Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

Christian crossing the floor

January 17, 2011

Ex-Anglican bishops ordained as Catholics.

So can this be equated to politicians changing party? Would the Catholics, eager to get one up on the Protestants, have secretly courted the defectors?

The Anglican bishops would have made demands to ease the process of ratting on their own side. Presumably these were: “Can you please let me keep my wife and still get into heaven?”

And are there Catholics who get a bit miffed that the Protestants are welcomed with open arms when it seems ridiculous to suggest they are motivated by genuine conversion to ‘the one true faith’ rather than a simple desire to put two fingers up at Rowan Williams and Anglican liberals?


Is Andy Burnham losing faith?

August 9, 2010

Andy Burnham has frequently described himself as a church-attending Christian. He is often pointed to as a prominent Labour Catholic and certainly gave the impression of being the most religious out of all the leadership candidates.

However, I noticed that in a recent interview with Channel 4 News Mr Burnham comes across a tad doubting Thomas-like…

Who is the advisor you most listen to in life? My mum and my younger brother – on politics and on absolutely everything. Rocks of wisdom and sense.
If you could chose any talent you currently don’t have, what it be? Opening batsman. I always used to admire someone who could open the batting and stick in there.
If Britain adopts AV, which party will get your second preference vote? I would only put one (adding that he wouldn’t use his second preference in his constituency)
Do you believe in God? Don’t know

“Don’t know”? Sounds wishy washy! Smells like agnosticism!

I like Andy Burnham. In a previous interview with Labour Uncut he’d already made clear that he disagrees with Catholic orthodoxies.

Perhaps he is moving from sceptical Catholicism to agnosticism. The next heretical step, naturally, is to declare himself a paid-up member of the Richard Dawkins Fan Club. Come join us, Andy!

I also note that Burnham told Channel 4 that he was “the David Cameron” of this leadership contest. Hmm. Peculiar thing to say.

Methinks the Burnham press team will want to clarify what ‘the line’ is on the existence of the Big G and will seek to make sure their candidate stops describing himself as a Tory Prime Minister.

All power to the quacks

June 29, 2010

In Commons Health Questions this afternoon Tory MP David Tredinnick was disgusted by the suggestion of one of his Liberal Democrat colleagues that homeopathy should not receive NHS funding.

Tredinnick, who has a loony reputation in a most appropriate sense, decried the criticism of his beloved homeopathy as “illiberal”. Despite what the cynics claim there was plenty of annecdotal evidence that homeopathy works, he declared. In other words, damn those scientists and their pesky science!

The complementary-enthusiastic Conservative then pointed out that no-one was forcing anyone else to use homeopathic medicine so why not just leave it alone. But Tredinnick is of course in favour of forcing us taxpayers to pay for this nonsense as part of the NHS budget. As with hospital chaplains, I spy some sensible public expenditure cuts!

In a two fingered defiance to sanity and reason Conservative MPs recently put both Tredinnick and Nadine Dorries on the Health Select Committee. Yes, that’s the same Nadine Dorries who, as part of her anti-abortion crusade, allied herself to Andrea Williams of the Lawyers Christian Fellowship, an evangelical who believes that the world is only 4000 years old.

Would it not be more sensible to establish a harmless All Party Parliamentary Flat Earth Society and then let Tredinnick and Dorries help run that?

Helping Dave, Nick, Gideon et al with their cuts

June 6, 2010

As a good patriot I want England to win the world cup, the Queen to live forever and the deficit to be tackled as quickly as possible (won’t somebody please think of the credit rating!? etc).

Regarding that later patriotic duty, I have identified a public spending cut the Government could be making. Let me refer to the fifth day of the debate on the Queen’s Speech in the House of Lords:

The Lord Bishop of Chichester: The Government’s background note suggests that the reference to doctors is shorthand for front-line medical staff more generally. It is good that the role of nurses is specifically mentioned. Less welcome, however, is the absence of a mention of other front-line health workers, whose increasing recognition as members of multidisciplinary teams has been a notable sign of the progress made over the past decade. 

Human health and well-being, including better clinical outcomes, require a whole approach in which doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, psychologists, chaplains and social workers all play key roles. The 1996 Department of Health document, Standards for Better Health, requires healthcare organisations to co-operate with other agencies to ensure that patients’ individual requirements are taken into account and that,

    “their physical, cultural, spiritual and psychological needs and preferences”,

are met. So we await with interest discussion and clarification of what is meant by, and who is included in, “front-line workers”.

It may be worth pointing out that a chaplain often serves more patients directly each week than any other single healthcare professional working in a hospital. Although his or her role may not usually be immediately life-saving, neither is the everyday work of most doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. In any case, life-saving is not all that is meant by good-quality healthcare. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will assure us that chaplains are valued within the National Health Service as front-line staff.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): He asked me specifically about chaplains. We very much value the work done by NHS chaplains, who play an important part in providing high-quality spiritual care services to patients and staff, and we are committed to ensuring that patients and staff in the NHS have access to the spiritual care that they want, whatever faith they may have.

What’s this gibberish about chaplains being front line health care workers? It’s a miracle that the Bish was able to suggest with a straight face that chaplains made comparable health care contributions to those of “doctors, nurses…psychologists”.

Jako sez that in these belt-tightening times the NHS needs to prioritise the protection of certain resources. Preferably these should be resources of considerable utility. For example, A&E units. Or doctors. Nurses. Medicines. Things with undisputed ability to improve health.

Hospital chaplains cannot possibly be placed in that same category. In 2008 the National Secular Society that the NHS spent £40 million on providing chaplains and ‘spiritual care’. Well, time for Big Government to step out of the way and let Big Society – in the form of the organised religions – start providing the funds for this service.  

I expect that my David Laws Austerity Medal For Distinguished Cost Cutting and State Stinginess will soon be on its way in the post.

See the light. Or else.

June 2, 2010

After finding this story via HP I was going to suggest organising an atheist solidarity campaign.

Brave – or perhaps a little foolhardy – Mohamed Nazim attended a lecture being given by a prominent Islamist in the Republic of the Maldives and announced during the Q&A session that he did not believe in religion.

Now, the Maldives get a bit of attention because they’re worried climate change will turn the Republic into an underwater attraction.

There is less focus on the fact that democracy in the Maldives, such as it is, is deeply immature and that citizens are legally compelled to follow Islam. Atheism is not an option.

Mr Nazim’s startlingly enlightened revelation did not go down well with the religious crowd. He was attacked and taken into custody by the police. Since they see him as an apostate his beheading was demanded.

Before any atheist solidarity campaign to save the god-botherer-bothering Mr Nazim could be established, another newspaper article from the Maldvies suggested that he had seen the light and ‘reverted’ to Islam.

Mr Nazim issued a statement apologising for his behaviour and claiming that he is now a good Muslim. The atheist solidarity campaign I imagined setting up failed to get to him before the two Islamic scholars who visited him in the police station and provided two days of religious counseling (presumably Mr Nazim had nothing else to do).

Funnily enough, Mr Nazim appears to have chosen to become a Muslim rather than to have his atheism-inclined head separated from the rest of his body.

Hopefully the Maldives will stay above the sea level long enough for their society to progress to a point where people can choose for themselves which religion, if any, they want to follow.

A meaty question

April 10, 2010

When out knocking on doors today, asking people if they had any issues they wanted to raise with their local councillor, a fellow-canvasser was told that the nearby school should serve halal meat. The voter’s argument was that the majority of pupils were Muslims. This was politely noted.

Had it been me canvassing that person I would not have been able to appear at all receptive to this demand. In fact I would probably have found it hard to restrain my anger at the suggestion that securing halal lunches was more important than safeguarding free school meals, the local Sure Start centre or youth clubs.

Being a liberal sort of society, people are allowed to follow a religion which requires them to kill animals for meat in a manner different to standard practice and which sits uncomfortably with the laws on animal welfare. People are even (mistakenly, IMO) allowed to have state-funded faith schools where conformity to these sorts of cultural norms are more rigorously enforced.

However, the school in question is not a faith one. Altering its catering policy to comply with the demands of religious parents – even if they did happen to form a majority – would be a mistake.

As a secularist, I dislike seeing publicly funded institutions bowing to the demands of the religious. Accepting a new dietary regime because of religious pressure may only encourage other changes to be sought – perhaps to the curriculum, the teaching style or the use of facilities.

At my next school governors’ meeting I will definitely be seeking to establish where any meat in the meals is sourced.

Easter Message

April 4, 2010

On this, the day when we celebrate magic baby Jesus miraculously sharing a handful of chocolate eggs amongst 5000 people before getting crucified and then coming back from the dead for a brief comeback tour, it seems appropriate to reflect upon matters of spirituality.

Pope Celestine V (c.1209 – 1296) retired because he couldn’t handle the papal pressure. Having lived for decades as a hermit, he had originally tried to run away when the bishops decided to make him pope (presumably there was a lack of decent alternative candidates back in 1294). After just five months in the job he quit as he wanted to return to his hermit cave.

But although he abdicated his position Celestine wasn’t allowed to enjoy his retirement. His papal successor had him put in prison and was probably responsible for bumping him off in 1296. Poor old Celestine.

The point of this story is that there is a precedent for retiring popes. Ergo, if Benedict XVI feels very bad for allowing as Archbishop of Munich a known paedophile priest to be assigned to pastoral duties where he continued to abuse children, he could always consider calling it a day.

“The buck has to start somewhere”, the Pope could declare, “and to demonstrate that we are serious about making amends for the many years of covering-up these criminal activities it is obvious that all those tainted by the scandals need to go and new leadership brought in”.

However, having the preacher to the papal household compare the current criticism of the Catholic Church to the “most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism” (a bit of an odd thing to say considering the controversy around Pope Pius’s conduct during WW2) suggests that the Pope and his team won’t contemplate the Celestine strategy.

Labour and community organising.

February 28, 2010

There was an interesting article in yesterday’s Guardian: ‘Labour party is major force for alienation in Britain’s big cities’. Some US activist person working in Manchester has claimed that someone like Barack Obama would not have been able to succeed in rising up through the Labour Party.

I agree that a rigid party structure can be off-putting to some people. Every Labourite has come across plenty of internal party rules-obsessives who seem to take delight in lecturing new members about all the boring stuff involved in political organisation.

I also accept that there are plenty of local Labour parties across the country that are lacking in any sort of dynamism. In places with populations where ‘people would vote for a monkey wearing a red rosette’ etc it is too easy for the Labour Party to become the conservative-minded establishment.

Whatever the result of the upcoming election, I have no doubt that the Labour Party will need to concentrate more on rebuilding its roots in community networks and recruiting more people to its activist base.

However, apart from these general points, there’s a lot in the Guardian piece that I find irritating.

For one thing, James Purnell’s former special adviser is quoted as saying “James was interested in doing something different because he felt that the Labour Party had given up on organising and emancipating people”. The born-again grassroots activist Purnell is apparently going to work with the campaigners at London Citizens.   

To say that the Labour Party has given up on organising people is a bit dismissive of all the party organisers up and down the country who have worked hard to give people like Mr Purnell his job in Parliament.

And whilst I like any example of gay rights campaigners and Muslim clerics working together on something, I’m always a bit sceptical of unelected people from religious groups saying “politicians have to listen to us, to negotiate with us”.

I do not accept that a better form of democrat community organising is to hand over more influence to religious figures and to undermine the role that political parties can play. While on this subject, there’s a post over at HP about Islamist entryism in East London that everyone should have a look at.

Political parties are not the ‘end all’ of political organising, but I don’t think we should give up on them. Internal party reforms to encourage greater openness and to make membership more meaningful may be needed – yet I would still prefer to retain party structures rather than surrender too much political space to potentially less democratic forces.

Quick response to my post coming under the knife…

February 9, 2010

Dave of Though Cowards Flinch disagrees with my thoughts on Sikh knives being allowed in schools.

I appreciate the need to try to respect pluralism and to accommodate the individual beliefs and cultural attachments of pupils. As a vegetarian I appreciated not being forced to eat meat at lunchtime and having the veggie option available. I’m aware that my dietary choice was ‘eccentric’ when compared to the majority and that I personally benefited from a certain flexibility in school rules and administration. 

I’m not sure, however, that I’m comfortable with Dave’s line that everyone should be allowed to wear their own symbols as long as they don’t harm others. Would swastikas be tolerated in Dave’s classroom? [EH-ERRR. Yes I know, the sound of Godwin’s law being broken!] On the face of it, a swastika is less harmful and intimidating than a knife.

Also: I don’t really see why Dave has come up with this:

“Thinking secularists would surely defend the right of anyone to do anything, provided that it was unlikely to result in harm or the coercion of any individual.”

That seems more like a summary of liberalism or libertarianism to me than secularism. Dave then gets in a huff about my concern that religions are being granted exceptional status in the law and seems to suggest that this shouldn’t be relevant to secularists. He writes:

“…You could exclude non-Sikhs from wearing the kirpan on the same basis as excluding someone who claimed a shotgun was part of their worldview; blatant opportunism, rather than serious conviction.”

It is an odd sort of secularism that gives religious affiliation a priviliged position; when religious people are allowed to engage in behaviour clearly outside mainstream norms simply because they are religious. 

As I say, I understand that Dave as a teacher presumably presiding over a classroom of diverse individuals wants to maintain some sort of happy compromise, but I can’t see how Dave the secularist can be satisfield with rewarding those with “serious conviction” with behavioural exemptions.

Sunny over at Pickled Politics also disagrees with me, thinks schools should be allowed to let Sikh kids carry kirpans if they want to, and has a bit of a go at nasty militant atheists for being rude about religion.

Sunny posits leftie atheists criticising religion damage the left. I accept that sometimes this can happen. I myself try not to be too crude. Even when I do, I think I manage to get along fine with my religious friends and comrades. I would perhaps suggest to Sunny that endorsing a form of multiculturalism that grants all sorts of benefits and priviliges to those who shout loudest about their cultural identity and distracts from materialist interests has been more damaging to the left – but that’s a blog post for another day. 

Some of Sunny’s readers think it is bigoted and intolerant to describe the religious obligation to carry a knife around with you as “eccentric”. Such ridiculously sensitive souls.  

I like this article by Hardeep Singh Kohli in the Guardian. Well, not all of it, but this makes sense to me:

“Sir Mota believes that it is wrong to stop schoolkids wearing the secreted, ceremonial dagger into school and believe that it is an infringement of a child’s right to practise their religion. Let me repeat that: he thinks it’s OK for kids to take knives to class. Flippant though this may sound, while going to school in Barnet may be challenging, it’s not the Punjab in 1708. Sir Mota notes that there has been no case of any Sikh child using the kirpan in a violent way. But I’m simply not comfortable with knives being allowed into school. What if the kirpan were forcibly removed and used? The practicality of baptised Sikhs carrying kirpans is not a new issue. That is why small, symbolic kirpans are attached to combs that Sikhs keep in their hair. Similarly, small kirpan-shaped pendants are worn around the neck, again fulfilling the criterion of the faith that the dagger be ever-present…

…We must do all we can to protect the rights of people to enjoy the way of life they choose. But there are more important battles to fight with regard to religious intolerance than whether Sikh kids can wear kirpans to school. Perhaps I’m being too literal, but all religions could do with taking a step back from symbols and icons and explore a little more deeply the philosophical content of what their belief system hopes to offer the world.”

Thank Waheguru, Onkar, Rama and Purushah that this bloke is retired.

February 8, 2010

Sikh judge Sir Mota Singh criticises banning of Kirpan.

Please note Sir Mota saying: “The fact that I’m a Sikh matters more to me than anything else”.

Insisting that Sikhs should have the right to walk around with their ceremonial daggers – even in schools – certainly suggests the man is possessed by a religious arrogance of such massive proportions that there isn’t room for any other considerations.

Pity the BBC Asian Network didn’t bother finding an opposing point of view. I’m sure there’s a sensible Sikh out there willing to say that some of the more eccentric teachings of their faith should not be given privilege over the law of the land (and of course basic common sense).

Failing this, a secularist organisation would have been happy to point out that allowing children to take knives to school is ridiculous.