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Letters to Newsline: 13 December 2013
Can anybody explain to me how having Sunday's off work enables Celestina Mba to "obey the Fourth Commandment in the Bible and rest and pray on the Sabbath"? (The Sabbath is from sundown on Friday evening to sundown on Saturday evening.) Also, she appears to be wearing clothes of mixed fabrics in the photo, so she obviously doesn't take all the commandments so seriously.
There's an inherent contradiction, quite a few in fact, in the recent insistence on having the sexes segregated at a university, to hear a speech delivered by a cleric. This is the practice too, I believe, in Jewish temples. It's insulting to suggest that the male or female present has no self-control. If religion is improving, then surely it should prevent wrongful sexual urges, shouldn't it? If anyone is going to act on these urges, he/she won't do so in front of an audience, will he/she? Discrimination on grounds of sex is illegal in the UK. If the cleric won't have a mixed audience, he has no right to speak, any more than if he demanded apartheid-style racial segregation. Civil law must trump religious notions like this. Don't university authorities have the moral courage to make that point? Apparently not, in cases like this.
Secular remembrance ceremony
I have finally found the time to read Norman Bonney's excellent analysis of the true purpose of the Remembrance Day ceremony. I was prompted to do so after attending the Hackney Remembrance Day Parade where yet again (as the son of a WW2 soldier), I was left completely cold by the Christian hijacking of the event.
So, I wonder, what could be put into an entirely secular remembrance ceremony?
There would have to be military references of course, though clearly there would be a space too for pacifist views. But what music would be used, what poems, what readings? I'd be interested in gathering views on this, because I might just be tempted to organise such an event.
The God question
A thank you to NSS spokesperson Alistair McBay for his superb article "The God Question - a Trojan Horse for Intelligent Design", which reported on Catholic introduced ID specialists trying to recruit followers at Glasgow University by giving a slick presentation and handing out some goodies.
In exposing the dishonesty of these clever theists in their misrepresentation of science, and to counter the erroneous arguments "intelligent design" employs when exploiting the imperfections of cosmological and evolutionary theory, Mr McBay quotes Lawrence Krauss' "A Universe from Nothing". Another book, Alex Rosenberg's "The Atheist's Guide to Reality," also offers answers to these deep mysteries. A philosophy professor and atheist, his learned anti-ID polemic stretches my A-level maths and physics, but his explanations of events after the big bang, of the creation of the universe, galaxies, stars, planets, and the evolution of life on Earth, is very readable, as are the chapters about the brain, consciousness, free will, etc.
Hopefully Scottish university students will study such science books and many, many others and rationalise reality by themselves and resist seduction to god-belief by the circular reasoning of intelligent design. Such sophisticated Christian belief may balance creeping Islam, or, for the sake of intellectual fairness, even atheism, even so, I think it misguided for educationalists and politicians to provide an academic platform for peddlers of hokum.
Thank you, Anne Marie Waters
I too, like Michael Dynes in last week's Newsline, also wish to say how grateful I am to Anne Marie Waters for drawing our attention and raising awareness of the shocking abuses done in the name of religion.
Her blog, published on 21 October 2013, "Do you know what a Concordat is?" was written from her own personal perspective, as a former Catholic, drawing our attention to the abuse of women, in particular, in the Roman Catholic Church and, as a non-Catholic myself, I found it especially informative and interesting. Anne Marie has a unique style, as if she is writing a letter to a friend, which makes her work stand out and so appealing to the reader.
I am very proud to be a member of the National Secular Society that plays a vital role in upholding equality and Human Rights. Since I joined in 2008, I have read so many other interesting blogs/articles too, and learned so much. Thank you all for the important work you do on our behalf.
Self-defined Islamic jihadists share the common belief of booking their place in paradise for eternity. Moderate Imams are at last becoming vocal in their condemnation of terrorist actions, which is to be welcomed, but so far, we have not heard much from the mosques on the underpinning religious motivations. The Christian heaven has a gatekeeper who keeps out unrepentant sinners and a major role of the church is to spell out what Christians can and cannot do to get to heaven. Surely the same responsibility falls upon Moslem religious leaders. Are jihadists correct that they have an assured place in paradise if they die in the course of their actions or not? If not, then this is where Imams have their greatest power in opposing jihadist terror as well combating Islamophobia on the part of non-Moslems.
We seem to have become a country that is in thrall to religious fanatics who dictate to us on every aspect of life. The latest case involves Nottinghamshire police "Badvent "calendar, which although used be a number of police forces across the land as attracted complaints from some of its police officers. (They do not state how many). The badvent calendar shows a picture a day of a suspect caught on CCTV apparently committing a crime, or is on the run or failed to turn up in court!
It is claimed that the Badvent calendar was Inappropriate to confuse a religious festival with a campaign to catch criminals". The sad fact is that the upper echelons of Nottinghamshire have bowed down to this religious bullying and have now re-named it the "Festive Crime calendar" just cannot wait until some other religious fanatic objects to the word 'festive'?
Hostility towards religion
Mazin Zeki raises concerns about multiculturalism and identity with an extraordinary attack on Newsline correspondents, while simultaneously claiming an indifference to religion. But it is wrong to accuse Newsline letter-writers of being 'obsessively hostile' to religion. In fact they reflect members' natural irritations and responses to the intrusions of religion into secular society.
If the religious would keep their beliefs to themselves, their homes, and their worshipping places, there would be no problem, and we could live harmoniously together. Unfortunately too many of them want to advertise, proselytise, evangelise and claim privilege for themselves as having special status among us, entirely without merit.
The religious use their beliefs to justify murder and making war, their bigotry towards women and non-heterosexual people, and we have to endure their endless attempts to take over our schools and education, employment practices and laws. So we are entitled to show our hostility towards such brazen, self-serving manoeuvring and identify it for what it really is.
Most supporters of secularism are appalled at these abuses in our society. Only the religious claim supernatural justification for them and they should be opposed by every rational person. The NSS is doing a splendid job in supporting those who want a secular society and are prepared to speak up for that aim.
If Mazin Zeki can't take it, there is no compulsion to read our letters.
Letters to Newsline: 6 December 2013
A creeping insanity
A creeping insanity seems to be affecting the UK. Firstly we have the nonsense of segregated seating at universities and then the new anti-annoyance bill, presently making its way through Parliament.
Surely, if Sheikh Muhammad bin Ali al Whotsit or the Reverend Fred Bloggs have the breadth of knowledge and intellect to make it worthwhile to get them along to address a university debating society, then may we not expect them to possess sufficient savoir faire to enable them to understand and tolerate arrangements that perhaps are not entirely of their choosing? They ought to be able and willing to overlook such matters. If such an accommodation is too hard, then they are so blinkered as not to be worth listening to.
For Universities UK to go banging on about 'facing complex balances between promoting free speech and equality and discrimination' is sheer rubbish. Segregated seating in universities at the behest of some religious nutter is not the way matters are conducted. The only thing that prevents such persons from expressing themselves at a traditional public gathering is their own blinkered world view.
Government moves to frame legislation to prevent annoying behaviour are likewise sheer lunacy. Burkas, loud pop music, drunken, vomiting youths downtown at night, shoddy English and cultural relativism annoy the hell out of me, yet I do not want or expect legislation to prevent my being irritated by such things. I am prepared to look the other way and so should everyone else.
Craven capitulation to every whim or request from special interest groups coupled with the desire to avoid even the slightest irritation to all, renders society gutless and lacking any self-respect. Is everyone now so thin skinned and fearful that great efforts must be made to ensure that no one be offended about anything whatsoever and that everything must be done to accommodate all religious whims? Has everything to be viewed through the prism of cultural cohesion and inclusion? May no one be told that their demands are unreasonable and will not be met? Is the traditional, home culture worth nothing?
Sometimes I have to ask if there is any intelligent life in earth. You can often meet perfectly rational folk, who are able to run a business, or hold down a reasonable job for years on end, but revert back to childhood when it comes back to matters of religion and miracles. It was the Psychologist Peter Watson, when alluding to belief systems, who said that such folk had the tendency to seek out evidence that supports our existing beliefs which he called "Confirmation Bias".
Over the years I have had folk claiming that god sent messages, via the banging of a letter box, the opening of a loft hatch, and one chap claiming god made his bed up, when he was not in the room. But the best one so far, who offered proof that god is with us, was a gentleman who had a premonition that he was going to die in an accident, but that morning he dropped his keys under his vehicle, which delayed, his journey by several minutes, thus causing him to be late for work and avoiding an accident that day. He said he was living proof that god does exist, for had he not dropped his keys he would be dead! I wonder if any other readers have been told stories by sincere but naïve folk about miracles, and "Confirmation Bias" in favour of their respective belief system?
Why religious education?
I wholeheartedly agree with Jules Farrer that religion should not be expunged from school curricula. Religion is indeed an important element in the world.
However, I am not at all convinced that there is a need for a subject called Religious Education. Do we need a subject called Political Education? And what about religious assemblies?
My children were lucky enough to attend an international school, where they followed the curriculum leading to the Diploma of the International Baccalaureate. Because it is designed for students of many national and religious backgrounds, it tries to avoid any emphasis on one particular viewpoint. Religion comes into history, just as do politics. It also comes into Theory of Knowledge, a compulsory subject for the Diploma. That seems to me to be the right balance. No religion is taught as true or false, nor is religion favoured over non-belief.
RE as it originally existed in our schools (and as I experienced in the 1940s and 50s) was straightforward Christian indoctrination, with a leaning towards the Church of England). It has attempted to evolve since then, but still often exhibits a bias towards belief against unbelief.
I'd like to see anyone produce a good reason (apart from inertia) why it still needs to exist as a single subject in the curriculum.
Anne Marie Waters
I was browsing Youtube recently and watching debates when I first came across Anne Marie Waters at the Oxford Union Debate - Islam Is Not A Peaceful Religion.
Browsing through my copy of Newsline today I came across her again, as I read her article, (Newsline 29th of November-Baroness Warsi and the OIC). I'd just like to thank Anne-Marie for her excellent article and say how glad I am that she is a member on the council of the National Secular Society. I'm sure we have others on council like Anne Marie but we need a lot more.
The commemoration of WW1, which will be very significant and important from August 2014 onwards, seems to be becoming an excuse for religion to take over the remembrance ceremonies what will be necessary and valuable. This has started now with the ridiculous idea of "sacred soil" from the battlefields in Belgium being transported to the UK for a memorial here. The symbolism of such soil is powerful but that symbolism does not need to be magical and religious and objecting to the term sacred should be something you do, whilst being very careful to not undermine the very real need and wish for remembrance of past war dead.
Creationism in science classes
Jules Farrer's letter implies that "science (on creationist grounds)" is part of a well-rounded curriculum and that parents who object are being hysterical. The actual problem is that creationism is not science at all. That some people believe that creationism is science is something that should be taught in RE class. The same RE class could go on to teach that this belief lays waste to many promising careers. But a science class teaching that made-up-on-the-spot creationism and hard-won findings from using the scientific method are not mutually exclusive would be fraudulent.
When is a woman in Britain no longer accepted as an equal citizen able to take part in public life on the same terms as a man? The answer is - when she is viewed through the eyes of someone whose mindset is steeped in a religious tradition that abhors the idea; and whenever that person is given the privilege to wield a "it's my religion - get out of the way"-card to impose this sentiment on the rest of society.
The cowardly and mindless decision by Universities UK to accommodate some religious speakers' preference for gender-segregated seating for audiences, is a clear example of why we need a secular society that can balance and protect the rights of all citizens, religious or not, fairly and equally.
As long as freedom of religion is valued higher than our freedom from it, we can expect to see more attempts at eroding our democratic values.
Let's hope Scottish universities will not become afflicted with the same memory loss regarding the definition of gender equality and its universal application in public life.
The hypocrisy of religious preachers
I long ago ceased to wonder at the hypocrisy of religious preachers; I nowadays regard it as endemic.
The case of the Reverend Paul Flowers is still under investigation and fresh in the public mind, but perhaps not, except for Catholics, the pronouncements of their new pope, Francis I. Here is a man presiding over an organisation that, had it been a private concern outside theVatican, would have been closed down years ago and under investigation over the antics of its employees. And I doubt we are yet finished with revelations of corruption and gross misconduct – hazards lurking beneath the holy waters of sanctity.
Perhaps with good intentions, if media reports are true, this holiest of men exercises personal modesty whilst preaching humility. He claims he wants to preside over a "poor church for the poor," whilst this same church still enjoys its share of wealth amassed over several centuries that encompassed the greatest looting operation in human history; that of the Spanish Americas.
It was reported recently in the Guardian that Christ's Vicar on Earth, "appears to have renounced papal infallibility." This is the stuff of Monty Python. Whether consulting his churchgoers over abortion and gay marriage will steer the wallowing Catholic vessel, with its new figurehead and dubious crew, into 20th century waters remains to be seen. The 21st century would appear a destination too far even though the papal hulk may at last be entering the age of steam.
As for members of that other, conflict prone, One True Religion, Islam – their strife-ravaged vessel is bereft of a captain and possesses only a book of instructions that the crew, forever in dispute and clambering overboard, cannot agree upon. It sits firmly aground in the Middle Ages, unmoved by the high tide of reason, never to ply the waters of Enlightenment.
Multiculturalism, faith & identity
I feel less and less inclined to read the letters in Newsline as they are obsessively hostile to religion and seem to be competing in being holier than thou in their hatred of religion
I do not have an obsession with religion but am indifferent to it.
But I was very concerned with the letter from Jules Farrer which made some points but seemed to use the concept of racism rather casually. Such use or misuse must be faced down publicly.
We are nowhere near being a multicultural society. Rather we are a society which pays lip service to the myths of multiculturalism. And there is a big difference between a theatrical version of multiculturalism as an ideology and that of shared social experience. Multiculturalism has created more social and spatial segregation with an obvious impact on schools. Instead of facing this issue some are tempted to use words like 'shady racist territory' whatever that means. And I have yet to come across anybody who thinks that 'teaching English is racist' (sic).
As usual there follows a confusion between religion, culture and identity which are clearly separate.
But this confusion is increasingly affecting the ability of secularists to respond effectively to the challenges facing society.
This challenge is increasingly the use of religion not as faith but as identity and mobilising that identity for making disproportionate demands.