Thursday, July 20, 2006


So sad

Far be it from me to dip my toe into the morass that is the Middle East, but I'm finding this whole thing that's kicked off in Lebanon terribly distressing. To see so many innocent civilians — a third of them children, if the news reports are to be believed — being killed and injured, (on both sides, but it's the Lebanese who are bearing the brunt of it) is terribly depressing.

What's even more depressing is having to explain to my children that even in the 21st century people are still prepared to blow each other to bits because they have faith in a different set of nonsensical beliefs.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bob from The Brights wondered if I might be able to link through to the letter I had published on Saturday in the Daily Telegraph. The Telegraph website doesn't seem to want to let me get at the letter again, however — though I notice on today's letters page some more nasty, mean-spirited comments along with a letter supportive of the anti-discrimination legislation from a Reverend who seems a bit more au fait with what I thought christianity was supposed to be about.

Anyway, I kept a copy of my letter, which was short and sweet.

Sir - I wonder if the pastors writing on behalf of tens of thousands of black British christians are aware that the thousands of homosexuals in London have come here to experience the freedom of living according to their sexual orientation in the capital of a secular democracy?

I was tempted to rant on a bit, naturally, about what a bloody cheek anyone has coming to this country and then complaining that our values aren't up to scratch, and about the nonsensical notion that just because legislation is anti-homophobia it is also anti-christian, but I restrained myself.

Monday, July 17, 2006



Saturday's Telegraph printed my letter replying to those nasty gay-bashing pastors!


Women of Courage

Feminists defending the wearing of hijab and other veils intended to cover up the female body has always made me feel deeply uneasy. It seems somehow deeply, intrinsically wrong for women to support such a blatant symbol of other women's oppression.

Of course, the argument goes that it's up to Muslim women themselves to decide whether they want to wear it or not, but really, given the consequences of not covering up in countries such as Afghanistan and Iran, can it actually be described as a choice?

I find it particularly infuriating when the reason for it — to prevent glimpses of female flesh, or hair, from inflaming male desire — is presented as legitimate. If men are such animals, surely it should be them who are covered up and kept off the streets, not the poor women who are the subjects of their uncontrollable lust.

Which is why I have been so pleased to hear what Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Fadela Amara, two Muslim women brave enough to stick their heads over the parapet, have been saying lately on the subject. Ayaan was talking on Radio 4’s Start The Week last week (you can still hear the programme by going here), and there's an interview with Fadela in today's Guardian.

A Dutch MP until recently, when controversy erupted over details on her application for asylum, Ayaan is famous for her outspoken views on Islam and for writing the film that lead to the Dutch film-maker, Theo Van Gogh’s brutal murder by an Islamist extremist.

Fadela, passionate about defending France’s secular democracy and ferocious in her fight against fundamentalism, has split with much of the feminist establishment in France over the 'cultural relativism' which allows them to defend the wearing of the veil — which she describes as an archaic symbol of the subjugation of women — on the grounds that it is traditional.

"…the first victims of fundamentalism are women." she says " I don't care if it's Islamic fundamentalism or American evangelism. A fascist is a fascist."

Friday, July 14, 2006


State-sponsored Hypocrisy

Natasha Walter has a brilliant piece in today's Guardian , which highlights the divisive effects that faith schools (and the middle-class parents prepared to perjure themselves to get their kids into them), are having on our communities.

I have to admire the honesty of the woman who admitted to working out how much each visit to church would save them in school fees, but that fact alone should be enough to force a re-think on the whole issue. If snobby, middle class parents can't bear the thought of their little darlings mixing with riff raff, they are quite entitled to pay for private education. Why should they be allowed to create little white, middle-class enclaves within a system which is supposed to benefit all children.

Apart from the breath-taking hypocrisy of it all, what I can't get over is what a terrible example it's setting to children. Presumably if they are lying to vicars and head teachers about their motives for going to church, they will have to make their children complicit in the lies, or their cover will be blown.

They can, of course, console themselves with the thought that they are doing the best they can for their children and that that makes them better than parents who can't or won't make the same choices. Parents of children in private education have been doing so for years. But the fact that their choices are now having a detrimental effect on less well-off and downright disadvantaged members of our communities makes their position morally indefensible and frankly, pretty repugnant.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Christian Homophobia

I know I'm not in the best position to teach anyone how to suck eggs, but I did get little bit of religious instruction as a child, and I seem to remember getting the impression that christians were supposed to be nice, tolerant people? It seems, though, that tolerance is something christians expect for themselves, not something they are willing to extend to other people. A case in point is this particularly nasty letter which appeared in today's Daily Telegraph. I wonder if the pastors writing on behalf of tens of thousands of black British christians are aware that the thousands of homosexuals in London have come here to experience the freedom of living according to their sexual orientation in the capital of a secular democracy?


Victory for an American Atheist

Here's a great piece about the Smalkowski case, which has been exercising American athiests lately. I love the bit at the end about a tornado hitting the principal's house on the night of the verdict.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Muriel Gray

A quick mention for my favourite columnist — come to think of it, she's one of my favourite people too — Muriel Gray, columnist for the Sunday Herald and grumpy old woman, who has been nominated as secularist of the year. Unfortunately we can't influence the voting. It's up to the National Secular Society's elected council and Michael Irwin, who sponsors the prize, to decide on the eventual winner, but supportive emails directed to can't do any harm.
For those not already familiar with her, Muriel writes regularly on matters of interest to secularists everywhere, bashing religionists of all kinds with her own particular blend of common sense and ire, which is, of course, all very commendable.
My highest praise, however, is for her warmth, compassion and humanity. During last year's election campaign, she wrote a column about collective responsibility that was so moving that just to think of it, even now, gives me goosebumps. At the time I was moved to tears, and found it difficult even to quote from it without choking up.
In a climate where people of faith increasingly characterise the irreligious as unethical and lacking in morals, she is an inspiration to us all.
I'm trying to track down a link for the article I've mentioned, but you can read her recent columns by clicking on the link in my sidebar.


Maybe the old codger wasn't so bad after all

Here's a quote I stumbled across the other day that surprised me. Never thought I'd be wistful for the days of Reagan.
"We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief. At the same time that our Constitution prohibits state establishment of religion, it protects the free exercise of all religions. And walking this fine line requires government to be strictly neutral."
—Ronald Reagan
The Quote Du Jour Archive. Ruthless Reviews

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


The Top Ten Power Brokers Of The Religious Right

The separation of church and state may be enshrined in the constitution of the United States, but if this lot have anything to do with it, it won't be there for long. Given that they also have abortion rights, gay rights and a whole raft of other rights in their sights, these really are terrifying times.

Monday, July 10, 2006


More on the Order of Malta

Hmm… murkier and murkier. I wonder whether the head teacher will still think it's a good idea to support the Order Of Malta when he knows that their proud history includes several hundreds of years of fighting the evils of Islam? Wonder what muslim parents would make of it all?

Haven't handed out the leaflets yet. Thought it was only fair to let the head know our views first and give him the opportunity to recant, so to speak. He was somewhat taken aback to get our letter this morning. Didn't see it coming, apparently. He's a lovely bloke, and a terrific head teacher — my only complaint about the school concerns all this religious nonsense — but I'm seriously beginning to wonder about his judgement.


Would you Adam and Eve it?

Honestly, sometimes you just wish the Church of England could hear itself. A report last week in the Times Educational Supplement, which I was alerted to by the Newsline of the National Secular Society, talks of how taxpayers in this country could be asked to foot the bill for a doubling of the number of C of E chaplains in further education colleges.

The article reproduces quotes from a report which supports the idea, as follows: 'Many adults enter FE with the hope of a fresh start in their lives, sometimes as a result of a personal and spiritual crisis. FE chaplaincy offers a unique opportunity for the churches to engage with this generation of young people and adults at a time when many are vulnerable…'

…and ripe for the picking.

Read the whole article here.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


And there's more

It's worse than I thought. While the Order of Malta Volunteers may be a bunch of well-intentioned, dedicated young people, the Order of Malta itself is a dubious-sounding organisation which, amongst other things, claims to be 'the world's oldest continuously existing military organisation'. Check this out.


How Dare They

I am livid. Fit to be tied. Rifling through the kid's book bags this morning, out flopped a sheet informing us that the proceeds from this year's 'non-uniform day' (the kids pay £1 for the privilege of turning up to school in civvies for the day) will be donated to, wait for it… The Order of Malta Volunteers, a catholic charity. Specifically, the money will fund a trip to Lourdes!!

Now, I'm sure that the volunteers do some excellent work, even if filling sick, disabled and terminally ill people with false hope and dragging them halfway across Europe in search of a miracle can hardly be counted as excellent work.

The fact that they are touting for funds in a non-denominational primary school is bad enough, but when that school is in South London and has pupils from as wide a range of ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds as the one my children attend, it is outrageous. That the head teacher has allowed it to happen is despicable.

Of course, we could exercise our right to withhold our contribution, and send the kids to school in their uniform as usual. That wouldn't exactly be fair though, would it? Talk about holding a gun to our heads.

Thankfully husband is just as pissed off as I am about it, so we've written to the head, asking that our contribution be donated to a non-denominational children's charity. We will also be handing out leaflets outside the school gates to make sure that our fellow parents know that they have the opportunity to do the same.

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