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Newsline 2nd September 2005

Quotes of the Week
Essays of the Week
Arts Council Is Anxious About Religious Hatred Bill
Headscarf Controversy Reopens
Sectarianism Flares Again In Northern Ireland As Police Guard Catholic Schools
French Government Accused of Compromising Secularism
Young French Muslims Overwhelmingly Support Secularism
Advertising Agency Tries To Convince Us That the Church Isn’t Churchy
Religious Right Dictates American Allocation Of Funds To Fight Aids
Most Americans Want Religion In Schools
Vatican At War With Gays, Gays Fight Back
Poll On Faith Schools
Vatican Compensates Nazi Slaves
Saudi Arabia's Religious Authority Bans Football
NSS Speaks Out
Coming Soon: The God Who Wasn't There
NSS Badge Makes Waves
Editorial: Why Won't the BBC Let Us Speak for Ourselves?
Letters To Newsline
Television


Quotes of the Week

“I am not dead, unlike the Ayatollah Khomeini. That thing about the pen and the sword … don’t mess with novelists!”
(Salman Rushdie, at the Edinburgh Festival)

“Was it by divine guidance that Pat Robertson has reduced the Ten Commandments down to nine, cancelling ‘Thou shall not kill’? And this from someone who claims to be a man of God.”
(Editorial, Free Lance-Star, USA)

“There is no God”
(Cherman, 7-year old survivor of the Beslan school massacre, BBC Online)


Essays of the Week

(Harold Morowitz et al, Chronicle Review)

(Richard Dawkins & Jerry Coyne, Guardian)

(Phil Rockstroh, Information Clearing House)

(Please note: the above essay is very strong opinion and some may be offended by it.)

(Andrew Anthony, Guardian)


Arts Council Is Anxious About Religious Hatred Bill

The artistic community is at last getting itself geared up for a fight against the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill – although it may already have left it too late.

The Stage reports that the Arts Council England has entered into talks with the Home Office to “clarify that artistic freedom will be protected under the controversial Racial and Religious Hatred Bill”. The move has been prompted by what the organisation calls a “climate of anxiety” among artists, who believe their freedom of expression is under greater threat than it has been for decades, as a result of the planned legislation and campaigns by religious groups against shows such as Behzti and Jerry Springer – the Opera.

ACE representatives want the government to make it clear that artists will not be at risk of prosecution under the legislation. The funding body is keen to be seen to be taking an active role in the censorship fight, particularly following suggestions in the press that it bowed to pressure from religious groups in refusing to fund the regional tour of Jerry Springer – the Opera.

McNeill said the incident had given the false impression that the organisation would not support challenging work, adding: “Concerns have been heightened in the last few weeks by the false suggestion that ACE was influenced by the Christian lobby against Jerry Springer and that that formed part of the reason we didn’t fund the tour, which is wrong.”

But Jon Thoday, producer of Jerry Springer – the Opera, told The Stage that he believed ACE had not given an adequate explanation of its decision. He said: “It’s pretty rich for the Arts Council to be saying this. By and large, producers and creative people will do everything they can to defend their freedom of expression. Producers by nature are used to going through difficult times to get things on the stage. Public bodies are often the ones who swing in a negative direction.”

Meanwhile, the actors’ union Equity is shortly to discuss setting up a new committee to address members’ concerns over the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. The union follows in the footsteps of the Writers’ Guild, which recently revived its anti-censorship committee.

A Home Office spokesperson explained: “The new offence prohibits the inciting of hatred in others against people because of their beliefs. It does not prohibit ridicule, criticism or debate of religion.

“It does not prohibit anger towards a religion or its followers. Indeed, it does not even prohibit a person hating a religion or its followers – merely taking actions which cause others to do so. The racial hatred offence already covers Jews and Sikhs and it has not stopped writers composing works, or criticising, those faiths.”

Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society, commented: “This statement appears to imply that the current law prohibits incitement to hatred of Jews and Sikhs on the grounds of their religion. It does not, only on the grounds of race, and it doing so for Sikhs and Jews is simply as a result of case law precedents where it was decided that Sikhs and Jews each constituted a race.”

He added: “The Government’s reassurances are familiar but unconvincing. The Bill’s 7 year maximum jail sentence and derisorily low prosecution threshold will combine, even without a single prosecution, to create a climate of fierce self-censorship, something the Government so far has no qualms about, yet it constitutes the biggest danger to freedom of expression since WWII. If this Government cares at all about freedom of expression it must take this final opportunity, when the Bill comes into the Lords next month, to abandon it or severely modify it.”

Please write to your MP and make your feeling known about this oppressive and totally unnecessary legislation.

See also:


Headscarf Controversy Reopens

The issue of the Muslim veil is causing controversy and debate throughout Western society. According to a German press report, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia will ban female Muslim teachers from wearing the hijab at schools from next summer.

Officials in the State were quoted in Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung that the hijab ban would take effect from August 2006. “Female and male teachers are not allowed to express any world views or any religious beliefs, which could disturb or endanger the peace at school,” North Rhine-Westphalia schools minister Barbara Sommer said. “That’s why we want to forbid (female) Muslim teachers at state schools from wearing headscarves.”

State officials maintained that Muslim groups in the state would first be consulted. They denied that the hijab ban was targeting religious beliefs of the Muslim minority. Germany’s constitution obliges the states to maintain strict religious neutrality, but it does not enshrine a formal separation of church and state. Islam is the third largest religious grouping in Germany after Protestants and Roman Catholics. There are some 3.4 million Muslims in the country, including 220,000 in Berlin, with Turks making up an estimated two thirds of the Muslim minority.

Meanwhile, a Moroccan woman living in a small town in Belgium has triggered a national debate on multiculturalism after refusing to obey a municipal injunction to stop wearing a burqa. The woman has now prompted politicians in the north of Belgium to talk about changing federal law, after she became the first person in Belgium to be fined for wearing the all-enveloping veil and robe.

She has so far refused to pay the £80 fine, or even to co-operate with police and municipal authorities in the Flemish town of Maaseik. The woman’s husband was named in a Brussels court yesterday as one of 13 men accused of aiding and abetting terrorists linked to the Madrid train bombings. Khalid Bouloudo, 30, a pastry chef, is alleged to be the Belgian co-ordinator of the Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain, an anti-western organisation linked to the Madrid blasts and the 2003 bombings in Casablanca that killed nearly 50 people.
The burqa has been banned by bylaw in the cities and towns of Ghent, Antwerp, Sint-Truden, Lebbeke and Maaseik. The mayor of Maaseik, Jan Cleemers, said he acted after six women started wearing burqas, alarming locals.

See also:


Sectarianism Flares Again In Northern Ireland As Police Guard Catholic Schools

Extra police are to be put on guard outside Catholic churches and schools in Ballymena following a series of sectarian attacks. On Tuesday, arsonists set fire to Saint Louis Primary School. Read the full story.


French Government Accused of Compromising Secularism

The French government has been accused of breaching its secular constitution by funding new mosques “by the backdoor”. Civic leaders in the southern city of Marseilles have set aside 60,000 square feet of wasteland for an Islamic centre. Marseilles sees itself as the France’s most cosmopolitan city with 200,000 — a quarter of the population — being Muslims.

The project is aimed at countering extremists’ attempts to indoctrinate young Muslims on deprived estates. An even grander scheme would have created a central mosque for up to 8,000 worshippers. Opponents, however, say the plans amount to public aid for a religious group in defiance of the 1905 law separating church and state. The issue is likely to end up in court.

Last year France’s finance minister Nicolas Sarkozy (he is now head of the interior ministry) called for a review of the law in order to allow mosques to be built with state aid. His idea was shot down by the public who instead backed France’s secularist ideals.

For senior Muslim figures in Marseilles, however, the city’s plans reflect his hopes of dismantling the network of makeshift mosques in poor areas. Abderrahman Ghoul, an imam, said: “We want to find ways of changing the negative images of our faith – extremism and suicide bombers. Helping people with facilities to meet and worship with dignity will contribute to that.”

But the Free Thinkers’ Association claims that Marseilles officials are relying on a 1942 amendment passed by the Vichy regime. “We understand the anger of Muslims who feel we are discriminating against them,” said Henri Huille, the association’s area president. “But we were just as strongly against the use of public money towards restoring the Notre Dame statue overlooking the city.”


Young French Muslims Overwhelmingly Support Secularism

A poll in the French daily newspaper Le Monde this week revealed that 81% of young, second and third generation Muslims think secularism is “a positive value” and only 21% of them go to the mosque at least “once or twice a month”. Twenty per cent defined themselves as atheist.

Their political leanings of are leftwing, although paradoxically their favourite politician is France’s right-of-centre president, Jacques Chirac. Another paradox is that an increasing numbers are adhering strictly to Muslim rituals such as Ramadan and abstinence from alcohol.

Just 5 percent of those interviewed said they would send their children to a private Islamic school, and while 16 percent of those surveyed said they attributed “less importance to religion” now than in the past, 65 percent said they would have nothing against their own daughter marrying a non-Muslim (which is forbidden by the Koran).

Only 36 percent said they are opposed to gay relationships, while 35 percent said the Holocaust was talked about “too much”, and 39 percent believed Jews wielded “too much power” in France.

See also:


Advertising Agency Tries To Convince Us That the Church Isn’t Churchy

An advertising agency engaged by the Channel 5 programme Don’t Get me Started has produced posters that try to challenge the Church of England’s fuddy-duddy image and remind people of its “wider” engagement with the community.

One poster, produced by the Fallon advertising agency, says: “The Church. Provider of judo lessons, antique sales, playgroups, ballet lessons, school discos, flower-arranging classes, theatre clubs and, oh yes, church.” Another reads: “Church. It isn’t as churchy as you think.” Others include: “More dances are held in church halls than in dance halls” and “You have to be a pretty good bloke to let 40 screaming kids and a bouncy castle in your house”. The public are also invited to see the Church as offering spiritual reflection. One poster asks: “Why go to India to find yourself? You might be round the corner.” All the posters end with the line “Church. Part of modern life.”

The agency is trying to interest the CofE in using the posters, and has sent copies to 50 bishops.

Terry Sanderson, vice president of the National Secular Society said: “Most of these activities being presented as church-created events are actually provided by autonomous groups and organisations who just happen to hire church halls – many of which have been paid for by lottery money anyway. The Lottery Fund gave millions to the churches to build community halls, which then became church halls and have now been absorbed into church property. An advertising campaign such as this, like all its predecessors, would be doomed from the start. If the Church of England wants my advice, it should save its money.”


Religious Right Dictates American Allocation Of Funds To Fight Aids

The religious right in the USA is battling to control federal money for overseas AIDS relief by imposing a “moral” agenda on its allocation. Some health groups are being denied funding because they refuse to support an anti-prostitution crusade.

Even groups that say they explicitly oppose prostitution appear to be losing federal support over their dealings with sex workers. Population Services International (PSI), which operates in brothels and bars in Central America, has recently seen its bid for a contract renewal downgraded from the fast track to doubtful because of a change to “faith-based” policy.

The anti-prostitution push is the latest in a string of health policy moves made on ideological grounds. In 2003, when President Bush announced his $15 billion global AIDS plan, he earmarked a portion for “faith-based” organisations. This year, just over $82 million — nearly a tenth of federal AIDS funding — went to such groups, double the amount in the previous year, according to the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.

On one side of the latest clash are mainstream public-health advocates, who say that to reduce AIDS, sex workers must be educated about condoms and other practices that lower risk. “Instead of getting on with the basics of treating and preventing AIDS, these religious conservatives have gone in with a very aggressive ideological agenda,” said Paul Zeitz, director of the Global AIDS Alliance, a non-profit group.

On the other side are those who say working with prostitutes perpetuates an inherently evil practice. “Giving money to groups that turn a blind eye to prostitution is unacceptable. If you're turning a blind eye to it, then you're supporting it,” said Pia de Sollenni, director of women's issues at the Family Research Council, a prominent conservative group. The organisation is one of dozens that recently signed a letter to Bush, urging that political appointees in federal agencies scrutinise groups that receive federal funds to make sure their “actual field practices” do not condone prostitution.

Two years ago, in passing Bush’s global AIDS initiative, Congress voted to deny funds to “any group or organisation that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.” The administration had required the pledge of international recipients, then extended it last spring to U.S.-based groups. The move has triggered widespread objections. On May 18, more than 200 U.S. groups wrote the White House, contending that the policy is “undermining promising interventions” to fight AIDS. A U.S.-based HIV prevention group, DKT International, lost $60,000 in funding for work in Hanoi after refusing the pledge.

Conservative lawmakers have sought to reinforce the policy. On July 20, the House passed a bill that would require each group to give details of dealings with prostitutes. And a House subcommittee wants agencies to furnish a list of groups working with prostitutes. Meanwhile, two senators have written to Bush, attacking several federally funded groups. A Pennsylvania Republican has accused the widely known charity, CARE, and several other groups of having a “solid record of anti-abstinence, pro-prostitution, and anti-American activities.”

The letter was addressed to Bush and to Andrew S. Natsios, the head of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which handles about half of federal AIDS funding. CARE denies the accusation. “We do not promote prostitution or sex trafficking in any way,” said their spokeswoman.

An observer familiar with public health policy said HIV prevention groups are alarmed. “This is a McCarthyite environment,” said Jodi Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, a nonprofit watchdog organisation. “These groups are under incredible attack. They’re all afraid of losing their funding.”

See also:


Most Americans Want Religion In Schools

Despite decades of court rulings to the contrary, a majority of Americans say they believe religion should have a larger role in the nation’s public schools and that organized voluntary prayer should be allowed, according to a new Gallup poll. The poll found that 60 percent of adults believe religion has “too little of a presence” in public schools and that 76 percent favour amending the U.S. Constitution to allow voluntary prayer in schools.


Vatican At War With Gays, Gays Fight Back

As Spain settles into its role as one of the handful of countries in the world that recognises gay marriage, the Catholic Church continues to try to put the clock back. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Spain says that “a marriage can be more or less stable, religious or civil, fertile or not, but it must be the union of a man and a woman. Without this union there cannot be marriage.” In response to this gay and lesbian organisations have submitted 1,800 requests for “apostasy”, which entails not only relinquishing membership of the church, but also being removed from all church records. About 1,500 similar requests were submitted last year. A spokesperson said that these activists were cutting themselves off from the Catholic Church because they refused to remain complicit in its “homophobia, machismo, classism, mysognyny and antiquated conservatism.” Perhaps it is something that gay Catholics in this country should consider more seriously?

Another reason for gays to jump ship from the Catholic Church is the reports that the Pope is now considering barring all gay men from the priesthood, whether celibate or not. The Vatican is said to be considering “visits” to seminaries which will, in effect, be witch hunts to winkle out the prospective non-heterosexual priests. This is pope Ratzinger’s revenge for what he sees as the gay responsibility for the paedophilia scandal, about which he remains strangely silent. But how will he be able to pinpoint the clerical closet cases? One silly blogger suggested that he should seek out those who can’t match a belt and shoes or who don’t attend to rampant body hair. Of course, the banning of gay priests will mean that an already depleted priesthood will just about cease to exist.

George Broadhead of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association said: “The pope would be doing these people a favour if he booted them out. It might help them get some self-respect.”

See also:


Poll On Faith Schools

The New Statesman has a poll on whether Tony Blair should support faith schools. It’s at the top right hand side of the home page.

Read the question carefully before voting.


Vatican Compensates Nazi Slaves

THE Catholic Church in Germany has paid compensation worth a total of 1.49 million euros to 594 former slave labourers exploited by Catholic institutions under the Nazi regime. Cardinal Karl Lehmann said each individual had received 2556 euros from a 2.5 million euro fund set up in 2000. The payments were a “symbolic material gesture” and were made as an apology and in a spirit of reconciliation.

The remaining one million euros will be donated to a Freiburg-based charity which cares for former detainees of Nazi camps. The Catholic Church in Germany set up the compensation fund after deciding not to contribute to a far larger fund created by the federal state and German companies in 1999. The Church has completed its attempts to trace the former slave labourers. It knows of around 5000 slave labourers it employed during World War II – most in farming or cleaning and housekeeping work.


Saudi Arabia's Religious Authority Bans Football

Ulema (or community of legal scholars) in Saudia Arabia have issued a fatwa (religious decree) declaring football an un-Islamic sport, and have urged the youth to quit it immediately, BBC radio reported. According to the report, the clerics urged the youth to indulge in jihad and other constructive activities that could help the Muslim ummah, the radio reported. The ulema argued that football wastes a lot of time and the participants wear shorts, which they said was an un-Islamic dress, the radio reported.

Following the decree, some players of the famous Taif Football Club have quit the game, the report added.


NSS Speaks Out

Terry Sanderson did a fifteen minute interview about faith schools on TalkSport Radio’s Breakfast programme on Tuesday.

Peter Hearty had a letter, written on behalf of the Society, in the Scotsman on Wednesday.

Convenor of NSS~Scotland, Keith Charters, appeared on Scottish TV’s Politics Now programme on Thursday.


Coming Soon: The God Who Wasn't There

It’s a film in the Michael Moore mould, challenging in its aim and iconoclastic in effect. The God Who Wasn’t There sets itself the task of proving that the historical Jesus didn’t exist – indeed, couldn’t have existed. And it does it in an entertaining and illuminating way. It has set the secularists of America talking and, of course, is struggling to find itself a wider distribution. This is a movie that the American theocrats don’t want their “flock” to see. As far as they are concerned, it asks questions that are nothing short of blasphemy. And it is coming to the NSS. Yes, you will soon be able to purchase your very own copy of The God Who Wasn’t There. Watch this space.


NSS Badge Makes Waves

The NSS’s enamel badge is winging its way to every corner of the country as enthusiasts rush to wear their ideas on their sleeve (or lapel, belt, bag or anywhere else you can bear to pin it). Conversations are starting with total strangers as they enquire about the provenance of the badge and its meaning. At last, we can play the religious evangelists at their own game. But instead of inviting people to get to know Jesus, we can invite them to get to know common sense and justice.

Obtain your NSS badge today and join in this great consciousness raising exercise. Hurry with great speed to our on-line shop and make your purchase forthwith. It will only take a moment (please also feel free to impulse buy other items while you are there).


Editorial: Why Won't the BBC Let Us Speak for Ourselves?

The Rev. Earnie Rea, who works for the BBC’s religious propaganda department, hosts the Radio 4 programme Beyond Belief. Last week the subject was secularism, one of Ernie’s betes noirs.

The Rev Ernie got the debate off to a far from promising start with references to “fundamentalist secularism” and “gimlet eyed” secularists who give lovely, moderate bishops a hard time on the wireless. The very idea! Then he brought in his panel, which included Julian Baggini, self-proclaimed atheist and enthusiastic secularist. Julian and another panel member tried to simmer Ernie down with a calmer attempt at explaining secularism. Ernie obviously had the wrong end of the stick. Regrettably, by the end of the debate, and despite several attempts to get beyond his preconceptions, he was still clinging defiantly to the same end of the stick.

I had thought that his job as a chairman of a panel discussion required him to be objective. But when secularism comes on to the agenda, Ernie loses it. It’s OK for the chairman to ask hard questions of his panellists, but it’s not OK for him to take sides quite so blatantly and to disregard the considered answers.

This is just another example of the BBC not permitting secularists to speak for themselves. Over the past year we have had occasion to complain about several BBC programmes from the religious propaganda department which attacked secularism without allowing a right of reply. In one of these programmes the NSS was traduced directly by name, but we were offered no opportunity to respond.

I wonder when secularists themselves are going to be given the freedom of the airwaves to make their own case, instead of having our philosophy filtered through someone who either doesn’t understand it or wants to deliberately misrepresent it?

Listen to the programme.


Letters To Newsline

Write to tas@secularism.org.uk (please keep letters brief so that there's room for everyone to have their say)

From Margaret Jackson-Roberts (a seeker after truth, but not via the churches):
Surely spirituality is a matter of balance; /mens sana in corpore sano: /plus any elevated state of mind that comes from contemplating a beautiful view/sunset/person/favourite pet animal/building (including cathedrals and churches) – or from inhaling and ingesting certain substances, including incense. Those old monks knew a thing or two about ecstasy; to prove the point, Chartreuse, Benedictine, tonic wines, incense, magic mushrooms – they have pioneered them all.

From Maria MacLachlan:
What do I think "spirituality" means? I think American sceptic Michael Shermer gives a pretty good definition in the article you link to in last week's Newsline: "Spirituality is a way of being in the world, a sense of one's place in the cosmos, a relationship to that which extends beyond ourselves. There are many sources of spirituality; religion may be the most common, but it is by no means the only one. Anything that generates a sense of awe may be a source of spirituality — art, for example."

What a shame that, before reaching this link, Newsline readers first had to wade through an incredibly juvenile and mean-spirited rant stereotyping anyone who doesn't share the Newsline writer's evident distaste for the word "spiritual" as gullible tree-huggers too stupid to see alternative therapies for what they really are.

Our human spirit is one of the things that distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom. It is what made thousands of Londoners of all religions and none, for example, stand for hours on a roasting July day to remember those who'd died in the atrocity of the previous week. What was the point of doing that – it was not going to make any difference to anything was it? Participating in events like that is quite simply a human need – not a physical need and not a simple emotional one but a spiritual one.

I grant your point that "spiritual" means different things to different people but your sweeping characterisation of people who embrace the term was not only wrong, it reeked of the condescension that gives secularists a bad name. Language evolves, meanings of words change. Personally, I think those who shun words because they feel their use in a religious context somehow contaminates them are the ones who deserve to be sneered at.

From Hayward Lynn Millard:
I often quote this definition, which I think I saw in The Freethinker many years ago: SPIRITUALTY: "An ambiguous term invented to cover a range of emotions that most of us experience, but which we do not all attribute to supernatural sources."

Alan Powell:
Spirituality = "state of mind"

From Sue Cauty:
My suggestion that secularists / humanists hijack Christmas (Newsline August 12th) has been picked up — and the 'Yuletide' suggestion from Simon Rawcliffe and Dominic Handley on the christmas (Christ-Mass!) debate is interesting — but I sense that it is retrograde. Reverting to an ancient pagan festival (even though a celebration of the warmer, sunnier months to come) does not take us forward. It does not challenge the religious basis of, and stranglehold on, our most important holidays (Holy-Days). These holidays have a religious basis which tends to reinforce the need for religion as a given. (No religion, no day off!)

Declaring christmas to be 'Yuletide' would I think maintain, at the very least, a tenuous religious connection, albeit a pagan one. Shouldn't an atheist / humanist hijack of religious holy days be entirely secularist and, above all, progressive? On another note – is the NSS planning another badge? So many people travel these days, and many British secularists live abroad. The NSS badge, gorgeous though it is, will not raise many questions overseas. I had hoped that the light bulb or other appropriate symbol might be chosen, to invite questions and the opportunity to 'spread the word'!

Ed: Sue, we've got some new merchandise on the way that might fit the bill.

From Dane Clouston:
How about Happy Midwinter instead of Happy Christmas? That's what it is. Taken over by the Christians. Time we took it back for all of the rest of us, including Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Pagans and Secularists. Yuletide, by comparison, seems to be trying a bit hard, and is a bit obscure.

From Beno Hill:

In last edition's Letters, Bill Gorman attacks religion for "trying to scare people away from secularism, calling it evil and corrupt." According to Mr. Gorman, "Emotive words are being used to drive a wedge between reason and the human race."

While I agree whole heartedly with him, I find a large part of his letter to be in contrast with his desire for rational debate. Here are some examples of what I would certainly call "emotive words" which Mr. Gorman uses to try and assert the dangers of religious rhetoric: The march of unreason is seemingly relentless and they have the smell of blood. I urge all members to be observant, listen to what these bigots and misogynists peddle as Truth (sic), and prepare themselves to defend rationalism against these loonies.

"Bigots", "misogynist", "Loonies", "the smell of blood?" It seems that Mr. Gorman falls into his own trap. We must be careful when debating the dangers of religion, least we appear as misguided and prejudiced as the views we are trying to refute. In Mr. Gorman's own words, "We must help reason prevail, not get emotional when debating".

From Paul Rattenbury:
One of my agnostic verses:

THE LINEAGE
Our gods are born within us as
Projections of the mind,
They sleep deep in subconsciousness,
Arch guardians of Mankind –

Lie dormant till we need them for
Protection, help or care,
Then instinct cries to conscious mind
To rouse them with a prayer –

With pleas for their assistance
To save from harm or pain,
With promise, if they'll intervene
We'll never doubt again.

The easiest prayers are hymns we sing,
Poetic roundelays,
Since seeking no response ensures
No trust can be betrayed.

All gods reflect the temperaments
Of those they oversee,
They're vengeful, helpful, punishing,
Forgiving or carefree.

The ancient Greeks had inklings of
This lineage from Man's mind,
Imputing virtues, strengths and faults
Which they with gods entwined.

Thus codes and laws ascribed to gods
Evince a human plan,
Since though they're worshipped, praised, revered,
They were begat by Man.

From Richard Alexander, long-time atheist and some time UFO researcher:
With reference to last week's quote of the week by Martin Bond: "Atheism isn't an act of faith, it's a lack of faith. It is up to theists to prove the existence of God, in the same way it is Richard Alexander, long-time atheist and some time UFO researcher up to the ufologists to prove we are visited by aliens."

I'm afraid Martin Bond has merely revealed a lack of understanding regarding what ufologists (or UFO researchers as some prefer to be called) do. In short, they research reports of aerial objects that are unknown to the people seeing them. That's all. They don't have to prove anything. After nearly 60 years of such research nearly all UFOlogists agree that about 95% of all sightings can be explained in mundane terms. The rest of the sightings should be properly classified as simply "still unidentified". There is no automatic presumption within UFO circles that any particular UFO is of alien origin. Rather alien origin is only put forward as a possible explanation when all other mundane explanations have been examined and found lacking.

The alien explanation, however, remains only one of several possibilities even in those cases. In the case of ufologists it would appear that Martin Bond has merely revealed his act of faith in believing what the tabloid journalists say abut UFOs. The term "UFO" refers to any unidentified aerial object. It should not be taken as synonym for alien space craft. If you want to continue with the analogy, you could say that "Ufologists research reports of UFOs in the same way that theists research reports of deities". Which shows up the fatuous nature of the comparison.


Television

The Road to 9/11 (Saturday 3 September, 8pm, Channel 4)
What forces have had an impact on the structure and development of the Middle East over the past 80 years – and how have they contributed to the ongoing crisis that threatens global stability? This thought-provoking documentary comes with a strong recommendation and features archive footage and expert interviews as it surveys the last century – from the division of the Ottoman empire after the First World War and the subsequent decades of westernisation, to the social, political and economic decline and the corresponding rise in violence and religious extremism in the region.

Battle for Islam (Monday 5 September, 9pm, BBC2). Since the events of 11 September, headlines focusing on Islamic extremism have ignored the positive changes and intense soul-searching that are taking place in many Muslim countries. British Muslim writer Ziauddin Sardar travels to five such countries to reveal how heads of government, intellectuals and opinion formers are seeking new interpretations of Islam, offering a more tolerant approach to other faiths and cultures, and striving to disentangle religion from political ideology. Could change mean a future of peaceful co-existence between Muslim and non-Islamic countries?

See also: