Category Archives: Religion

UK Judge orders father to take his children to church

This story brings back a memory of when I was a carer and used to escort people to the church of their choice (including Russian Orthodox, Evangelical, C of E and the reform Synagogue!). Eventually I began to refuse to go to the Catholic Church after I had to sit through a sermon where the priest first of all piously praised himself and his congregation for allowing someone with a disability (in this case severe epilepsy) to attend his church and then launched in a lengthy and obviously well rehearsed screed about why you should not give children a choice in their religious education.

‘Steve’ has my sympathy

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Church attendance requirement was imposed by Judge James Orrell during a hearing at an undisclosed county court in the Midlands By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent 5:11PM GMT 19 Jan 2015

A judge has ordered a father to take his children to Roman Catholic mass as part of a divorce settlement, even though he is not Catholic.

The man, who can only be identified as “Steve” because of reporting restrictions on the case, faces possible contempt of court and a jail sentence if he fails to go to church when he has custody of the children.

The church attendance requirement was imposed by Judge James Orrell during a hearing at an undisclosed county court in the Midlands.

Continue reading UK Judge orders father to take his children to church

Why There Almost Certainly Is No God (Long Read)

I’m republishing Richard Dawkins excellent article from 2011 here because it restates my own Atheism rather succinctly. I have also included some of the debate around Humanism and and AC Grayling’s approach at the bottom of this article as well.

I need to add that for me this post is not intended as an attack on religion or religious people in the way Dawkins in particular often seems to be interpreted.

I think you need to separate  many of the ideas and foundations of religion which were good ideas for their time (Many still are ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ or ‘Turn the other cheek’) from the system of social control it quickly became.  I don’t believe there ever was a God but respect other peoples right to believe that.

As I see it over the years the various religions became not just groups of like minded individuals or organisations for teaching and spreading the message but turned into institutions which became more and more corrupted by their power.  They were clearly more about the power and position of their members and leaders by the time that ‘Indulgences’ were being sold, bloody crusades being fought or the inquisition was torturing heretics.

The need for change began in the Reformation as people tried to find new ways of worship but even that was not enough to resist the devastating blow of Darwin’s Origin of the Species in 1859. Ever since then life for the church has been a battle to retain influence against a rising tide of skepticism and anger at those who used their power to lead us in some startlingly un-christian directions.

Christ (if he existed) was a clearly a revolutionary – he threw the moneylenders out of the temple and told Rich men they were as likely to go to heaven as ‘a camel pass through the eye of a needle’. I’m pretty sure he would be appalled at the conservative monolith that has been set up in his name.  (See the link to Reza Aslan’s article at the bottom of the post)

If the ideas are often good but the institution is overwhelmingly bad where does that leave the people? There undoubtedly some people whose close minded bigotry has been facilitated by religion but there have also been many sweet lovely people who have lived lives full of kindness and thought for others based on the moralities handed to them by religion. I find many aspects of monolithic religion appallingly restrictive – particularly its controls on women and their reproduction but accept that in the end we all choose our own life path and those who choose to accept a role of religion in their lives are perfectly entitled to do so.

godWhy There Almost Certainly Is No Godby Richard Dawkins Biologist and writer Posted: 05/25/2011 12:00 pm EDT

America, founded in secularism as a beacon of eighteenth century enlightenment, is becoming the victim of religious politics, a circumstance that would have horrified the Founding Fathers. The political ascendancy today values embryonic cells over adult people. It obsesses about gay marriage, ahead of genuinely important issues that actually make a difference to the world. It gains crucial electoral support from a religious constituency whose grip on reality is so tenuous that they expect to be ‘raptured’ up to heaven, leaving their clothes as empty as their minds. More extreme specimens actually long for a world war, which they identify as the ‘Armageddon’ that is to presage the Second Coming. Sam Harris, in his new short book, Letter to a Christian Nation, hits the bull’s-eye as usual:

It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver-lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud, as it would suggest to them that the best thing that is ever going to happen was about to happen: the return of Christ . . .Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma, should be considered a moral and ¬intellectual emergency.

Does Bush check the Rapture Index daily, as Reagan did his stars? We don’t know, but would anyone be surprised?

My scientific colleagues have additional reasons to declare emergency. Ignorant and absolutist attacks on stem cell research are just the tip of an iceberg. What we have here is nothing less than a global assault on rationality, and the Enlightenment values that inspired the founding of this first and greatest of secular republics. Science education – and hence the whole future of science in this country – is under threat. Temporarily beaten back in a Pennsylvania court, the ‘breathtaking inanity’ (Judge John Jones’s immortal phrase) of ‘intelligent design’ continually flares up in local bush-fires. Dowsing them is a time-consuming but important responsibility, and scientists are finally being jolted out of their complacency. For years they quietly got on with their science, lamentably underestimating the creationists who, being neither competent nor interested in science, attended to the serious political business of subverting local school boards. Scientists, and intellectuals generally, are now waking up to the threat from the American Taliban.

Scientists divide into two schools of thought over the best tactics with which to face the threat. The Neville Chamberlain ‘appeasement’ school focuses on the battle for evolution. Consequently, its members identify fundamentalism as the enemy, and they bend over backwards to appease ‘moderate’ or ‘sensible’ religion (not a difficult task, for bishops and theologians despise fundamentalists as much as scientists do). Scientists of the Winston Churchill school, by contrast, see the fight for evolution as only one battle in a larger war: a looming war between supernaturalism on the one side and rationality on the other. For them, bishops and theologians belong with creationists in the supernatural camp, and are not to be appeased.

The Chamberlain school accuses Churchillians of rocking the boat to the point of muddying the waters. The philosopher of science Michael Ruse wrote:

We who love science must realize that the enemy of our enemies is our friend. Too often evolutionists spend time insulting would-be allies. This is especially true of secular evolutionists. Atheists spend more time running down sympathetic Christians than they do countering ¬creationists. When John Paul II wrote a letter endorsing Darwinism, Richard Dawkins’s response was simply that the pope was a hypocrite, that he could not be genuine about science and that Dawkins himself simply preferred an honest fundamentalist.

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Continue reading Why There Almost Certainly Is No God (Long Read)

New Thoughts on the Christian Right’s approach to Aborton

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This article (below) is pointing out that between 20% and 80% of fertilised human embryos never implant and so never get the chance to grow. Effectively a significant proportion of the ’embryos’ which anti abortion groups claim to be protecting will ‘abort’ spontaneously.

The article is also making a point aimed at anti contraception activists as well – that if reducing the number of fertilised eggs which did not have the chance to develop is your priority then making sure good contraception is available to prevent that fertilisation would be a the most effective strategy.

The question that come to mind from this is “Why are the ‘all life is sacred’ groups not protesting this? ” “Why are they not demanding research and answers to stop this from happening? It would surely be a simpler and more cost effective way of saving millions of potential ‘babies’ than anti abortion protests and the anti abortion laws currently being instituted in the US?” – if that truly were your aim.

It seems to me that ‘saving babies’ is not actually the issue here – what this is about (and always has been) is taking hard won control over reproduction back from Women.  

There are some links to articles about the patriarchy and women’s sexual freedom at the bottom of the article. 

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Why Right-Wing Crackpots Kill the Most Embryos – A woman who values fertilized eggs should use the most highly effective contraceptive available By Valerie Tarico AlterNet January 7, 2015

Most fertilized eggs spontaneously abort during the first weeks of life. Estimates of death before implantation range as high as 80 percent and bottom out around 45. More than thirty percent of those that do implant later die on the vine. This means that unprotected sex produces more dead fertilized eggs than live babies. Reality TV’s Duggar parents are fundamentalist Christian opponents of contraception and abortion who have produced “19 Kids and Counting.” Based on the live births that Michelle Duggar delivered, we might estimate that Michelle and her man-on-a-mission flushed somewhere between 17 and 75 precious little bundles of joy in order to get the herd they have.

Continue reading New Thoughts on the Christian Right’s approach to Aborton

More thoughts on Charlie Hebdo…..

There is a conflict here.  Some of the stuff Charlie Hedbo published was offensive and would have upset me if it were printed in the UK and yet I defend the magazine’s right to free speech?  Would I defend another magazine that used images we would more easily identify as Racist or anti-semitic? The only answer I have is that i sympathise with Islam for the offence. but in a democracy we have the right to publish things which other religions would find insulting as well. Free speech in a Democracy is about facing criticism as well as satire and sometimes outright attacks  however painful.  There are going to have to be some limits to this and for me that is when thing go over into the violent or racist or hateful as Charlie Hedbo often did.

In the UK most media know where that boundary is and that the consequence of stepping over it is people will stop buying your paper (eg the Sun and Hillsborough). The media backlash when they get things wrong can be ferocious and polarising (When the Guardian published Hilary Mantels short story The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher it knew the right wingers who would be offended were not its readers so it would lose little)  Because our democracy is still relatively vigorous that kind of (mostly) self policing works for us. That Charlie Hedbo was encouraged to go on publishing things that were offensive is probably worrying for France and its democracy. On the other hand there are countries in the world where publishing these cartoons would have been a death penalty offence.

Personally I found many of the things Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Fox News  have been saying on just this issue extremely offensive but I recognise the danger in limiting their freedom to say it. 

These are tough issues requiring nuanced thought and ideas, both things which have been conspicuously lacking in some quarters over the past few days. Probably the only thing we can say with certainty is that no one deserved to die for it.  

One of the aims of the vigils all over the world seems to me to be to be about people on both sides of the issues getting together and saying to their countrymen and the world  “Think a bit about this and don’t let things get out of hand”  and that is probably the best thing to come out of this.

Joe Sacco’s cartoon (next) has images some may find offensive (in order to make a point) as do some of the links below.

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Charlie Hebdo Is both Heroic and Racist We should both embrace and condemn it By Jordan Weissmann

The editors and cartoonists murdered in Wednesday’s attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo are now martyrs for the cause of free speech. Threatened with death for publishing drawings of the prophet Mohammed meant to mock Islamic radicals, they refused to censor themselves, and so were gunned down. They died bravely for an ideal we all treasure.

But their work featuring Mohammed could be sophomoric and racist. Not all of it; a cover image of the prophet about to be beheaded by a witless ISIS thug was trenchant commentary on how little Islamic radicalism has to do with the religion itself. But often, the cartoonists simply rendered Islam’s founder as a hook-nosed wretch straight out of Edward Said’s nightmares, seemingly for no purpose beyond antagonizing Muslims who, rightly or wrongly, believe that depicting Mohammed at all is blasphemous.

This, in a country where Muslims are a poor and harassed minority, maligned by a growing nationalist movement that has used liberal values like secularism and free speech to cloak garden-variety xenophobia. France is the place, remember, where the concept of free expression has failed to stop politicians from banning headscarves and burqas. Charlie Hebdo may claim to be a satirical, equal-opportunity offender. But there’s good reason critics have compared it to “a white power mag.” As Jacob Canfield wrote in an eloquent post at the Hooded Utilitarian, “White men punching down is not a recipe for good satire.”

So Charlie Hebdo’s work was both courageous and often vile. We should be able to keep both of these realities in our minds at once, but it seems like we can’t.

Continue reading More thoughts on Charlie Hebdo…..

God may be on the ropes – The New science that has creationists and the Christian right terrified

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A young MIT professor is finishing Darwin’s task — and threatening to undo everything the wacky right holds dear by PAUL ROSENBERG SATURDAY, JAN 3, 2015 02:00 PM +0000

The Christian right’s obsessive hatred of Darwin is a wonder to behold, but it could someday be rivaled by the hatred of someone you’ve probably never even heard of. Darwin earned their hatred because he explained the evolution of life in a way that doesn’t require the hand of God. Darwin didn’t exclude God, of course, though many creationists seem incapable of grasping this point. But he didn’t require God, either, and that was enough to drive some people mad.

Darwin also didn’t have anything to say about how life got started in the first place — which still leaves a mighty big role for God to play, for those who are so inclined. But that could be about to change, and things could get a whole lot worse for creationists because of Jeremy England, a young MIT professor who’s proposed a theory, based in thermodynamics, showing that the emergence of life was not accidental, but necessary. “[U]nder certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life,” he was quoted as saying in an article in Quanta magazine early in 2014, that’s since been republished by Scientific American and, more recently, by Business Insider. In essence, he’s saying, life itself evolved out of simpler non-living systems.

The notion of an evolutionary process broader than life itself is not entirely new. Indeed, there’s evidence, recounted by Eric Havelock in “The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics,” that it was held by the pre-Socratic natural philosophers, who also first gave us the concept of the atom, among many other things. But unlike them or other earlier precursors, England has a specific, unifying, testable evolutionary mechanism in mind.

Quanta fleshed things out a bit more like this:

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

It doesn’t mean we should expect life everywhere in the universe — lack of a decent atmosphere or being too far from the sun still makes most of our solar system inhospitable for life with or without England’s perspective. But it does mean that “under certain conditions” where life is possible — as it is here on Earth, obviously — it is also quite probable, if not, ultimately, inevitable. Indeed, life on Earth could well have developed multiple times independently of each other, or all at once, or both. The first truly living organism could have had hundreds, perhaps thousands of siblings, all born not from a single physical parent, but from a physical system, literally pregnant with the possibility of producing life. And similar multiple births of life could have happened repeatedly at different points in time.

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Continue reading God may be on the ropes – The New science that has creationists and the Christian right terrified