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The gift of sin, in a box

Fast food companies learned a long time ago that if you want to hook customers when they’re young, give them toys. Kids love them, and they’ll want to go back for more.  Not long and they’ll be going not for the toy but for the food.  It’s how they build their brand awareness.

Cynical? Yes.

So it’s no surprise that religious organisations use the same technique.  Organisations  like the evangelical church Samaritan’s Purse, which runs the Operation Christmas Child shoebox appeal every year.  They give some poor kids in an awful place some toys, and expose them to their brand. Religion.

Cynical? Yes.

But where the fast food companies only want to sell food, Samaritan’s Purse want to sell everlasting torment, unless the child accepts that Jesus died for their sins 1 thousands of years before they were even born.

Creepy.

Here in South Tyneside though, instead of protecting children from some deeply disturbing ideology, people like Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn and mayor Fay Cunningham positively celebrate proselytising to children using toys.  Toys in boxes often gifted by other children.  Maybe they’ve fallen for the attractive concept of putting a smile on the faces of unhappy children.  But it’s the idea that goes with the smile that should be worrying.

Sin. A made up condition for which they sell the made up cure.

So here are South Tyneside’s politicians, smiling for the camera, celebrating gifting shoeboxes with toys, guilt and sin.

Watch the video. It’s sickening.

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True faith

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I’m not sure if the Shields Gazette’s Mike Hallowell is trying to prove his theological chops with his most recent piece, a rather feeble attack on people who dare to criticise religion and the actions of the religious.  Being a fresh convert to Islam, you would hope a new approach to religious apologetics.  Sadly not.

Atheists are religious

Let’s get one thing straight from the outset – despite what atheists tell you to the contrary, they are every bit as religious as we believers.

Hallowell doesn’t define what he means by religious, but by any sensible definition, atheism is the antithesis of religion, hence the noun: atheism.  Atheism has no holy leaders, no sacred texts, no bizarre rituals, and most importantly, no belief in a god or gods.  And that’s about as simple as atheism gets – an absence of belief in supernatural beings.  There are some atheists who have tried to take atheism further, to redefine it as a set of ethical behaviours borne out of a lack of religious belief, like in the case of the Atheism + concept.  But such attempts to change atheism into something more than an absence of belief have failed to gain traction.

I’m curious though – is Hallowell really suggesting that being religious is somehow a negative attribute?  Or is he saying that atheists can be just as good/bad as religious people in following their beliefs?

 

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Atheists can’t prove there is no god

They cannot prove there is no God, and so a refusal to acknowledge the existence of one requires faith

This is one of the apologist’s favourite gambits.  The first response would be that the lack of evidence against a god does not count as evidence for a god.  The next one would be – which god?   As Hallowell should know the burden of proof for any claim falls firmly on the one making the claim – in this case burden falls upon the religious.  And the claims they do make don’t stand up to scrutiny.  If you took each religious text as the hypothesis for its respective religion – creation, talking donkeys, zombies, flying horses, ninja monkeys – and compared them to what we know through evidence or our understanding of the universe, you would quickly find that these hypotheses fail the test.  In other words, it’s nonsense.  There is no shame in refusing to acknowledge nonsense.

There are atheists who don’t even consider the existence of gods.  There is nothing to prove or disprove.  The Pirahã people of South America, whilst they believe that spirits inhabit their physical world, they have no gods. They can’t comprehend the concept – and they see no need for one, simply because it has no utility.  The thing that many religious people like Hallowell don’t get is that many atheists think in the same way – they see no need for a supernatural entity, or any evidence of one.  There is no faith at work here, only practical good sense.

Agnostics are more honest

Now agnosticism is something I can at least understand, for it doesn’t rule out the existence of God.

Every agnostic I know is functionally an atheist.  They don’t pray or go to church.  They don’t care about religion or live their lives according to religious dogma.  When agnostics say ‘I don’t know’, they are still saying they don’t believe, they’re just not ruling out the possibility there is an amorphous ‘something’ out there.  They have already ruled out the existence of every god they’ve been presented with so far, otherwise they would already be a believer.

Atheists are arrogant and nasty

Mr Wilson hit the nail bang on the head when he said that some atheists “display a form of arrogant, secular bigotry which sees itself as superior”.

Neither Hallowell or G Wilson have defined what ‘secular bigotry’ means.  The claim that the religious are somehow being ‘cowed’ by ‘secular bigotry’ in the UK doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.  Christianity is the state religion; churches, temples and mosques sit in our communities.  The religious run schools and sit in the house of Lords.  Prayers are spoken before every sitting of Parliament.  The BBC transmits religious radio and TV programs.  The reality is that people are free to believe what they want and say what they want about their religion.  Despite all these religious threads in our society, the UK is a secular state, and it’s the UK’s particular brand of secularism which gives people freedom of religion.

If you want to see religious people being cowed, they’re more often being cowed by other religious people or by cultish state doctrine.  In these often theocratic countries, being ‘cowed’ means imprisonment, torture or death.  In no secular state is apostasy a crime.  In the 20 countries where apostasy is a crime, sentences range from fines to imprisonment to flogging to death.  Every one of them is a majority Islamic nation.  It seems that in many countries, where religious disagreement occurs, harm isn’t far behind.  Here in the dystopian UK Hallowell and Wilson seem to think they live in, the worst that can happen to the religious speaking out is that they get mocked for saying silly things.

Atheists want to limit the free speech of the religious

You may also find that their concept of “free speech” really translates as “You can say anything you like, as long as it doesn’t contradict currently accepted scientific dogma”.

You’ll find that most atheists are happy with free speech.  However, it doesn’t mean they can’t call bullshit when some religious apologist says something silly, or for throwing around silly terms like ‘scientific dogma’.  Science isn’t a static dogma, it changes according to the evidence.  This is the strength of the scientific method.  Religion, however, remains dogmatic, and tries to hold its believers in an intellectual stasis, where everything must be measured in line with the interpretations of a holy book.

When the religious claim that their free speech is being limited, they really mean they can no longer make claims without someone disagreeing with them.  That’s because ideas don’t have rights.  In a civilised society every ideology – religious or political – must be open to free discussion without fear of reprisal.

On Friday, our television channels covered the commemoration of the sacrifice of young men against an ideology that sought to dominate the world.  Those commemoration ceremonies featured repeated religious rituals – on TV.  Remember seeing the TV reports of an army of secular bigots and aggressive atheists demanding that those religious people stop praying?  No?  Neither did I, because it didn’t happen.  Today, as I write this, a celebration of Pentecost is being transmitted on BBC 1.  There’s no atheists standing outside churches trying to “cop an attitude whenever someone mentions the G-word”.

Atheists hate religion

But why do some atheists truly hate religion and the religious?

This is an interesting take on the ‘atheists just hate god’ fallacy.  So let’s take a look.  Mass murder.  Women stoned to death.  Children mutilated.  The covering up of child rape.  Women dying when an abortion could have saved their life.  Young girls kidnapped for the needs of their fundamentalist captors.  Why would anyone not hate what religion and the religious can do to people?

The religious don’t really care what atheists say

The truth is that many believers just can’t be bothered to engage in duels with atheists who criticise them.

Those atheists who do criticise the religious tend to do so in response to what the religious have done or want to do.  However, the religious are not really known for keeping their religions to themselves: knocking on doors, putting leaflets through letterboxes, shouting through megaphones on high streets, online spamming, asking for money for missionary work and trying to change laws to suit their own murky moral framework.  Should the religious be surprised at being criticised for doing something worthy of criticism?

 

Hallowell’s article is a feeble attack on atheists, without an example to back up his claims.  If you look for an ‘aggressive atheist’ or ‘secular bigot’ you’re going to struggle to find one.  To find an aggressive religious adherent or a religious bigot, you need only to read the news.

Christian kick ass cop capers

This has got to be made into a film.  Or a TV series.  You can imagine the trailer.  A deep voice-over.  Based on a true story, a sassy female cop on the edge, a maverick who takes no shit and will bend the rules to catch her prey (or pray even).  In one scene, she’s told by her tough police captain “You’ve got 24 hail Marys to solve this case!”  And while she’s bringing down the bad guys, she’s raising a gifted but difficult child with a deadbeat dad.  Cut to a another scene with a criminal in handcuffs, declaring “How did you know it was me?”  The feisty female cop coolly replies…

“That’s intercession, motherfucker.”

Well, probably not the motherfucker bit.  But it is based on a true story.  In Spain, an icon of the Virgin Mary in Málaga was awarded the police gold medal of merit for being pretty awesome at fighting crime.  Scooby Doo must be pissed off.

God’s own country

No loaves and fishes from Cameron

After alienating the fundamentalist Church of England wing of the Conservative Party with his support of equal marriage, David Cameron has decided to play to them and place down the Christian card in the run up to the annual celebration of the torture and execution of a literary character.  In a vile twisted perception of reality, Cameron pines in the pages of the Church Times for good old Christian values, but moans:

“I sometimes feel not enough is made of our efforts to tackle poverty.”

I don’t quite know what to make of this.  Tory ‘efforts to tackle poverty’ have been a naked war on the poor, making poverty worse.  The coalition government has been instrumental in making life worse for people on the poverty line, the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’, punitive welfare sanctions, the vicious cutting of welfare budgets.  This has led to a massive increase in food banks, and the emergence of people being admitted into hospital with malnutrition.

Malnutrition; in the 21st Century; in one of the wealthiest nations in the world; in what Cameron considers a ‘Christian country’.

Well, this is the guy who said that “Jesus invented the Big Society 2,000 years ago.”  If Jesus invented Cameron’s Big Society, then Dracula invented blood transfusions.

It is true that religious organisations are stepping in to help where they can.  The Trussell Trust has reported a massive growth in requests for emergency food:

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Cameron is grateful to Christian organisations though:

“I welcome the efforts of all those who help to feed, clothe, and house the poorest in our society. For generations, much of this work has been done by Christians…”

This is because he and his chums are dismantling the welfare state, the fair, secular solution.

 

Not a Christian country

Cameron said Britain should be “more confident about our status as a Christian country”.  This is a myth that is regularly resurrected, and it seems appropriate that Cameron’s done it in the run up to the celebration of the Christian resurrection myth.  True, our unelected head of state is also the head of the Church of England.  Unelected bishops sit in the House of Lords.  For over a thousand years Christianity of one flavour or another has been the dominant religion in Britain, owned massive swathes of land and property, and held power over the lives, deaths and afterlife of British people.

But that doesn’t mean that Britain is a Christian country.  Our laws are secular.  Our electoral system is secular.  Our state machinery is secular.  Despite having a state sanctioned church, it’s largely a ceremonial relationship and the UK is probably one of the most secular states in the world.

Religiously, the UK is diverse.  For the Prime Minister to suggest that Britain is a Christian country, it implies that any citizen of any religion that isn’t Christian (or of no religion) is somehow not properly British.  This attitude skirts the bigotry of the EDL and UKIP, with the sinister finger-pointing of the zealot, who lives in a paranoid world where the non-Christian is an outsider whose is ‘not one of us’.  We can see where that kind of thinking can lead today in the Central African Republic, where Muslims are being butchered by the thousands.  By Christians.  We can see it in Muslim countries where being un-Islamic can put an innocent person in prison or their head on the chopping block.  Closer to home, sectarianism in Northern Ireland has kept communities fractured for generations.  There are still many in North Ireland who believe that being Protestantism is a core component of Britishness.

Defining a country and it’s citizens by a religious belief is at best pernicious; at worst, murderous.

This is why Britain being a secular country is a good thing.  No matter what religious baggage our history brings, a country with secular values ignores arbitrary ‘morals’ born out of iron age superstition and medieval ignorance, and treats everyone equally, irrespective of their religious beliefs.

Ofsted claims that Religious Education…

plays a key role in promoting social cohesion and the virtues of respect and empathy, which are important in our diverse society

If that’s the case, what does that say about religions? It looks like it’s implying that religions do the opposite, and that education is required to promote ‘respect and empathy’ amongst people of different religions because religions fail to do so.

So why bother with Religious Education?  Surely the study of ethics would better serve in helping students to become good citizens who can think for themselves?

Satanic wind turbines

When the spires of churches, abbeys and cathedrals rose against the backdrop of the pristine rural landscape of medieval Britain, no one complained about how the tall monuments to the Christian god polluted the hills and the valleys.  Nobody said in desperate anguish,

“Is now not the time to say “enough” to any further blots on our landscape?”

Well, probably not, as any medieval church nimby who dared to complain would likely be on the receiving end of medieval Christian love: your property confiscated by the church and a burning at the stake.  Fortunately, these days such complainants wouldn’t be at the vicious mercy of lords and clerics.  At worst they get ridicule.

So step up Rt Revd Martin Wharton, the Bishop of Newcastle.

In a sermon against wind farms he somehow managed to imply that wind turbines are un-Christian, claiming the demonic wind turbines are turning the North East countryside into a “disfigured industrial landscape”:

“It is a basic Christian truth that we all have a duty and a responsibility to care for and exercise wise stewardship over God’s creation, which has been entrusted to us.”

The ‘basic truth’ is that our modern society needs energy.  Lots of it.  We also need to produce energy whilst at the same time reducing our carbon emissions to try and minimise the inevitable effects of climate change.  Wind, along with solar energy, ground source heat and other renewable and low carbon energy sources each need to form part of mixed energy solution.

Wharton, along with many wind turbine objectors, seem to hold a vague romantic view of the rural landscape, putting it on a mythic pastoral pedestal.  The reality is different; our rural landscape is home to the industry of providing food, a landscape designed, shaped and developed over a thousand years to feed people and maximise profits for landowners.  Enjoying the benefits of the latest in agricultural technology: materials, machinery and an arsenal of chemicals to squeeze out every ounce of productivity, a environment equally moulded by technology as it is by social change.  Underground, the mines of the North East provided the lead, iron and coal to fuel the industrial revolution.  Electricity pylons and telephone lines carry electricity and words, roads and railways carrying people, all have had a criss-crossing visual impact on the countryside.  It’s a landscape which has been evolving for thousands of years, and we’ve become so accustomed to many of these “blots on our landscape” that they have become part of it.  It’s a delicious irony that many of those who object to wind farms in Northumberland also want to see the very same countryside slashed with a dual carriageway all the way through the county.

Much of the wealth of the Church of England has been from it’s massive property holdings, so the church holds some responsibility for the current appearance of much of Britain’s landscape.  Hypocrisy?  You betcha.  Inclosure acts took land from communities and handed it over to landowners, changing rural society forever, with open land sliced away in a thousand pen strokes, the church often profiting from such acts.  Here in South Tyneside, the Church Commissioners’ vision of a “wise stewardship over God’s creation” included a plan to build a ‘business park’ and housing over the green belt at Fellgate in Jarrow.  In Gateshead the “wise stewardship” gave us the Metrocentre, ushering in out of town shopping, increased car use and the near death of many town centres.  Even now it looks like the Church Commissioners are seeking to claim mineral rights using ancient laws, looking forward to mammonic feast at the fracking trough.

The church cannot pretend to be protectors of our landscape or our environment.

Now, with wind farms, we are seeing the next step in the evolution of our northern landscapes (and seascapes), producing energy for an ever power hungry nation.  As an industrial scale technology, the second wind energy revolution is still in it’s infancy, and many detractors like Wharton use this to imply that the technology is unproven or unable to provide energy adequately:

“There is no evidence that I have seen that suggests that wind farms will ever provide the reliable, controllable energy that is required by our society, however many there might be.

“Furthermore some studies have even suggested that far from reducing CO2 emissions, wind farms actually increase them.”

Go back a mere hundred and twenty years, and many people with a similarly Luddite bent would be saying something eerily similar about electricity.

It shouldn’t really be surprising that a cleric would try to justify his opinion using an ancient holy book – the same holy book which also gives valuable nuggets of advice about how you should beat your wife and slave, and stone children for giving you lip.  However, when claiming a lack of evidence for an emerging technology, Wharton should realise that his glass house of god doesn’t stand up to the rocks of evidence at all.

Witchcraft in 21st Century UK

This is seriously fucked up:

Some young HIV patients are giving up their medicine after being told by Pentecostal Church pastors to rely on faith in God instead, doctors warn.

It is so far off the scale of wrong.

Presumably if the witchcraft fails, it’s not a god’s fault; the blame lies with the hopeless mug who just didn’t have enough faith.

Recommending that someone abandons medical treatment and replace it with prayers and magic water is ignorant, irresponsible and dangerous.  That should be obvious.  That religious leaders use their authority to do so and with impressionable and pliable young people whilst hiding behind the untouchable shield of faith, demonstrates how despicable religious people can be.

If you believe in fairy tales and magic and you keep it to yourself, you’re at worst eccentric and harming no-one but yourself.  However, if you spread that idiocy and seek to convince other people to stop taking their medicine, it makes you a danger to your fellow human beings.

Whilst it looks like it’s ‘only’ a small number of churches where this occurs, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  You can see how it can grow in an environment and culture where people accept faith healing as a reality, like:

Pentecostal pastor Stevo Atanasio, from the East London Christian Church, said that among his congregation, blind people had recovered sight, deaf people had heard again, and what were considered terminal illnesses had been cured.

This delusional bullshit is all too common.

We live in a society where mental illness dressed in mystic robes is given a free pass and access to vulnerable and young people.  If someone gives health advice based on superstition their advice could at least make someone unwell, or at worst, kill.  Religious leaders have authority and power, but they also have responsibility for their actions.  (I say ‘religious leaders’, but the same applies to occult ‘healers’ of all flavours of delusion.) 

If someone gave financial advice based upon manufactured information, they could end up with a prison sentence.  Anyone who advises someone to abandon medical treatment in favour of supernatural spells and wishful thinking deserves the fullest condemnation from our society on the way to a stint inside a prison cell, no matter how well meaning they feel they are.