Thursday, August 24, 2006


Macho Reverend Takes The Pink Pound

This lot are news to me. Apparently the Scottish Christian Party, a fundamentalist organisation which is anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia, anti-stem cell research and virulently anti-gay, are fielding candidates in every seat in Scotland at the next election. Pretty impressive, eh? They can afford to do this, it seems, because in a previous incarnation their illustrious leader, the Reverend George Hargreaves, used to write songs. His biggest hit was Sinitta's So Macho — a gay anthem. Having come across this little snippet of gossip on Popbitch, I thought I should confirm it before passing it on, and lo — it checks out. What a larf.


It's Not Rocket Science

Dear Ruth Kelly,

On the Today programme this morning you said you were looking for ideas on how to get children from diverse ethnic backgrounds to integrate.

I have an idea.

Abolish faith schools.

All of them.

Problem solved.

It's not rocket science.

Friday, August 18, 2006


The Life of Galileo

Well, the kids are still away (hopefully learning some manners from their paternal grandparents), so the journey towards self-improvement that started last weekend with me reading newspapers for what felt like 48 hours straight, continued lastnight with a trip to the National Theatre to see The Life Of Galileo.

There was a time when prohibitive ticket prices would have given the likes of me an excuse to avoid such edifying, culturally elitist events, but that’s all changed thanks to the Travelex £10 ticket season, under which two thirds of the tickets must be sold for a tenner. Not sure who I have to thank (I suspect it might be Ken Livingstone), or indeed whether I should be thanking anyone — it was a bit of a marathon, and while the cheap ticket might have got my bum on a seat, it was a sore bum by the end of it.

Not that I didn't enjoy it. Anything about the battle between science and religion will usually grab my attention and hang on to it, and I was relieved to find that despite it being a play about a 17th-century scientist written by Bertolt Brecht and updated by David Hare, there wasn't much in it that went over my head. Then again, I quite often come out of these things under that impression, only to find out that I've missed the whole point, so I don't want to get too cocky.

What struck me most was that there was Galileo, making all his important discoveries, challenging the orthodox, religious version of how the world began and how we all got here, nigh on 400 years ago, and what are the papers full of now? Evolution versus creationism!

Linda, my usual theatre companion, who raised her eyebrows when I suggested it, but took a deep breath and agreed to come, was less struck by it. She said: 'You engage with all this stuff, I don't'. I told her about an article I had just read on Humanist Network News, about hasidic jews, who are reproducing at such a rate that their fundamentalist brand of judaism will be considered mainstream by the year 2075. 'Doesn't that scare you?'

'Not really' she said. Which made me wonder why it is that I do get so agitated about it all. Unless I live to the grand old age of 109 I'm not going to be around in the year 2075, so why do I care? Is it because I have children who will be around? It may seem ridiculous but though it must have been at the back of my mind, I hadn't really thought of it like that before. However I suppose that although I was brought up by atheists, it was only when I had to start answering my children’s questions that my interest in the subject was really fired up, so it must have something to do with concern for their future wellbeing.

Judging by the numbers of people crammed into the Olivier theatre’s 1,120 seats, and the range of ages (plenty of oldies but a girl along from us who couldn't have been more than nine) I'm not the only one, though I suspect from the warm but slightly weary applause at the end that, like me, most found it enjoyable and edifying, but way too long.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Don't usually pass on this sort of stuff, but since so many of the cringeworthy album covers are for christian bands… Made me laugh

Monday, August 14, 2006


Let's All Have A Heated Debate

It's always good to start the weekend with a heated debate, and on Friday night I came home from work to find that husband and mother (my parents, having kindly taken daughter off our hands for a week, were in London to deliver her back to us) had got stuck right into one, about the ongoing brouhaha about terrorism.

Mum, fervent anti-religionist that she is, argues that religion is at the heart of the problems we are currently experiencing, whereas husband maintains that it has more to do with Bush/Blair foreign policy — exactly the same debate that is being played out across the media, nationally and internationally.

Of course, having been brought up by one of them, and having lived with the other one for roughly the same number of years as I spent with my parents, I can see where both are coming from, which made my position an interesting one.

For what it’s worth, I'm inclined to think — especially having recently read Sam Harris‘s thoughts on the subject — that there has to be some pretty fervent dogma at work in the mind of a young British-born muslim to prompt him to strap explosives around his middle and head for the tube.

On the other hand, and in spite of Sam Harris’s rather forgiving stance on Western foreign policy, I can see how it has utterly failed the poor people of Palestine and Lebanon, and how it has left them feeling as if they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking up arms. In those circumstances, religion would indeed seem to be almost irrelevant.

It seemed to me that the only sensible thing to do was read everything on the subject that I could get my hands on and, the children having been whisked off to their other grandparents for the week, I had the opportunity to do just that.

So did I come to any earth-shattering conclusions that plonked me down on mother or husband's side of the fence? Well, no. But with the help of Nick Cohen, Andrew Anthony, Geraldine Bedell, Max Hastings and Muriel Gray, (okay, so mostly the usual suspects, and mostly writing in the Guardian and the Observer, but jeez, there's only so much a girl can take in over one weekend), I've come to the conclusion, unsurprisingly, that they're both right.

It is possible to believe that neither religion nor Western foreign policy is totally responsible for the mess we find ourselves in. While some terrorists will be motivated more by Bush and Blair's woeful double act than by what it says in the Koran about killing the infidel, others will be motivated more by the teachings of radical imams. Given the wide range of backgrounds that the bombers are drawn from, this can only be the case, and I suspect that there are few who aren't motivated by a bit of both.

In the same way, it is possible to feel violently opposed to Israel's policy in Lebanon while despising Hizbollah's methods and while feeling very afraid on behalf of the people in Lebanon if Hizbollah, Hamas or any other radical islamic administration ever takes over the running of the country. We know from reports coming out of countries such as Afghanistan and Iran that the plight of women, girls and apostates grows grimmer by the day.

One of the most interesting aspects of the current debate is there is no one ideology or political stance that any of us can turn to for an accurate reflection of our own views. Time was when you felt a certain way about a subject, did a bit of research on what the major political parties had to say about it, then voted and debated accordingly. That's all up in the air now — as New Statesman political editor Martin Bright's pamphlet for the centre-right Policy Exchange think tank, When Progressives Treat With Reactionaries: The British State's Flirtation with radical Islam illustrates.

In the circumstances, we have little choice but to arm ourselves with as much information as possible, and make up our own minds. Which is, of course, no bad thing.

I don't hold out much hope for it, but wouldn't it be good to think that the world events that are responsible for the current shake-up of ideas in the West might also encourage a shake-up of ideology within Islam and religion in general? Let's face it, it would be long overdue.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


The Spirit Of The Enlightenment Lives

Too depressed about the Middle East, too absorbed with Sam Harris’ The End Of Faith and too busy ferrying children here, there and everywhere while trying to work full-time (damn the school holidays) to do much blogging of late, but just thought I'd mention a jolly little encounter the other night, while I was visiting the lovely Isle of Arran with my dad.

It may be a little late in life for me to be learning such lessons (the trip was to make the arrangements for my 40th birthday — aargh!) but I have recently come to understand why it is that people say never to talk about religion or politics in the pub. Too many heated exchanges — usually with people who don't really believe anything much, but who cling on to what 'faith' they still have and defend it quite fiercely because… well, there has to be something else, don't you think? — have made me think, what's the point? People who are unfamiliar with the concepts of reason and rationality are unlikely to be coaxed over to my side of the fence just because a ranting Scots woman screeches at them for a couple of hours along a bar.

Okay, so if I'm honest the real reason is that there have been several occasions on which long-suffering friends and acquaintances, fed up with hearing me raving on about the same old stuff again and again, have rolled their eyes and told me to belt up. Either way, these days I find myself a little reticent about banging on too much about my pet subjects to complete strangers, and I now set off for nights out swearing blind that I'll stay off the subject.

Of course, that's all very well until you take into account the tongue-loosening effect of alcohol, and given that Saturday night's little soiree took place in an excellent pub which boasts the largest selection of malt whiskies in… Scotland? Britain? Europe? (I was too distracted by the Bruichladdich to care), I was entering dangerous territory. So it came as a welcome surprise to find that one of the locals was a kindred spirit, and we spent a very pleasant evening discussing faith schools, the rise of fundamentalism, the human rights act and lots of other stuff, while forming the London-Lochranza chapter of the Muriel Gray appreciation society.

It was my dad's comment the next day that made me laugh, though, as I was telling my mum about our evening, having already explained my new-found reticence.

"Aye, but he was singing from the same hymn sheet as us."

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