NSS Newsline - 21st January 2005

21st January 2005

In this week's issue:

Incitement to religious hatred - the government isn't listening
Quotes/Essays of the week
Call for Kelly to quit over Opus Dei connections
Islamophobia fact or manipulative myth?
Religious revival threatens human rights, says HRW
Jerry Springer, the judicial review
Evan Harris tables free speech EDM
Defiant Hirsi Ali returns to public life
French religious symbol ban: 48 expelled
Churches not wanted
Sponge Bob is a filthy pervert
NSS speaks out
Call for volunteers
Letters to Newsline
Events and media

INCITEMENT TO RELIGIOUS HATRED - THE GOVERNMENT ISN'T LISTENING

Honorary Associate Dr Evan Harris was one of a small group of MPs appointed to the all party Committee scrutinising the Incitement to Religious Hatred provisions in the Commons yesterday. The provisions are contained within the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill (Schedule 10). His opposite numbers were the shadow Attorney General Dominic Greave and Home office minister Hazel Blears.

The Government seemed intent on scoring a cheap political point by claiming that the Labour party was the only party committed to protect those targeted as a religious group as victims of incitement to hatred.

The other parties countered that they too wanted to make sure that those such as white supremacist groups were not able evade the law by labelling people of ethnic minorities in religious terms (e.g. Muslim), rather than racial ones, (e.g. referring to a supposed country of origin). This is described as a "religion by proxy" tactic.

One of the Government's principle justifications for the new law has been to overcome the religion by proxy problem, but the NSS had already countered this by pointing out that the CPS had not ruled out that the existing racial incitement law could still be used to secure convictions. Nevertheless we accept that the law could be expressed more clearly. So it was telling that the Government rejected a simple amendment supported by the Conservatives and the LibDems seeking clarifying the existing race incitement law in this respect. If they had done so, however, it would have rendered their own provisions redundant.

Dr Harris gave the Government the hardest time of anyone there and probably tabled more probing amendments than anyone else in an attempt to force the Government into justifying its position. It conspicuously failed to do, with Hazel Blears stonewalling every single opposition amendment, even though if the provisions go ahead, most of these had merit. She ignored many of the questions raised and even those answers she gave were evasive. The price the Government paid for its intransigence was that the opposition parties refused the Government's request to withdraw the opposition amendments.

Keith Porteous Wood has spent a considerable time in recent days in Parliament meeting MPs and peers over this issue and assisting Dr Harris with the wording of probing amendments and in his work on the scrutinising committee. One of the amendments he initiated was tabled; it was to require Attorney General approval before any religiously aggravated charges could be brought under the Public Order Act.

See also: Incitement law being brought in to appease Muslim voters. here.

Christian Institute's report here.

Koran to be banned in UK? here.

Christian faultlines exposed here.

Mark Thomas writes a column offensive to Christians here.

QUOTES/ESSAYS OF THE WEEK

Quotes of the week

"If Cardinal Basil Hume considered it inappropriate for anyone under the age of 18 to be allowed to join Opus Dei is it not totally inappropriate for this country to have a Secretary of State for Education who allegedly is an associate member of this religious sect?"
(David Bracey, Independent)

"2005 is going to be the year of Opus Dei"
(Jack Valero, Opus Dei's British press spokesman)

"It seems supremely reasonable to me that Jesus should appear on daytime TV. The Bible is littered with dysfunctional families portrayed as role models that at best should feature on Trisha and at worst be sectioned. One generation into the Creation and Eve is expelled from Eden for the crime of discovering knowledge; then her son kills his brother in a fit of spiritual sibling rivalry. Abraham, the father of not one but three religions, is prepared to kill his own son because God's voice told him to do it - still a popular excuse for serial killers of all religious persuasions today. And Lot, the man whom God saves from the destruction of Sodom, ends up being raped by his twin daughters. This isn't a religious text, this is Brookside!"
(Mark Thomas, New Statesman)

Essays of the week:

What a creation
The inside story of how Doncaster parents defeated the creationists. here

Fightin' for the work of the Lord
Everybody's talking about Christian Fascism
(Gary Leupp, Counterpunch) here

How will society accommodate resurgent religion?
(Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian) here

CALL FOR KELLY TO QUIT OVER OPUS DEI CONNECTIONS

Former Tory Home Office minister Tom Sackville has called on the Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, to quit her post after revelations about her connection with the sinister and secretive Opus Dei cult. He said her links to the group made her unsuitable for high office. Mr Sackville, who lost his Bolton West seat to Ms Kelly, now chairs the Family Action and Information Resource for families who have lost children to cults. He said: Opus Dei is much more than a faith, it brainwashes, isolates and dominates the lives of its members to the point of removing their self-determination. That our children and young people, who urgently need protection from recruiters of such organisations, should be faced with one of their number in charge of the education system, is the last straw. I would not question Ms Kelly's good intentions or her firm Christian beliefs, but believe membership of a cult puts the judgment of any individual in doubt, and thus their suitability for public office."

Ms Kelly has refused to comment on her "private spiritual life" but according to a report in today's Scotsman, the organisation comfirms that she is a "supernumary" of Opus Dei, which seeks influence in public life through its well-placed members. This makes her possibly the most devout Catholic in Tony Blair's government - including John Reid, the Health Secretary, Paul Murphy, the Northern Ireland Secretary, who is a Papal Knight of St Gregory. Two other prominent Labour figures, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin and Welsh Office Minister Don Touhig were also said to have connections with Opus Dei in the Mail on Sunday this month.

In an interview in the Daily Mirror yesterday, Ms Kelly said that her "personal beliefs" will not affect her work in education. She told the Mirror: "I have a private spiritual life and I have a faith. It is my private spiritual life and I don't think it is relevant to my job. I am here as a Catholic. I don't see why it should be an issue at all."

The Mirror asked: "Would she overturn policy on condoms being handed out to pupils? Would she change sex education in schools, part of the desperate bid to halt a rise in teenage pregnancies? In short, would her links with Opus Dei affect policy?"

She replied evasively: "We have an established Government policy on that. I came here to do a job about raising standards in schools."

Sources within Opus Dei have confirmed that she attended meetings of the Roman Catholic organisation at Oxford with her brother Ronan Kelly. Dr Kelly, a hospital doctor currently doing research into herbal medicine in Singapore, is also a "supernumerary" in Opus Dei, which makes him one of 500 British members and 84,000 members worldwide.

Ms Kelly's claim that she will not allow her religious beliefs to interfere with her job don't sit easily with the fact that she was given leave to be absent from the chamber of the House of Commons last week when other Labour MPs were dragooned to vote on euthanasia on a three line whip. Because of her ultra conservative views on contraception, Ms Kelly has refused to accept positions in either the Health Ministry or the Department for International Development where there are policies encouraging people affected by AIDS to use condoms.

One unnamed senior Westminster figure was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying: "The one thing you can be certain of is that Ruth will act on her beliefs."

In the Independent, a senior Catholic source is quoted as saying: "There is no doubt whatsoever that Ruth Kelly is a fully paid-up member... on contraception, abortion, euthanasia and other issues such as stem-cell research, Ruth is very straight down the line."

Indeed, she has already opposed motions on embryo research in Parliament and is reported to have told Tony Blair that she could never support stem-cell research. Robin Lovell-Badge, head of developmental genetics at the National Institute of Medical Research, told The Times Higher Education Supplement: "I have just been in the US and have seen how confused the situation is there. If someone as senior as Ruth Kelly is not going to favour stem-cell research we will end up with a similarly schizophrenic system in this country. It is very worrying."

See also: How the Catholic Church pushes its political agenda by stealth here

Opus Dei, the Pope's Right Arm in Europe here

Opus Dei Awareness Network here

The Dei today here

A creepy scrape with the da Vinci Code set here

Opus Dei in Scotland here

ISLAMOPHOBIA FACT OR MANIPULATIVE MYTH?

Last week the Crown Prosecution Service issued figures about convictions for racial and religiously aggravated offences. They were presented in the papers as demonstrating a huge rise in Islamophobia. But how true is this? Perhaps it was best summed up by Mick Hume in the Times who wrote: "We were warned this week that "alarm bells are ringing" about Islamophobia in Britain, after it was reported that half the prosecutions for religious hate crime last year involved Muslim victims. Closer inspection of the figures from the Crown Prosecution Service, however, reveals that amounted to 22 cases out of a total of 44. Few seem very serious. The one anti-Muslim hate crime that the CPS report highlighted involved a passenger in a cab who used abusive language to the driver. He was jailed for four months for "religiously aggravated common assault".

There is little evidence of any wave of popular Islamophobia. But there is plenty to suggest that some in high places are suffering from an exaggerated fear of an anti-Muslim backlash, viewing the public as a pogrom waiting to happen. Asked about the relatively low numbers of religious hate crimes, the director of equality and diversity at the CPS offered the apologetic explanation that it was "early days" for this new offence! Perhaps we should be ringing the alarm bells about what my journalist friend, Patrick West, once described as "Islamophobia-phobia".

See also: Are Muslims hated? here.

RELIGIOUS REVIVAL THREATENS HUMAN RIGHTS, SAYS HRW

Secular human rights principles are increasingly colliding with religious motives, threatening a potentially destructive clash of moral systems, Human Rights Watch, the US-based non-governmental organisation, warned yesterday.

"On issues such as reproductive rights, gay marriage, the fight against HIV/Aids, and blasphemy laws, human rights activists and religious groups often find themselves on opposing sides," it says in its annual report. A religious comeback in many societies had featured "the reassertion of more dogmatic or conservative forms of beliefs" often in opposition to human rights concepts, it said, even though religion continued to inspire much human rights work.

Western Europe, the most secularised continent in the world, has found itself at the centre of recent tensions between religious fundamentalism and secular principles.

Dramatic upheaval, for example, followed the killing, allegedly by a Muslim extremist, of Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker. Italy's Rocco Buttiglione, a conservative Catholic, was forced to withdraw as European commissioner because of controversy over his comments about marriage and homosexuality.

Conversely, debates over headscarf bans in France and Turkey raised difficult questions about the individual's right to freedom of conscience.

Read the full, fascinating report here.

JERRY SPRINGER, THE JUDICIAL REVIEW

The fundamentalist Christian Institute has announced that it intends to take legal action against the BBC because it claims the Corporation breached the terms of its Royal Charter by broadcasting Jerry Springer, the Opera. In a statement, the Director of the Christian Institute, Colin Hart, said: "Genuine religious debate and criticism is one thing, but this show is an offensive, spiteful, systematic mockery and wilful denigration of Christian belief. It is inconceivable that the BBC would broadcast a show that abused the prophet Mohammed or Guru Nanak in the same way. Why is Christianity singled out for such gratuitous and spiteful abuse? If the BBC can broadcast such an offensive show, then what will be broadcast next? What is the point of broadcasting standards if the BBC can so easily flout them? That is why The Christian Institute is seeking a judicial review of the BBC's decision to broadcast Jerry Springer the Opera".

But speaking in Parliament on Monday, Arts Minister Estelle Morris said she would sooner have free speech, than try to legislate to prevent people from being offended. "It is not and never ever should be a matter for government as to what is broadcast or printed," she told the Commons.

At Commons question time, Tory Andrew Selous (SW Bedfordshire) said: "Many people do not consider it appropriate for public service broadcasting to use taxpayers' money to fund programmes like Jerry Springer - The Opera, which offend so many people. Many license payers do not see the BBC as providing value for money in screening programmes that upset so many of our constituents."

Ms Morris said: "I accept that people throughout the country may have been offended. But people are offended when we have free speech and I'd sooner have free speech than try to legislate against people being offended." She said there was a legislative framework against which appeals could be made, as had happened in this case and added later: "Heaven forbid that we should have anybody who dictates what we can see, what we can listen to or anything else. "I would sooner run the risk of being offended than ... having artistic performances denied to me."

EVAN HARRIS TABLES FREE SPEECH EDM

NSS honorary associate Evan Harris MP (with input from Keith Porteous Wood) has tabled two Early Day Motions supporting the BBC in its decision to broadcast Jerry Springer the Opera. See it here and also here.

How about asking your MP to support these?

DEFIANT HIRSI ALI RETURNS TO PUBLIC LIFE

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a member of the Dutch parliament who was threatened with death after making a film critical of Islam with murdered film-maker Theo van Gogh returned to Parliament on Tuesday after 75 days in hiding. She vowed not to back down, despite fears for her life.

"I am scared now and again, but I will go on. I must go on," Hirsi Ali told a press conference. "I am convinced that you cannot give in to threats and terrorism"

Theo Van Gogh was murdered in Amsterdam in November. A five-page letter pinned to his body with a knife was addressed to Hirsi Ali accusing her of "terrorising Muslims and Islam".

"What Theo and I had in common was an awareness of the threat formed by radical Islam. The attack on Nov. 2 brought Dutch society face to face with Muslim terrorism for the first time," she said. "We are talking about an international phenomenon here, not just a local incident."

Some reports said that she had been removed from the Netherlands to the United States after Van Gogh's murder, although she declined to confirm this. Security was stepped up around Dutch politician after the murder of anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn in May 2002 and a number of other high profile politicians have received similar threats. Hirsi Ali, 37, a member of the lower house of parliament for two years, fled to the Netherlands after escaping an arranged marriage. She has called Islam "backward" and has said that by today's Western standards, the Prophet Mohammad was a perverse man and a tyrant.

Several Muslim organisations say she has insulted the nearly 1 million Muslims in the country, almost 6 per cent of the population. Hirsi Ali said there was always room for religion in an open society as long as it respected democratic values such as freedom of speech and conscience. "There is no place for violence. Not against women, not against artists, not against writers." she said.

The film is no longer available for viewing on the internet.

FRENCH RELIGIOUS SYMBOL BAN: 48 EXPELLED

A total of 48 students have been expelled in France since September for violating a new law that bans the wearing of religious insignia in state schools, Education Minister Francois Fillon said Thursday. Most of those barred from attending classes were Muslim girls who refused to take off their headscarves, but three Sikh boys were also ordered out of the classroom for wearing turbans, he said in the Paris suburb of Marne-la-Vallee. "This law in favour of secularity in schools has been imposed firmly and calmly," the minister added, speaking at a forum celebrating the 100th anniversary of France's law separating church and state.

CHURCHES NOT WANTED

More than one church a week could close to worshippers in the next few years. Unless new and imaginative uses can be found for the Church of England buildings, 60 could shut down every year, says the Ecclesiological Society. Currently, between 25 to 35 churches are made "redundant" each year. The society's Trevor Cooper said there was a huge range of churches vulnerable to abandonment. Full story here.

SPONGE BOB IS A FILTHY PERVERT

Christian fundamentalists in the USA have issued a "gay alert warning" over a children's video starring SpongeBob SquarePants, Barney and a host of other cartoon favourites.

The wacky square yellow SpongeBob is one of the stars of a music video due to be sent to 61,000 US schools in March. The makers, the non-profit We Are Family Foundation, say the video is designed to encourage tolerance and diversity, something that the Christians cannot countenance.

At least two Christian activist groups say the innocent cartoon characters are being exploited to promote the acceptance of homosexuality. The video is a remake of the 1979 hit song We Are Family using the voices and images of SpongeBob, Barney, Winnie the Pooh, Bob the Builder, the Rugrats and 100 TV cartoon stars. The foundation was set up by songwriter Nile Rodgers after the September 11 attacks and aims to promote the US's healing process. Christian groups have taken exception to the tolerance pledge on the foundation's website which asks people to respect the sexual identity of others along with their abilities, beliefs, culture and race.

Founder of Focus on the Family, James Dobson, says the pledge crosses the line. "Their inclusion of the reference to 'sexual identity' within their 'tolerance pledge' is not only unnecessary but it crosses a moral line," he said.

Mr Rodgers says he is astounded at the attack. "That is so myopic and harsh. You have really got to look hard to find anything in this that is offensive to anyone. The last thing I am going to do is taint these characters," he said.

SpongeBob, who lives in a pineapple under the sea, was "outed" by the US media in 2002 after reports that the TV show and its merchandise were popular with gay people. His creator, Stephen Hillenburg, said at the time that although SpongeBob was an oddball, he thought of all the characters as asexual.

NSS SPEAKS OUT

Terry Sanderson took part in a debate on blasphemy on BBC Radio Devon on Sunday. Keith Porteous Wood did an interview with BBC Radio Jersey on the same day on the fall-out from Jerry Springer the Opera. The NSS was extensively quoted in an article in the Sunday Express looking at the rise of Christian fundamentalism in Britain.

Honorary Associate Dr Evan Harris MP spoke on behalf of the Society on Channel Four News on Monday in relation to the comments by the Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell about the divisive nature of "faith schools".

Terry Sanderson gave an interview for a forthcoming Sunday (Radio 4) programme on the prospect of sharia law being introduced into Britain. Keith Porteous Wood recorded an interview for German state television. Terry Sanderson gave an interview to the Economist about Muslim schools.

Keith Porteous wood gave an interview to German state television on incitement. Terry Sanderson spoke on a Spanish radio station for ex-pats on Jerry Springer. Stephen Green, who had also agreed to be on the show, was mysteriously uncontactable come broadcast time.

CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS

The large amount of behind the scenes work needed to keep the NSS ticking isn't always apparent, but it is still vitally important. Much of it is done by volunteers, and without their effort your Society would not be able to function.

Some of the work can only be done in our office in central London and we are now looking for a couple of volunteers who would be willing to spend a few hours each week or fortnight to come into Red Lion Square, London WC1 to help out. We are looking for those who are comfortable using Microsoft Office, particularly Word and Excel. You don't need to be an expert but just be able to use the most common functions. We are also looking for volunteers to join our regular band of envelope-stuffers who come in four or five times a year for one day when we do a bulk mailing.

If this appeals to you, you have a weekday free each week or two and you are within easy travelling distance of our office close to Holborn tube station, please call 020 7404 3126 or email enquiries@secularism.org.uk. We look forward to hearing from you. We are happy to reimburse reasonable travelling expenses

JANUARY SALE

We've got a bit of a bargain for you this week. A fabulously engrossing DVD for only £4. 95 (reduced from £7.95 and including post and packing). Cross of Fire is an explosive true story set in the 1920s about the rise and fall of Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson, a man whose quest for power led him to corruption, cruelty and desperate passion for an unattainable woman. Based on the scandal that brought the Klan's membership down from millions to thousands overnight. Stocks are limited, so it's first come first served. Send your name and address, together with a cheque for £4. 95 made out to the NSS to NSS DVD Offer, PO Box 130, London W5 1DQ.

DON'T BE A MUGGINS

If you're thinking it would be nice to have a full set of Heroes of Atheism mugs (with matching tea towel) but haven't got round to ordering it yet - be warned! Stocks are running low and soon a full set will be a thing of the past. Hurry - we don't want any disappointed customers kicking themselves for their tardiness. The clock is ticking and availability is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Speed your way to our secure site with your credit card and do it NOW! www.secularism.org.uk/merchant.htm

LETTERS TO NEWSLINE

Write to tas@secularism.org.uk here

From John Radford:

I want to reply to the letter from Mohammed S. about visiting Pakistan and speaking out about religious matters when there (Newsline last week). Please, please, do no such thing, whatever the provocation. It simply is not worth the risk. You are worth far more alive and free here, than dead or imprisoned in Pakistan, and these are real possibilities. Leave martyrdom to the religious fanatics. They think they will go to heaven. We know we won't. Do your bit for secularism here where it is still relatively safe. Every little counts.

From Diana Brown:

It's good to know that Mohammed wants to support the NSS. I don't know how aware he is of other people brought up Muslim who are now questioning or rejecting the faith. I would like to suggest some websites that might interest him here. and here.

There are, of course, many others. He might also enjoy a book: "Leaving Islam: Apostates speak out" here.

I have known a number of ex-Muslims and it can be very lonely and even sometimes dangerous if one is surrounded by unquestioning believers.

From Ellen Ramsay:

I was listening to Radio Prague on January 8 and learned from the announcer that the Czech Republic is not a very religious country but that they recently celebrated the Epiphany with a "live baby jesus". I wonder how they managed that?

From Steve Oxbrow:

I did not see Jerry Springer the Opera but regard Jerry Springer the person as unwatchable TV and opera in general as "not my scene musically" but welcome the furore it caused!

Under a million in church, best news in years, now we can really claim that more people in this country sit down to a vegetarian or even vegan Sunday lunch than attend church and we vegans are projected by the catering and food processing industries as "unmitigated nuisances"! Yet the churchgoers get premises free of business rates and the priest pays no council tax. Could they be put out of business by removing these perks?

From Alan Bellis:

Now that the dust is finally beginning to settle around the Springer Show controversy, I would like to point out what I consider some of the more worrying aspects of this episode.

Firstly, it is obvious that the campaign against the show was an organised affair, lead by some of the more extreme Christian organisations, such as Christian Voice. In contrast to previous events, most of the complaints were received before the show, rather than as normally happens, after it. This is strange, as obviously most of the complainants would not have had the opportunity to see what they were supposed to be complaining about.

Most of the complaints were received by e-mail, which suggests the possibility that they were not individual responses, but were the result of a, "chain e-mail" originating from just one or two main sources. Anyone can bulk e-mail a message to all members of an organisation and then ask them to copy and paste it into a new message, as well as pass it on. The resultant avalanche of e-mails may look impressive, but such underhand activity seriously distorts the true picture.

Such manipulation brings the complaints procedures into disrepute and seriously damages their effectiveness. In addition, it would not always be easy to determine duplication as it would be a trivial matter to construct an algorithm that automatically generated apparently unique responses from a "master" letter.

Secondly, the number of swear words reported was wildly exaggerated by taking a single swear word sung by the choir & then multiplying it by the number of people in the choir. These exaggerated figures were then widely reported in the press. Are the facts going to be misrepresented every time there is a controversy such as this, with these religious fanatics & a biased press reporting deliberate lies?

Thirdly, I am concerned by the threats & intimidation that appears to becoming a feature of these issues. This incident and the one at the Birmingham theatre, both have the curious feature that no one in authority considers it necessary to condemn such conduct. Football hooligans and rioters will find their mug shots splashed all over the papers. However, religious thuggery appears to be something to be ignored. This is an attitude that surely only encourages it.

It is obvious from the emotive language used, that Christian Voice were inciting its members in a way that could have resulted in violence. Having published the home phone numbers of the BBC staff involved it was inevitable what the outcome was going to be. It is completely unacceptable for these people to then feign innocence and try to shift the blame on to third parties. They and they alone were responsible for the threats made to BBC staff and families; to blame "non-Christians" just shows how dishonest they really are.

None of this bodes well for the future. These people appear to be determined and fanatical; they are not only willing to misuse the complaints system and lie, but also it seems, to incite violence to get their way. Given the Government's insistence (in the face of widespread opposition) on pushing ahead with its bill on Incitement to Religious Hatred, you would have thought that they would clamp down hard on this type of activity.

Perhaps the NSS should be reminding the Government about this. And also contacting the BBC, asking if they, in all seriousness, can justify a figure of 50,000 complaints about the Springer Show. I have read that the BBC received 19 written complaints about it; perhaps if we add on Christian Voice's original e-mail, the true figure would be much nearer 20. This issue is worth investigating further and has the potential to discredit many of the show's critics.

Adam Tjaavk:

May I offer two links in response to Barbara Smoker's letter (Newsline last week); not journalists' opinions, but Antony Flew's own words:

Antony Flew's BBC R4 Today interview 17 December 2004 (start at 4:02 - "the god I now believe in" at5:30 here)

Sanal Edamaruku wrote in his Rationalist International Newsletter "On 16th December 2004, Professor Antony Flew, British philosopher, well known rationalist, atheist and an Honorary Associate of Rationalist International, telephoned me and informed that the wild rumours about his changed views are baseless. He expressed surprise over the confusion some people have spread and asserted that his position about the belief in god remains unchanged and is the same as it was expressed in his famous speech 'Theology and Falsification'. 'I find no new reason to change my views', Professor Flew said."

Barbara Smoker says "He has said quite clearly that he still rejects the existence of any god - or, at least any personal god; only going so far as to posit some underlying design or purpose in the universe."

From Beverley Rowe:

Peter Arnold wrote (Newsline last week) "One is either free or not free". What a beautifully simple world he lives in. "Freedom" is not a binary category but a continuous scale. But more generally, trying to make any moral principle absolute leads to disaster. This is the nub of all serious ethical and moral debate. Take any two principles, however worthy individually, and it is always possible to devise a scenario in which they come into conflict. Well, that's what I believe, anyway, and I believe it absolutely!

From Name and Address supplied:

It strikes me that a few words on the previous activities of "Christian Voice" may not come amiss. So-called "blasphemy" seems to be a fairly recent concern for them: in the past they have always seemed more concerned with being the British equivalent of the Westboro Baptist Church. Stephen Green and his friends were purportedly heavily involved in the organisation of the recent "Stop Belfast Pride" movement - one of their greatest annoyances, according to their website, being that gay policemen were allowed to march in uniform (apparently they ought to have been covering their faces with shame). Furthermore, Christian Voice recently sent abusive and homophobic letters to many UK student LGBT organisations. They should therefore be categorised among the UK's nastiest fundamentalist groups.

I do not wish to stoop to Mr Green's level by giving his address: it should be noted, however, that this may be obtained by doing a reverse DNS lookup on the domain name of the Christian Voice website. Not clearly enough - in fact, quite confusing - and aren't design and purpose personal attributes?

From Charles Coventry:

Congratulations to NSS honorary associate Jonathan Meades' on the analysis of Salisbury Cathedral. As somebody with background of medieval and local studies I also commend the programme "Cathedral" about Bishop Hugh of Lincoln, an excellent warning against treating medieval hagiography as if it was biography in the modern sense. Hugh was shown to be a fanatic with his strict adherence to the rule of the Carthusian order and it the same time the pre-Christian survival of the attachment to the wild swan, a feature very common in the Middle Ages, identifiable from examination of sculpture and wall painting where it survives.

After Hugh's time the clergy at Lincoln decided they needed more revenue, and so created a new saint, "Little Saint Hugh," a child oblate supposedly murdered by the Jews at the instigation of the Jews.

There are numerous examples of this all over Europe, and Chaucer used it as the basis of "The Prioress's Tale". His version is set in Syria, but the Prioress ends with a prayer to Little St Hugh.

The Scottish National Party claims that Scotland is the only country in Europe where there has never been any anti-Semitism, but the truth is that it just can't be detected because there was no Jewish community for any medieval king to expel, something Robert Bruce could easily have done since his contemporary title "Good King Robert" stemmed from such details as an ambition (never fulfilled) to go on crusade and the foundation of a chapel dedicated to ten thousand(!) virgins. For the same reason there is no indigenous version of the Little St Hugh story. If there had been a Jewish community in the Middle Ages either of the two pilgrimage centres of Dunfermline Abbey (shrine of the canonised Queen Margaret) and the cathedral priory of St Andrews in the west and north-east of Fife respectively could have set up such a shrine to augment its revenue and attract pilgrims away from its rival.

From Joss Arnold:

I note with interest that the Arkansas State Legislature has tabled a bill banning any 'definition or discussion' of marriage in any school textbook contrary to the required definition of 'a relationship between one (1) man and one (1) woman'. Looks like Arkansas is going to vote to ban the Bible in school then! About time...

From Peter Arnold:

The story of Jesus, as told in the Christian NT seems quite inconsistent. This main character speaks some wise, plain and thought provoking words, but then has all kinds of magical events attributed to him by people who clearly had not understood the simplicity of his message, which seems to me to have been to listen to one's own conscience and stop trying to fool oneself, and others. The Christian Church, like all the other religions and ideologies, seems to prefer the more dramatic fiction to the inescapable truths of ones own uneasy conscience. It does not seem to me to matter whether stories are fiction if they illustrate something useful and practical about the nature of man and other animals. The supernatural entirely cancels the value of the evidence, but fiction puts the responsibility for appreciating the story firmly back on the individual. Clergy may be happy not to have to explain the point of the story of the wedding at Cana when water was turned into wine without the aid of fruit or fermentation.

From Paul Stevenson:

From one of my motor cycle club magazines: "The Bible is the most shoplifted book in the USA" and from the same source: The Chain Letter. A chain letter was sent to parishes which said, "if you are unhappy with your vicar, simply have your parish secretary send a copy of this letter to six other churches who are tired of their vicar. Then send your vicar to the church at the top of the list in this letter. Within a week you will receive 7.776 vicars and one of them should suit you. Have faith in this letter. Do not break the chain - one church did and got their old vicar back!"

EVENTS AND MEDIA

SEA CHANGE - Fire and Brimstone Productions present a new play exploring the relationship between Charles Darwin and Captain Robert Fitzroy during their momentous voyage aboard the Beagle. Youthful friendship turned to seething hatred as Fitzroy's religious fervour was challenged by Darwin's increasing conviction that species were not fixed and that Genesis did not satisfactorily explain the origin of the world. Their increasing disagreement would eventually lead to tragic consequences. The Library, Conway Hall (nearest tube Holborn) Friday 18 February 2005. 7.30pm Admission Free. A joint SPES and GALHA event.

Evolution: a nightmare for theologians. A Darwin Day talk by Robert Stovold, organised by Brighton and Hove Humanist Group. Tuesday 1 February 2005. Upstairs Room, Farm Tavern, Hove.. For information please call 01273 461404 or 01273 227549

Darwin Day Lecture: Darwin - A "Devil's Chaplain" by Dr James Moore. Friday February 11th 2005, 6.30 - 8.00 p m (doors open 6.00 pm) in The Hong Kong Theatre, Clement House, LSE, Aldwych, London (click here for a map .) Chair: Professor Richard Dawkins A BHA event hosted by the Interdisciplinary Institute of Management at the London School of Economics

FILMS ON GENERAL RELEASE Vera Drake. Mike Leigh's extraordinarily moving film about a 1950s back street abortionist. The evocation of the post-war period of austerity is quite spookily accurate and the actors uniformly convincing. Reveals just how inhumane society was when "the authorities" were held in unquestioned awe.

The Million Dollar Baby: We haven't seen this but one of our members recommends it for its unusual steering away from the predictable, Hollywood moral message. Directed by Clint Eastwood and coming with a positive embarrassment of critical acclaim it tells the story of a hardened fighter-cum-trainer who reluctantly works with a determined woman in her attempt to establish herself as a boxer

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