Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Militant Secularism and Other Myths 14/02/2012

It's been a busy week in the UK for the issue of Secularism. On 10th Feb 2012, the high court ruled in favour of NSS (National Secular Society) over the topic of communal prayer during council meetings. Communal prayer was ruled to be unlawful.

This has sparked a colossal level of debate and misinformation pertaining to the principles of secularism.

There appears to be an alarming misunderstanding of what Secularism actually means for both the non-believer and the faithful. This misunderstanding is increasingly exacerbated by comments made by high level members of UK government. 

Just today Baroness Warsi, the Conservative co-chairwoman wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph that "Militant Secularisation is a threat to religion".

Secularism in a nutshell is separation of Church and state. This idea aims to ensure religion can not interfere with matters of public services, politics and education, but also serves to protect your right to any belief, without fear of government interference and maintains your right to avoid the beliefs of others being imposed upon you.  It is committed to making sure you have the same rights, regardless of your religious or political beliefs, or lack of them.

This appears, especially in the 21st century, the only reasonable way to accommodate all faiths in an ever increasing multicultural Britain. The fairest way to ensure the government does not promote any one religion more prominently, is to simply not promote any religion at all. This level of neutrality would ensure beliefs are not imposed on people, whilst protecting your freedom to belief and worship of whichever deity you think is the one true god. See godchecker.com if you haven’t made up your mind yet. 

My main objection is the irritating habit of phrases such as “Militant Secularisation" or “militant atheism”. It has become somewhat of an over defensive trend to afford any criticism of public religious practise, however mild and reasonable, the adjective “Militant”. This is a complete misunderstanding of both the word “Militant” and “Secularism”.

Secularism is a call for neutrality and fairness. This strikes me as reasonable.

I will highlight the two main forms of objection taken to the court ruling in favour of the NSS over the communal prayer row:
"If they don't want to pray, no-one is forcing them, can't they just sit quietly, or leave?"

The communal prayer was placed in an official capacity on the Agenda for a meeting, making it cross the line between personal time, which can be spent however you wish, and official time allocated to business. Asking anyone to observe a religious practise in the workplace is unreasonable. No-one is suggesting anyone who wants to pray, cannot. Secularism protects your right to do so; it asks however that you do it in your own time, without requiring others to participate/observe.

"Isn't this just imposing atheist views in the workplace/society, over Christian ones"?

Absolutely not. Secularism is not a call for state atheism. Secularist are not suggesting communal prayer be replaced with a discussion acknowledging the unlikeness of a creator, with select readings from the works of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. This would be unreasonable. It's merely an assertion that personal beliefs should remain just that, and not seen to be mandated as obligatory in the working environment as was in this instance. If anything, it is a compromise between the atheist position and the faithful, with an emphasis on tolerance.


This is increasingly strange as a recent poll conducted shows a majority of Christians have secular attitudes already, without possibly knowing that outlook can be categorised as secular.

To refer to secularism as militant is hugely irresponsible, and is as nonsensical as “Militant Fairness" or "Militant Neutrality".

Framing secularism in this light does nothing to further the desire and discussion to reach a fair compromise between belief and non-belief, but serves to create an “us” and “them” mentality, misrepresenting the core values and reducing the chances of finding a fair and tolerant common ground.

It is with no small sense of irony that some of the faithful among us have failed to realise that the secular principles which they resist so vehemently are also the only way protect their beliefs in a modern progressive society. Secularism aims to remain fair and neutral to all beliefs, or lack thereof.

To reject the reasonable values of secularism is to assert and impose the indisputable importance of your own beliefs above all others and to claim special privilege for them. This is something that should be resisted and fought at every opportunity in the name of fairness and free speech.

Friday, 10 June 2011

"Psychic" Ability: A Heinous and immoral lie.

If you have glanced at a newspaper this week you may have come across the story involving a police hunt for a mass grave after a tip off from a "Psychic". You can read full details HERE.

It's important to point out at this stage that no bodies have been recovered, surprisingly. But what if they had recovered bodies?
Would this be a conclusive way of validating this individuals mystical powers beyond doubt? Surely this would be a monumental, historic chapter in the story of both Supernatural powers, and law enforcement.
Could we then see Psychics brought in on an official capacity, deputised to assist the police?

The answer, simply is no. For two reasons:

  1. All Psychics are Liars, with one exception (see no. 2).
  2. The Psychics who are not lying, are delusional or mentally ill, or both.
I will attempt to expand on these points with as much bias, mockery and ill-will as is warranted. In this case, a lot.

One of many things that concerns me about this story, is that (some) respectable news organisations are casually referring to this individual as a Psychic with no sense of irony, as if it is accepted as a genuine, proven ability. Not "alleged Psychic" or "lying attention seeking moron" or "suspect".

Many articles on this story, at best, only question whether this person is a "genuine" psychic and not a fraud. Of course, Frauds would give a bad name to genuine Psychics who can suspend the laws of nature, to gleam such gems as "aunt betty wants you to be happy" or "You're a very passionate person".

It is stunning to consider the amount of people, especially adults, who are unable or unwilling to question such extraordinary claims as Psychic ability, and furthermore are willing to hand over money to be lied to. Is this sheer ignorance? Or is lack of information to blame?
There is an OVERWHELMING amount of Evidence, both empirically and logically to debunk psychic abilities as a myth.

Only one conclusion can be drawn from this evidence, or lack thereof:

In the interest of being fair, I will also list the evidence in favour of psychic ability.
  • NIL
See this fascinating discussion between Derren Brown and Richard Dawkins, outlining the techniques employed in order to give the impression of a "Psychic Reading"

The award for most morally bereft "Psychic" goes to that of the Psychic Medium. Looking someone in the eye and telling them you know details concerning their dead child/lover/sibling, and furthermore claiming to be able to convey their wishes, feelings and thoughts is nothing short of disgusting.

See an example on youtube of this ridiculous practice HERE.

This is where some people like to argue it may be justified in regards to helping someone come to terms with a loss, enabling them so find closure and move on. After all, if it helps them get over a loss, or gives them some sort of closure, what's the problem?

This of course, may have some merit, but it does not make the "Psychics" declaration of supernatural powers any more truthful. The truth is all we should be interested in here. Lies can comfort, that much is beyond doubt, but it does not validate the claims of Psychic ability, nor make their claims Truth. It is still ethically wrong.

For example, consider a bereaved mother, helped to come to terms with the loss of an infant after communicating with her dead child via a psychic medium. The mother will no doubt be informed her child is not only in a good place, but happy (strangely they're rarely told they're burning in hell for all eternity, that responsibility is left to the Catholic Church).

What would be the psychological impact of then, at a later date, the psychic being exposed as a fraud? How would the mother come to terms with, in essence the loss of her child for a second time? There has to be more honest and ethical ways of dealing and helping with grief.

In conclusion, if someone decides to engage in conversation with you, regarding "truths" they have obtained from a Psychic reading, kindly explain to them they would be just as well served spending their money on magic beans, or Unicorn adoption.

And if you are unfortunate enough to be in a discussion with a self proclaimed Psychic, resist the urge to administer a slap and calmly inform them they are a terrible human being. If this provokes a shocked/hurt reaction, further point out they should have known it was coming.
Then slap them.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Answering the What is your religion? question in the forthcoming Census

Information courtesy of the March Brights Bulletin

The Census gives the official figures about various aspects of the population. Data is used by government both locally and centrally as evidence to back up their policy decisions. If the number of people who appear to be religious is inflated, policies regarding service delivery, equality work and many other areas will be affected. Consequently the results of the 2001 Census were used to justify:
  • Increasing in the number of faith schools
  • The continuation of collective worship in schools
  • The public funding and support of ‘interfaith’ and faith-based organisations above the support offered to faith-free (bright) organisations
  • Suggestions of an increase in the role of faith in Britain under the coalition government
  • The appointments of government advisors on faith
  • Contracting out public services to religious organisations
  • Keeping the 26 Bishops in the House of Lords as of right
  • Continued high number of hours dedicated to religious broadcasting
  • Specific consultation at government and local level with ‘faith communities’ over and above other groups within society
  • Continued privileges for religious groups in equality law and other legislation
These measures serve only to divide rather than to unite our society and so, for the sake of your children and theirs, please don't let this happen again - tick the [] No religion option.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Christopher Hitchens To Debate Tony Blair On Faith

Author/Journalist and self styled anti-theist Christopher Hitchens is due to debate former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair on the subject of faith on Nov 26th in Toronto. The debate will center around the statement:
“Be it resolved, religion is a force of good for the world.”
The debate will be open to the public and be streamed online.

Tony Blair has been a controversial figure during his time in politics, with criticism mainly focused on his decision to move forward with the invasion of Iraq, a decision which Christopher Hitchens fully supports. However, since leaving number 10 downing street behind, Tony Blair has embarked on a new career, chairing and establishing The Tony Blair Faith Foundation. It is Tony Blair's conversion to Catholicism, and subsequent campaigning of Religious Ideology in many parts of the world which signal a conflict of interest between the two men.

Christopher Hitchens is a long and established critic of Faith/Religion, penning the best selling book "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything". The decision by Hitchens, often referred to as "Hitch" to debate the ideas outlined in his book publicly with prominent religious voices, has earned him great acclaim, and a reputation for his straight talking, no punches pulled style of rhetoric.

Christopher Hitchens has made headlines recently for other reasons, due to his diagnosis of esophageal cancer. The news came when he became ill during the promotion of his memoirs, Hitch-22. This has lead to questions regarding whether Christipher Hitchens may change his stance on God, in light of this recent news, and succumb to a "Deathbed Conversion".

Details of this debate can be found at www.munkdebates.com where it will be streamed live. What are your views on the careers of both these well established public speakers? What, if any impact did faith have in the decisions made by Tony Blair whilst in government? Do you think religious faith is a force for good in the world? Please use the comments section below to have your say.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Government Will Not Oppose Extremist Views In UK Classrooms

According to the National Secular Society, there will be no new legislation prohibiting the teaching of extremist religious views in the Government's new free schools and academies. This information came via Lord Hill of Oareford, Parliamentary under-Secretary of State for Schools in a letter to the National Secular Society.

The information came in response to a request from The NSS to outline what steps would be taken to prevent the teaching of extreme Religious "values" and ideologies in the new free schools model of education.

It appeared Lord Hill dodged answering the question with any sort of conviction or acknowledgement of the dangers of radical religious teaching to children, appealing to the religious masses with this response:
“On the issue of proselytising, which you also raise, we do not think it appropriate to legislate in this area. Parents will choose a school based on its ethos. That ethos may be Christian, Muslim or Jewish or it may have no faith ethos at all. Parents should be free to choose schools on the basis of their ethos. I would like to believe that parents consider these issues carefully and send their children to a school fully aware of its faith or other ethos.”

This is the typical response given my members of parliament when such questions are posed. The serious underlined issues are ignored, with attention switched to that of parental rights, and not those of the children.

President of The National Secular Society responded with:
“We are alarmed at the prospect of extremist religious groups taking control of these schools and using them to brainwash children. What is to stop a Muslim group taking over a school and turning it into a madrassa at public expense, if that is what it is claimed the parents want? What is to stop a Scientology front group taking over a school and then introducing its teachings with taxpayers’ money? The fact that some parents want to indoctrinate their children in a particular religion does not mean that they should be able to access public money to do so.”

Does the issue of parental rights to indoctrinate a child in a faith of their choosing outweigh the secularist view of what could be deemed child abuse?

An in depth look at the rise and impact of faith schools was outlined in the Richard Dawkins fronted documentary, Faith School Menace? Click here to watch online for free.

What are your views on faith schools? A parental right, or children's rights disregarded? What are the dangers of teaching outdated beliefs about the cosmos, life on earth and morality, whilst denying modern established and observed facts? Can a child really be of a religious persuasion, without indoctrination? It can be argued a child does not have the sufficient equipment necessary to make decisions about questions of this scale. Is forcing these views on an impressionable, mentally vulnerable generation a devious and unethical way of preserving bronze aged beliefs? Please use the comments section to have your say.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Vote To Ban Advertising For "Psychics" In Russia

On Tuesday, the Russian government approved a vote to ban so called Psychics and Faith-healers from advertising their extraordinary services, reported here. This vote was passed on the grounds that these practices cause "moral and physical harm to the people and economic harm to the country". This ban was also extended to the realm of Faith Healing. In Russia the amount of "Faith Healers" significantly out-numbers qualified medical doctor's. There is a staggering 800,000 faith healers willing to offer their services (including the curing of AIDS and Cancer), with only 620,000 medical doctors.

See Psychic - Skepdic
See Faith Healing - Skepdic

Russia has a long history of prevalent psychic talk shows and game shows, with some even running for government.
Great Britain is no stranger to the popularity of the celebrity Psychic. Notably, Derek Acorah of Most Haunted fame. Derek, a self proclaimed medium surveys a number of "haunted" locations, using his uncanny ability to become physically possessed by the the dis-embodied spirits of the dead individuals doing the haunting. This so-called ability to suspend the laws of nature and become possessed by a dead person has courted controversy. Derek once channeled the spirit of "Kreed Kafer", unaware the name fed to him at a so-called haunted location, was in fact an anagram of "Derek Faker". Unaware of this amusing, but sharp skeptical trap, Derek continued to present himself as possessed by this non (non) entity.
The issue of Psychics, Mediums and Faith Healers raise significant moral questions. Where do you fall on this argument? Please take time to vote on the right of this page, and use the comments to have your say. Do you believe in Psychics? Have you yourself had a positive psychic experience? What are the ethical implications of influencing people's decisions based on psychic reading? Is it morally acceptable to claim to be communicating with dead relatives? Join the discussion.