled documentary, Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story a shortened version of Ziv's Exile - A Myth Unearthed, which is on the National Film Board of Canada's web site? Full version 97 minutes; trailer 1m;
"This feature documentary looks at new evidence that suggests the majority of the Jewish people may not have been exiled following the fall ofJerusalemin 70 AD. Travelling from Galilee toJerusalemand the catacombs ofRome, the film asks us to rethink our ideas about an event that has played a critical role in the Christian and Jewish traditions. "
Here is the trailer.
The naturalness of homosexuality
Further reply to Simon Rushton on homosexuality. This video says it all?
John Matthew Bostock
Religious broadcasting on the BBC
I agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury! Not that it would be "dangerous" to reduce religious broadcasting (which is a silly statement), but that it has a place and it is for the BBC as a publicly funded, public service broadcaster to reflect all opinions and interest groups in society, even if in so doing it offends others. The BBC has many channels to its audience on both radio and television, as well as website content and printed journals. It is quite possible to avoid religion if you want to do so, while still being a BBC customer. Also, as an atheist, I still find religion interesting (and a working knowledge of it essential), and some of these programmes are reasonably thought-provoking. We're in danger of sounding like a bunch of Macdonalds and Pizza Hut customers arguing that there's too much celebrity chef programming here.
Ed writes: The NSS has never argued that there should be no religion on TV, only that it should be proportionate and not proselytising. Suggest you read our submission to the BBC Trust.
The Big Questions
I do not share Raymond Berger's unhappiness with The Big Questions programme. On the contrary,
it allows religious nutcases to parade their nuttiness in front of millions, so that we can all see it for what it is. To quote his own letter, "The heavily bearded Lubovitch rabbi wouldn't shake the hand of a woman but claimed women were equal in his faith. An unattractive apologist for Islam, aggressively vocal, claimed that it made good sense for women to have only half the legal weight of men. It fell to a disguised young woman from Iran to point out that her anonymity was to protect her parents, as apostasy was a capital offence in that theocratic country."
So we could all see the rabbi's inconsistency, hear the built-in injustice of Islamic law spelt out by one of its own practitioners, and receive a poignant reminder of just where such law can and does lead.
And I remember with particular pleasure a Big Questions about teaching evolution, where the creationist Sylvia Baker was exposed as an apostle of unreason in the matter; it gave me particular pleasure that the exposing was performed by a Canon Theologian of the Church of England.
Evidence for Jesus
The claim by Steuart Campbell that 'The Jewish historian Josephus referred to Jesus, as did the Roman historian Tacitus.' [NSS Newsline, May 10, 2013] is clearly challengeable.
As Ilan Ziv makes clear in his film Exile: A Myth Unearthed, Josephus was a turncoat who wrote his "history" for the edification and glorification of his slave-master, Roman Emperor Vespasian.
Frankly, I do not accept that Josephus was a historian in the modern sense of the word. His accounts are not impartial or objective. Whatever he wrote was almost certainly 'doctored' later.
Tacitus wrote about Christians – not Jesus; he appeared not to know the name of Jesus so how can he be claimed as an authentic source for the existence of any such fictitious person?
Add to that the fact that Tacitus wrote his "history" in circa CE 116 and the fact that his original work no longer exists but was referred to in a work in the 11th Century – and it is all highly dubious.
We all now know that the Roman Church re-wrote countless works or destroyed earlier works completely if they failed to agree with the official accounts of the Roman imperial religion.
The use of the term 'synoptic' to refer to the 4 accepted New Testament "gospels" is a clear indication that other non-synoptic writings did exist at one stage.
How else to explain the huge delay in part-releasing the Qumran Scrolls except that the Vatican stopped them from being released because they were incompatible with the 4 gospels?
It is bad enough that deluded and misguided religionists promote this sort of nonsense but why are secularists doing the same thing? Please: no more of this ridiculous fakery.
Steuart Campbell claims that that the Jewish writer Josephus and his Roman counterpart Tacitus provide contemporary evidence for Jesus (Newsline May 10). This is manifestly incorrect as neither of the works of the two writers are remotely contemporary with Jesus, who was crucified on the orders of the Roman prefect of Judaea, Pontius Pilate, sometime between 26 to 36 PE.
In his book Forged, Writing in the Name of God, Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (NY., HarperOne, 2011), Professor Bart Ehrman, refers to the absence of any first century Roman records which "attest to the existence of Jesus…" or of his deeds (p.256). In other words there is no contemporary evidence. Ehrman does not reject the historicity of Jesus but in another book, writes of Jesus not being the figure Christians represent him as. If so, does the fact he was crucified alongside two robbers provide a clue, as this was the means by which the Romans disposed of robbers and revolutionaries? According to the historian Geza Vermes, Josephus, who defected to the Romans in the revolution that broke out in Judaea in 66, employed the term robber as a synonym for revolutionary (Who's Who in the Age of Jesus. London, Penguin, 2005. pp.85-86), so was a Jesus a Galilean Spartacus, as the Secularist and one-time editor of The Freethinker, F. A. Ridley maintained? If so, it means the figure of Jesus as propagated by the churches is all too obviously mythical
Ed writes: This correspondence is now closed.
Letters to Newsline: 10 May 2013
Walls of Jericho
I would like to offer some information on two items raised in Letters to Newsline 3rd May 2013:–
With regard to the withdrawn BBC 4 TV programme Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story, further information from the film director can be seen here, where it is possible to view a short trailer on the programme (under the original name of Exile: A Myth Unearthed), as well as download the actual film itself for people wishing to see it. I heartily recommend everyone following this matter up. You can also see interesting blog comments at the same site.
The item Lack of facts in RE has prompted me to write to point out that I visited Jericho during March. I was able to view the archaeological diggings of the old "city". My impression was that the area unearthed was hardly that of a city and it might possibly have housed — at the most — about 200 people. One of my colleagues who had previously visited Jericho mentioned that most of the buildings in the modern city area were almost all quite low; buildings did not go much above two storeys – as I saw. We also briefly visited the ruined Hisham's Palace. What connected all these factors together was that Jericho is located in an earthquake zone and it is this fact, rather than a Joshua or Yeshua walking round the walls of the ancient "city" blowing through a ram's antler which caused the walls 'to come a-tumbling down'. My guess is that the walls were already destroyed and the "city" abandoned long before anyone else arrived there and so the newcomers invented the myth of Joshua and the so-called "battle" ofJericho to lend legitimacy to themselves and all their other silly religious beliefs.
The perils of moralising
It's very tempting, with Cardinal O'Brien's reappearance on the scene, to paraphrase, only slightly, the words of the hymn, 'The See gives up its dead'. Let's just hope that wherever he has been for some time has allowed him to consider the sort of harm that his intemperate outbursts of the past months or years could easily have caused. The revelations about conduct, alleged, of his own in the past — which he hasn't exactly denied — are just another example of the kind of consequences that moralising can bring. And I've known many moralisers, none of them saints themselves. The list of US 'televangelists' who fell by the wayside at their megachurches is too long and too familiar to recount here. So, a message of welcome (so to speak) to the Cardinal and his celibate fraternity: can you please think and speak about something other than sex? And if you intend to make any speeches on this or related matters, assuming you've any credibility left in that area, please take a prescribed tablet first. Hyperbole and absurdity don't sit well on anyone, least of all God's spokesmen.
The naturalness of homosexuality
Simon Rushton makes some seriously questionable points in his letter: "I recently read in Tim Harford's book The Logic Of Life: 'If you are from a family that contains someone with HIV/AIDS, then you are less likely to be in a male homosexual relationship, and more likely to be in a lesbian relationship'". How can this be? If you are a male it is highly unlikely that you will be in a lesbian relationship, you would obviously be very careful if you had a family member who was so unfortunate but it is my belief, based on sound observational experience that no one chooses their sexuality, it is thrust upon them. I know several homosexuals and am close to a few, some of them knew they were gay from early experience and at least one other is still not sure. How does Simon explain the noted science on the study of male twins where one is exhibiting the male characteristics and the other more feminine ones? This happens in the womb. Two of my son's friends are displaying homosexual traits, one has already come out, the other is a twin as above.
Those who deny the naturalness of homosexuality do so for a reason, they need to examine that reason.
I am amazed that Simon Rushton thinks homosexuality is sometimes a choice. He seems to be suggesting that you choose not to be homosexual out of fear of HIV (despite the evidence that HIV is a huge problem for young heterosexual people these days). You may choose not to have sex out of fear of HIV but you definitely do not choose to be straight out of fear of HIV or any other STI. Homosexuality is not purely genetic as Mr Rushton points out but again, he appears to be confusing the issue by talking of the switching on and off of genes; something that is beyond anybody's choice. It is, however, important to stress the genetic component of homosexuality because gay people are still persecuted in this country and worldwide; a situation that is exasperated by the world's religious books. It appears the message and the facts are still being corrupted or, at best, falling on deaf ears.
A couple of questions for Simon Rushton. When did you choose to be heterosexual? Or did you choose to act as if you were heterosexual? I really would like to know.
Sexuality is not a choice. Simon Rushton's letter suggests otherwise, but he appears to have his own Humpty Dumpty version of what the word 'sexuality' means. It's to do with person's sexual attraction, and nothing to do with any sex acts.
His example of gay men abstaining from gay sex due to fear of AIDS may be true(?), but it speaks nothing to their sexuality and everything to their fear of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
Does he seriously believe that Roman Catholic priests, due to their choice of a celibate life, are asexual? If so, the millions that have left theVatican's coffers in compensation should make him reconsider. Oh, and, by the way, no, I cannot "Forgive the crude simplification here, but pro-homosexual people tend to argue for a genetic causation, whereas anti-homosexual people argue for choice". If it was so, by his own definition, he would be showing his hand as being "anti- homosexual people". Is that really the case, Simon?
I thought fruit flies were used in genetic experiments because they reproduce very rapidly and should be interested to know on what evidence James Wright states that flies don't feel pain. Is it because they don't scream?
The Big Questions
In the past years I have given up scourging myself with knotted ropes on a Sunday morning, as I now watch the BBC's The Big Questions which produces the same pain but with added anger. Other people are maddened by Thought for the Day but the The Big Questions, a one hour programme in the God slot on Sunday morning does a fine job of proselytising and giving space to extremists and reactionary religionists with very little time for answers from the small minority of the sane.
This week the question was "Are Religions Unfair to Women", to which the answer is, yes, yes, yes but the apologists, both male and female had a field day, citing chapter and verse about God's purpose on Earth. The heavily bearded Lubovitch rabbi wouldn't shake the hand of a woman but claimed women were equal in his faith. An unattractive apologist for Islam, aggressively vocal, claimed that it made good sense for women to have only half the legal weight of men. It fell to a disguised young woman from Iran to point out that her anonymity was to protect her parents, as apostasy was a capital offence in that theocratic country.
Dr Stavrakapolou, a lady academic, brought an historical perspective to it all, but what did that count for amongst the claims and counter claims about God's purpose, Adam and Eve and other fictional characters.
I wonder if anyone else feels as strongly as I do and would be prepared to sign a joint letter to the BBC.
A service not a ceremony
I attended Dave's funeral last Thursday. The newspaper notice had advertised a "ceremony", not a "service", so I rather expected a humanist funeral. On entering the crematorium, they were playing John Lennon's recording of Imagine. Imagine my disappointment when I was given a leaflet with the words of two hymns! I braced myself for a standard Church of Scotland funeral, with only a brief mention of Dave.
In fairness, the minister did devote about 5 minutes, out of the 20 or so, to a reasonable tribute, but the religious content was much more forcefully propagandist than usual, a real bible-thumping sermon to a "captive audience".
I found myself thinking "And they complain about so-called militant secularists!" I just wanted to get that off my chest!
George D. Rodger
Tip of the iceberg
It is said that when you see an iceberg you only view the top 10 per cent of it with 90 per cent out of view under water, hence the phrase 'the tip of the iceberg'.
The same could be said for the establishment churches, as what we see is what the church wants us to see; is it not true that the machinations of our religious leaders are all had in camera? Secrecy is the order of the day with perhaps the Vatican being most infamous for doing things behind closed doors. The church's use of public relations, propaganda and spin would put our sports stars, celebrities and politicians to shame. But the good news for secular folk is that more and more people are beginning to see past the propaganda shield and are drifting way from church based organisations by the thousand. The future looks bright for a secular Britain.
Evidence for Jesus
Michael Igoe's claim that there is no contemporary evidence for Christ himself (Newsline 3 May) is not correct. The Jewish historian Josephus referred to Jesus, as did the Roman historian Tacitus. Attempts to discredit these testimonials have themselves been discredited. Although history does not deal with 'facts' (just probabilities), most historians accept that Jesus really existed.
This does not mean that Gospel studies are appropriate for religious education classes. The Gospels are a complex mixture of history and propaganda, making them challenging for university students (see my book The Rise and Fall of Jesus). RE classes should stick to explaining what people believe and how they practice their beliefs.