Friday, September 29, 2006


Scary Movie

I am starting to feel really sorry for the beleaguered American liberal, and all those rational American families trying to bring up their children in a country where there's stuff like this going on.

Jesus Camp The Movie, coming to a screen near you soon, will cheer you or terrify you, depending on what side of the fence you sit.

Although it's not really fair to pass judgment until I've seen the whole thing, the fact that it was voted scariest movie at the Traverse City Film Festival says a lot. From the clips I've seen I don't know if I'll be able to watch it anyway — I tend to agree with Richard Dawkins that indoctrinating children constitutes child abuse, and even the clips make deeply uncomfortable viewing.

There is one thing that the founder of Jesus Camp, Pastor Becky Fischer, is spot on about, though. She says she is doing to the children of evangelical christians only what the mullahs are doing to the children of fundamentalist muslims in madrassas.

Funny, I seem to remember being told repeatedly throughout my childhood that two wrongs don't make a right. But then again, I was dragged up by heathens.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Not Quite The Dog's Bollocks, But Close Enough

I feel sure that some of you out there will be interested in this.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Why The Rivalry?

Went to my second London Brights meetup last night, and thoroughly enjoyed it, although I confess to feeling a little dismayed about the rivalry on display between members of the various organisations represented at the meeting, principally the BHA and the National Secular Society.

As a relative newcomer to all this, I am interested in both organisations, and indeed any and all organisations which have members who share all or some of my views. On a personal level, the BHA has proved extremely helpful and supportive in my dealings with schools, while the National Secular Society's excellent website, and in particular their 'What The Papers Say' feature, is invaluable when it comes to keeping me up to date with religious nonsense from across the globe. It's the first site I visit each morning.

I can't fathom why the National Secular Society wouldn't support the BHA and vice versa. I can't see where the conflict arises. It seems to me that — broadly, at least — we want the same things, and that it’s a monumental waste of time to argue amongst ourselves about who's going about it the right way.


And Another One

Clicked through to this funny site from The Huffington Post. Don’t be put off by the name, and check out the piece they're running about how even the church that Bush attends is now protesting about the war in Iraq.


The Site We've All Been Waiting For

Can't tell you how excited I am about this.

Monday, September 25, 2006


It Just Goes To Show…

…you should never take what an 11-year-old boy tells you at face value. Turns out my friend's son copied his homework down wrong. The question should have read: 'Write down 10 religious things about your community'. Hey ho. Lucky I hadn't quite clambered up onto my high horse. I still think it's legitimate enough to ask whether non-theistic worldviews are being covered in RE though.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


The school saga continues…

Only this time it's not the primary school (you know, the one I've been tussling with since I started this blog). This time it's the secondary school my son started at at the beginning of this month.

Don't get me wrong, we're thrilled that he got in (there's no guarantee these days that your kids will get a place at any school, 'specially round our way), and thrilled with the way the school staff are handling his, er… quirks (he's just been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome). As usual, my concern is with the way they seem to be teaching RE.

To be fair, it's not anything that Max has come home with that has troubled me. His RE homework so far has consisted of covering his exercise book and filling in a questionnaire about his likes and dislikes. His mate, however, was sent home with the instruction to 'write down 10 religious things about me', much to his parents' chagrin.

Is it just me, or is the way that question is worded just a little on the presumptious side? Maybe it doesn't take for granted that the child in question is from a religious family, but I've been mulling it over for a good few days now and I'm damned if I can figure out another way to take it.

I know I'm not known for my calm, measured response to this sort of thing, but really, am I mad? There was me thinking that the RE syllabus would be a little more inclusive in secondary school, a little less focused on the baby Jesus and all that other nonsense, maybe a little more mindful of the fact that there are people out there (quite a few of us, actually) who are bringing their children up to be good people without recourse to dusty old works of fiction written thousands of years ago. I was even, foolish optimist that I am, hoping that in the secondary school environment my son would be able to talk openly about his godless upbringing without feeling like he's drawing a target on his back.

Guess he'll just have to dream up some interesting religious things about himself, if and when the homework comes.

Meanwhile, I can feel a tussle coming on.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Haven't got around to reading Muriel Gray in the Sunday Herald this week, but my mum brought this piece by Ian Bell to my attention. Great stuff. Love the last two paragraphs.


He can't be that stupid. Can he?

Honestly, what an eejit the pope is. Or is he? I mean, he couldn't really have been so stupid as not to know that quoting some 14th-century christian bampot slagging off Mohamed at a time like this would get up the noses of the muslim population and tip some of them over the edge into violent protest? Could he? After all, it's not like we haven't plenty of evidence to suggest that many muslims (come to that, many catholics, jews, hindus, sikhs…) spend a large part of their time sitting around waiting for the next affront to their beliefs so that they can take noisy offence.

I'm inclined to agree with Will Hutton, writing in yesterday’s Observer, however, who reckons that the pontiff knows exactly what he's up to. So it's not so much the stupidity of his speech that strikes me, as his complete lack of any sense of irony. That the leader of a church that presided gleefully over such abominations as the crusades and the inquisition has the nerve to lecture anyone about the perils of spreading religion by the sword is hard to credit.

Clearly, he’s had the same irony bypass as the perpetrators of the nasty little campaign running in Scotland at the moment and spearheaded by the catholic church, to stop the Scottish parliament from passing legislation that would allow same-sex couples to adopt. The thinly-veiled subtext, of course, being that same-sex couples who want to adopt are all paedophiles with dubious sexual motives.

I'm sorry, didn't I read somewhere that the catholic church stands accused of covering up one of, if not the, biggest child sexual abuse scandals in history? Or did I just dream it?

Thursday, September 14, 2006



Well, it's taken me half the week to chew my way through it, but Martin Amis' piece on Horrorism in last Sunday's Observer really was worth the effort. As a broadside on cultural relativism it's going to be hard to beat, and his conclusion, that the key to solving the problem of Islamism can only be the liberation of Muslim women, is blindingly obvious.

I have always felt deeply uncomfortable about the notion that we shouldn't criticise the customs and rituals of other cultures, even if those practices involve the mutilation of women and children. How can such abominations as female circumcision (and ritual male circumcision, come to that) be defended? The Chinese practice of foot-binding, which dated back to the 7th century, was banned in 1911, and today would rightly be punished as child abuse. What is the difference between that circumcision? Ritual circumcision is often - though not always, it's fair to say — motivated by religion.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Londoners unite against the faith menace

According to a YouGov/Evening Standard poll, 44 per cent of Londoners think ALL faith schools should be banned. Hurrah! I would suggest getting Ken Livingstone on the case, but my optimism feels a little misplaced given his cosy relationship with the mullahs. Still, he's probably our best hope.


Back to school…

Well, we're almost a week into the new school term and so far, so good. Only daughter at primary school now, her brother having moved on (and hopefully up) to secondary school. I am interested to note that at the primary school there are to be new lessons in 'values'. First up, honesty. No religious references in the blurb sent home to parents, so I'm optimistic that our input last term will have helped to ensure that the classes will be balanced and reflect the truly diverse nature of the school. We shall see.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


They're all at it…

Honestly, just because Jane Fonda’s got god, doesn't mean every erstwhile feminist icon has to jump on the bandwagon. Mind you, she's been certifiably bonkers for quite a while now, by all accounts.


Essential Reading

Heard about this through Ms Magazine. Essential reading, I'd say, 'specially for Americans.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Bright? I Should Say So

This blog has been streamed to Brights Online Blogs for a while now, but beyond occasional email correspondence with Bob Churchill, I had yet to meet or chat with any of my fellow Brights. So it was great last night to get a chance to do just that, at a meeting in the Pitcher and Piano in Holborn. It was surprisingly well-attended, possibly because of the presence of a Channel 4 film crew. Well, I say crew, it was actually just one bloke with a camera, filming for a documentary about atheism being made by Rod Liddle. Mr Liddle himself was not in attendance, which made me wonder a bit about how our little gathering will be presented in the finished film, but it will no doubt make for interesting viewing when it hits TV screens, sometime in October.

Thanks to speaker Martin Freedman I now understand a little more about what the Brights is all about — an online commmunity of individuals which, I was relieved to hear, does not intend to become another 'ism' — but which instead wants to concern itself with the 'marginalised situation of Brights (for Brights, or brights, read anyone with a naturalistic worldview) in the political and cultural landscape of world society'. A sort of civil rights movement for anyone who doesn't subscribe to supernatural nonsense. Or, as Martin put it, subnatural nonsense. Supernatural just gives it too positive a spin.

Reassuringly, though perhaps not surprisingly, much of what Martin had to say about the origins of the Brights chimed with thoughts and feelings I have had over the years, particularly the insistent use of negative terms to describe what, for me, is an extremely positive worldview. Regulars to this blog (I flatter myself that I have any regulars, but I live in hope) will know that the head teacher at my children's primary school really got up my nose at a meeting a while ago by repeatedly referring to 'non-believers, people without faith' and so on, ad nauseum.

Although the term 'bright' itself is not universally popular (one argument against it being that by self-identifying as a Bright you are declaring yourself smarter than someone who is not a bright — well, I say, if the cap fits…), there was general recognition of the need to claim a positive word to describe ourselves. Personally, I think that now that the movement is up and running and has a worldwide constituency, the aims are what's important, the name is no longer relevant. There are much more significant things we can spend our time discussing — if you don't like the name, get over it.

All in all, it was a very interesting do, although as one bloke pointed out: 'It's all very well us lot sitting here violently agreeing with one another. What are we going to do about it?'

Well, what? I suppose just staying interested and not losing hope is a start. What with so much superstitious nonsense still floating around as accepted wisdom and the rise of religious fundamentalism across the globe, it does often feel like us rationalists are swimming against a very strong tide. And that's without getting started on all the other rubbish — astrology, alternative medicine, feng shui, etc — which is replacing religion in the lives of many otherwise intelligent people who can't quite grasp the irony of swapping one set of superstitions for another.

I'm going to continue to blog, as and when I feel inspired (and have the time). And now that I've made contact with the London Brights (I fully intend to make it to future meetings — I wasn't just there to try to get my face on the telly, honest) I'm hoping that that will be pretty frequently. I've already got a few ideas milling around in the grey matter, more of which soon...

Monday, September 04, 2006


I must not let it grind me down, I must not let it grind me down...

There are times when the religious madness that's sweeping the world makes you so furious it makes you want to spit. Times when the very idea of not venting your spleen feels like it's going to give you cancer. Then there are other times when the sheer weight of it all leaves you feeling so depressed you can't form the words to say how it makes you feel. Hence my relative silence over the past few weeks.

Oh, don't get me wrong. There has been plenty of provocation from the usual suspects. Ruth Kelly and her mad assertion that faith schools have no place in the discussion about integration in Britain, for a start — just the latest, of course, in a long line of bonkers pronouncements that have got to mark her out as borderline sociopathic, at the very least.

I mean, this woman's supposed to be intelligent, for goodness' sake. School, until recently, was the one place where you were guaranteed to have to mix with a rich and varied cross-section of the community we lived in. That was A GOOD THING. Separating children off to be educated exclusively with people from their own religious background (and we all know that usually means ethnic background) is A BAD THING. And if anyone out there reading this (if there is anyone out there reading this) feels tempted to point out that faith schools are going to be ordered to be 'inclusive' — don't bother. Read this instead, and then give me 500 words answering the question: "If faith schools are to be forced to be inclusive and open to everyone, what exactly is THE BLOODY POINT?'

Then there was the terribly sad story of the 11-year-old Colombian girl, raped and made pregnant by her stepfather, who was granted a legal abortion, only for the team who carried out the termination to be told that they were to be excommunicated from the catholic church. The cardinal who reportedly told the team they were to be excommunicated has now denied that he made the comments, but let's face it, was anyone surprised at the news in the first place? I certainly wasn't.

And what about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Rowan Williams declaring that gays are not welcome in his church unless they are willing to 'change their ways'? When you recall the optimism that greeted the appointed of the liberal, bearded, sandal-wearing one, it’s even more upsetting to think that he's now thrown in his lot with the religious right, and deeply, deeply depressing to think that of the boost that his announcement will have given the bigoted pastors preaching homophobic hatred as we speak, at a tabernacle near you.

And just how are the government going to react to all this? Well, we already know where they stand on faith schools, and Ruth Kelly seems to be on a career trajectory which has so far seen her in one job where she got to introduce dodgy legislation, and now she’s in another, which will see her consolidate that legislation. If, as I'm reliably informed by someone I know who works in the Home Office, she is in the frame for chancellor if or when Gordon Brown accepts the poison chalice that is the PM's job — bingo! She can fund the whole evil, retrograde project too. It's enough to make you weep with frustration.

As for the catholics… well, we all know where we would be if they got their way, so it was a relief to see that they got short shrift when they popped in for a cosy chat with Patricia Hewitt a couple of months ago. But let us not forget that they did get through the door, which is further than most secular special interest groups get. Let's hope it's not a revolving one.

Of course we're regularly assured by the government that the hard-won rights of gay and lesbian citizens are not under threat, but with so many religious nuts in charge, along with countless non-believers who are happy to keep paying lip-service to it all, how can we really be sure that this is the case, especially now that the nasty campaigns by so-called christians to maintain their right to openly preach hatred of gays have the backing of the Anglicans' high heid yin?

Well, it seems I've managed to shake myself out of my torpor and back into furious spleen-venting once more. Hallelujah! I'm off to meet the London Brights.

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