Newsline 30 September 2011

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Hemantha Wijesooriya

Sep 30, 2011, 10:12:15 AM9/30/11

National Secular Society


There is far too much religion in our education system. Support the NSS's campaigns to curb the growth of "faith schools". Join us today.

30 September 2011
In this week's Newsline
Quotes of the week
Essays of the week
Unprecedented decline in Christianity
Attendance figures plunge again
Catholic Education Boss interferes in local decision on Richmond School
Rochdale Council consulting on scrapping "faith school" transport subsidies
Jehovah's Witnesses under investigation for "religious hatred" – against their own members
Judge rules that post-mortem on suspicious death cannot be stopped for religious reasons
NSS seeks new Treasurer
Christians in Chichester want free parking, while everyone else pays
Will the Citizens Advice Bureau by compromised by its partnership with the churches?
Iranian Christian faces death penalty for apostasy
New secularist group proposed in East Sussex
International News shorts
Introduction to Secularism booklet now available
NSS speaks out
Letters to Newsline

Quotes of the week
"Nothing will change under Benedict XVI -- this year's trip was a nice show, nothing more."
(Catholic theology professor Werner Tzscheetzsch, a longtime Church critic – Der Spiegel)

"In Iran, and Saudi Arabia, and Yemen and Pakistan and a handful of other Islamic states, the brand of God you choose to believe in can be a matter of life and death."
(Tim Chivers, Daily Telegraph)

Ticking a box does not make you a Christian and given the state of our society it is doubtful all of those who self-identify as Christians actually are."
(Dave Landrum, Evangelical Alliance)

"The days of most people automatically ticking the box marked "C of E" may well be numbered. And if the Christian majority continues to shrink, the historic privileges of the established church, and of Christianity generally, will become ever harder to defend.
(Nelson Jones, New Statesman)

Essays of the Week  
Why we must take religion out of schools once and for all
(Nuala McKeever, Belfast Telegraph)

The pope doesn't have the answers and secularism is not the enemy
(Paul Arnold, Costa Blanca News – posted by The Freethinker)

Islamists are rising throughout the world and must be opposed
(Sultan Shahin, New Age Islam, at the United Nations Human Rights Council)

Unprecedented decline in Christianity
The latest Office of National Statistics Integrated Household Survey figures on religion have caused quite a stir. The Daily Mail could not manage objectivity, but the Daily Telegraph reported the extraordinarily rapid decline in Christianity that the survey illustrated.

Respondents throughout Britain were asked "What is your religion, even if you are not currently practising?" In 2011, 68.5% answered "Christianity", compared with 71.3% in 2010. This roughly 3% decline over just one year is repeated over England, Scotland and Wales, building confidence in the figures. As might be expected, there was a reciprocal rise over the same period in the "no religion" category: 23.2% in 2011 compared with 20.5% in 2010.
As well as being surprised by this pace of change, many will also be astonished by the ranking of the nation's scores on no religion, 2011 figures shown in descending order: Wales 30.6%, Scotland 27.2% and England 22.4%. And this similarly appears to be no fluke; the ranking was the same in the previous year.
There was also interesting material from the age profiles. The 25–34 age range was the one with the lowest proportion of Christians (55.4%) and the highest percentage of no religion (32.5%). The 65+ group predictably provided the highest percentage of Christianity (87.6%) and the lowest figure for the no religion (8.4%). Also notable was that 7.9% of the under 16s were Muslims. (All figures for Britain.)
The Telegraph reported our reaction: "Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said the ONS findings reflected 'the long term decline in church attendance'. This is projected to continue 'as the young practically desert the churches and congregations rapidly age', he said. Mr Porteous Wood urged Ministers to reflect on the decline of religious belief as they sanctioned an 'ever-increasing' number of state funded faith schools, a move which was 'marginalising the non religious'."
Yet even these results pale in comparison with an Ipsos-Mori poll of 1,129 adults in Canada revealed that only 53% of respondents expressed a belief in God, as opposed to 90% six years ago. Thirty-three percent who identified themselves as Catholic and 28% of those who go to church weekly also said they were atheists. Forty-seven percent said religion did more harm than good. 
Attendance figures plunge again
The latest Church of England statistics for 2009 reveal that attendance is continuing to plummet. In 2009, average attendance in the Church of England went down from 1,144,600 to 1,130,600 a change of one per cent. Baptisms (both infants' and believers' baptisms) were also down as were confirmations, marriages and Easter and Christmas services.

Catholic Education Boss interferes in local decision on Richmond School
Supporters of inclusive education in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames have been "incensed" to discover that Dr Oona Stannard, Chief Executive of the Catholic Education Service, has sent a questionable letter to all members of Richmond Borough Council. In it she gives "a series of misleading arguments and inaccurate statements" to convince councillors to allocate the only available site for a new secondary school in the borough to a Catholic Voluntary Aided school, rather than an community school. Only in a community school would pupils and staff of all religions and none be treated equally. In contrast, the Catholic school will be controlled by Church representatives rather than the local authority and will discriminate in favour of pupils from Catholic families.

In the letter, Dr Stannard argues in support of the Council-backed proposal for a new Catholic school, claiming superior quality for schools that give priority to children of Catholics.
Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign (RISC) has been campaigning for any new school in the borough to have admissions open to all children, regardless of religion or belief, and has built up almost 2,000 supporters in the area signing a petition on the local authority's website. RISC has now also written to councillors, in order to rebut Dr Stannard's arguments.
Jeremy Rodell, coordinator of RISC said, "Some of the arguments Dr Stannard puts forward in this attempt to interfere in the local debate would be laughable if the issue were not so serious. How can she possibly justify the claim that a new Catholic Voluntary Aided school would provide the borough with 'greater choice', or make a 'contribution to community cohesion' when it would effectively be closed to the 90% of local children who are not Catholics?
"Or that a school specifically intended to provide places in Twickenham for Catholic children who would otherwise go to one of the eight existing Catholic secondary schools across the borough border but within five miles of the centre of the borough would 'release places in some of the Community secondary schools'. That's simply illogical. She doesn't seem to have any understanding of the real challenges facing education locally.
"As we keep saying, most of the opposition to the Council's plans for a new Catholic Voluntary Aided School is not because the school would be Catholic, but because its admissions policy would always give priority to Catholics over everyone else – even if they live outside the borough. What the great majority of people want is sufficient places at high quality inclusive schools, whoever is running them."
See also: I'm horrified our community school is being turned over to the Church of England?
Rochdale Council consulting on scrapping "faith school" transport subsidies
Labour-controlled Rochdale Borough Council in Lancashire is under pressure from religious groups and Conservative councillors as it prepares to launch a consultation on whether to scrap subsidies for transport to religious schools.

The Council's latest proposals would see the subsidies ended in September 2013.
At present, 1,448 pupils receive discretionary bus passes from the council, 1,141 of these pupils attend so-called "faith schools". By implementing the cuts, the Council could save £250,000 a year.
Councillor Dale Mulgrew said that there should be exemptions for children travelling to religious schools. He said: "As this proposal in the main unfairly affects one particular catchment group, it has to be amended to reflect a fairer deal for the faith families of Rochdale and I call on the Labour Cabinet to look at this again."
"In other Greater Manchester authorities, there is an exemption for faith pupils, so why cannot Rochdale follow suit? Otherwise, a two tier system is created. Families just above the low income eligibility will be deprived access to their preferred faith school because of the extra cost they will have to bear. This potentially could create an education apartheid by the Labour cabinet which would be outrageous in 2011."
Councillor Teresa Fitzsimons echoed Councillor Mulgrew's concerned. She said: "I am very concerned. As a Conservative opposition spokesperson and a past Cabinet Member for Children, Schools and Families I think this is a very discriminatory proposal."
Cheryl Eastwood, Executive Director at Rochdale Borough Council, said: "We are writing to parents this week to explain the proposals, and organising drop-in sessions where people can feedback. Anyone wishing to comment can also have their say or call in to their library, council customer service centre or township office."
Children could still qualify under statutory arrangements if they are from a low income family and the school is among the nearest to them, or if it is the child's nearest school, but beyond the statutory walking distance.
Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: "Conservative councillors argue that removing subsidies for a particular, privileged section of the community is discriminatory. On the contrary, it is clearly discriminatory to deny transport subsidies to a large section of the community, while giving them to a minority." 
Jehovah's Witnesses under investigation for "religious hatred" – against their own members
Police in Hampshire are considering whether to bring charges under religious hatred legislation against the Jehovah's Witnesses. The investigation follows complaints from former Witnesses in Portsmouth who have been branded as "mentally diseased" for leaving the cult in an article in the July issue of the JW's magazine The Watchtower.

The article, distributed by Jehovah's Witnesses across the globe, said: "Suppose that a doctor told you to avoid contact with someone who is infected with a contagious, deadly disease. You would know what the doctor means, and you would strictly heed his warning. Well, apostates are 'mentally diseased', and they seek to infect others with their disloyal teachings."
The ex-Witnesses are also considering a complaint to the Charity Commission. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Britain, which prints church doctrine in Britain, is a registered charity.
The Church is known for handing down harsh punishments to followers who criticise doctrines or raise questions about the faith. Former Witness Angus Robertson told the Independent: "The way scripture is being used to bully people must be challenged. If a religion was preaching that blacks or gays were mentally diseased, there would understandable outrage."
Judge rules that post-mortem on suspicious death cannot be stopped for religious reasons
An Egyptian woman has raised religious objections in the High Court to an invasive post-mortem being carried out on her brother's body after it was suggested he was murdered. 

The body of anaesthetist Karim Aly was found in August in a locked room at Bridgend's Princess of Wales Hospital, where he worked. A syringe and blood-smeared latex glove were uncovered nearby. South Wales Police said the cause of death is unexplained and it is investigating.
But the Egyptian press, and some members of the Egyptian Government, insisted that Dr Aly had been murdered. Dr Aly's sister, Sarah, had also supported claims her brother was murdered but has now withdrawn that accusation, saying she was grief-stricken "in the heat of the moment", the court was told.
But when coroner Peter Maddox ordered a post-mortem, there was a furious response from Dr Aly's family in Egypt, who said "dissecting" his body would violate his and their beliefs and "strike at the heart of their religious identity". Dr Sarah Aly challenged the decision at the High Court.
Dr Sarah Aly argued "cutting" the body would cause her family enormous distress and less intrusive toxicology tests, along with ground-breaking MRI scanning of his corpse, would be enough to dispel any suspicion that he was strangled. She wants his body repatriated intact to Egypt.
But the judge has ruled that the only way to find out the truth was to conduct an invasive post-mortem.
Sarah Aly's barrister, Chris Williams, said an autopsy would breach the "fundamental tenets" of the family's faith and amount to a violation of human rights to respect for family life and freedom of religion.
However, Can Yeginsu, for the Coroner, said suspicions raised by the Egyptian media and by Dr Sarah Aly meant a thorough investigation had to be carried out.
Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: "Where there are no suspicious circumstances, we understand that Jewish and Muslim families are permitted to have relative's bodies scanned as an alternative to a traditional post-mortem examination. It is not clear who foots the bill for this or whether the use of the MRI scanner for this purpose results in reduced availability for the benefit of the living."
NSS seeks new Treasurer
The NSS's current Treasurer will be standing down at this year's AGM in November, so we are looking for someone to put up for election to the council of management to take his place.

The Society is in a healthy financial position and NSS office staff deal with day to day accounting – record keeping and bank reconciliations. We use a Sage accounting package and tax matters are dealt with by our professional accountants. If you would be interested in finding out more, please email the President at
Christians in Chichester want free parking, while everyone else pays
Christians in Chichester are up in arms that they are expected to pay the same parking charges as everyone else.

This week, the District Council's cabinet decided to introduce a Sunday tariff of £1 for four hours and £2 for over four hours in long-stay car parks and the standard current tariff in short-stay car parks.
The Rev John Collins of Exeter Road, Chichester, said the council should only charge after morning worship has ended. He said: "This adds a burden on those wishing to worship in the city's churches, especially the elderly on limited means".
Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: "There are people who have no option but to do their shopping on Sunday because of work and family commitments. Some of them are poor, too, but they will still have to pay the parking charges. None of us relish parking fees, but giving exemptions specifically to church-goers would be illegal and discriminatory. We have written to Chichester Council to remind them of this, just in case they are considering buckling under pressure from the churches."
Mr Sanderson said that the NSS was still waiting to hear from Woking Council, which already grants concessions for worshippers which have cost taxpayers more than £50,000 over the past 18 months. Local newspapers report that Woking Council will consider the NSS's legal opinion at its next meeting."
Will the Citizens Advice Bureau by compromised by its partnership with the churches?
Editorial by Terry Sanderson
The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is increasingly "partnering" with churches up and down the country as it seeks to cut costs and to reach more isolated communities. A report published by the CAB called Faithful Advice says that the organisation is already operating in church premises around the country and wants to encourage more of this kind of participation.

Addressing the issue of people from other religions being reluctant to take advantage of the CAB's assistance when it was provided in a church, the CAB said: 
"Many bureaux may be nervous about setting up advice sessions in a place of worship, particularly fearing that people of other faiths would not engage. In reality this has not been the case for existing bureaux working in churches and can easily be addressed though the provision of home visits to clients who would be unwilling to use a service based in a religious building.... Similarly, there have been no issues from the churches' perspective with bureau's policy statements or their requirement to offer a service that is open to everybody in the community. Indeed, this is one of the attractions of the project to local churches – that it is open to all without any fear of hidden agendas."
There seems to be some contradiction here. The CAB casually dismisses the idea that people from other religions will be reluctant to access their sessions in churches, but then says that it can offer such people home visits. This indicates that there may be people out there who would access these services on neutral ground, but not in a church.
Such people simply won't even bother contacting the CAB, imagining it to be a Christian organisation. Consequently, there will be no way of measuring how many people this new arrangement is putting off.
It is clear what the advantages are for the CAB — somewhere to hold their advice sessions that costs either nothing or a nominal rent — and the churches claim that by providing this service they are fulfilling their duty to the disadvantaged in society.
Earlier this year, the CAB was particularly hard-hit by cuts in financial support from both Government and local authorities. As much as 45% has been slashed from its budgets. This new "partnering" arrangement will permit them to continue providing the service more economically.
It seems everyone's a winner. But we should not forget the case of Christians Against Poverty, another organisation that provides advice services on church premises. They were politely forced to resign from the umbrella organisation for advice groups, Advice UK, after it was found they were offering prayers with the advice.
This whole development is an indication of the direction the Big Society is driving us. The NSS has been predicting for some time that more and more services are being driven into "partnership" with the churches. We are all going to be forced, sooner or later, to visit our local place of worship for one purpose or another – whether for the Post Office, child care, elderly luncheon clubs (but not yoga sessions, they're banned in many church halls) – and there is even a Tesco branch in one church.
Local communities, which have been almost completely indifferent to the church's existence until now, will suddenly be forced through its doors. And when you go the CAB to check out what benefits you're entitled to, you'll be surrounded by Jesus-loves-you propaganda and lovely people proffering you cups of tea (and possibly tracts) as you wait for your appointment.
What's not for the church to love about such an arrangement?
The CAB has always been a fiercely secular organisation, putting no restrictions on who it will serve and asking nothing in return for its services. But we already see signs of compromise. We hope that pressure from church "partners" will not cause the CAB to abandon any principles of neutrality. 
Iranian Christian faces death penalty for apostasy
Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani is facing the death penalty for apostasy – abandoning Islam. Even though the court found that he was not a practising Muslim adult before becoming a Christian 13 years ago, he remains guilty of apostasy because he has Muslim ancestry.

The death penalty means he "will be executed by being hung until somehow his soul is taken from him" according to the Supreme Court judgment.
Nadarkhani was arrested in 2009 while attempting to register his church. His arrest is believed to have been prompted by his questioning of the Muslim monopoly on the religious instruction of Iranian children. He refused four times to recant his Christian faith in court.
The death sentence for apostasy is not codified in the Iranian penal code. However, the judges used a loophole in Iran's constitution and based their verdict on fatwas by Ayatollah Khomeini.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has spoken out strongly against the sentence and human rights groups around the world have protested to the Iranian government.
The human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide told Sky News that the 34-year-old's sentence may have been annulled, but fears remain he will be put to death. A spokesman said: "We've had some reports that there has been a verbal announcement from the court in Iran that the sentence is annulled but we urge caution. It's been known that verbal announcements have been directly contradicted by later written statements. We are still calling for international pressure to be kept up."
Sky sources say Nadarkhani was given a verbal assurance last year that he would not be sentenced to death but then was.
You can join Christian Solidarity Worldwide's email campaign.
See also: Iran: live free – and die
Poland demands a stay of execution

New secularist group proposed in East Sussex
Andrew Fleming is proposing to set up a new secularist group in East Sussex and would like to hear from anyone in the area who wants to be part of it. Email him at

International News shorts
Russia could make religious holidays official non-working days in regions that observe them, according to a draft bill introduced to the State Duma on Monday. The Supreme Court last month struck down a law that would have made the Muslim holidays of Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha official days off. It cited the Labour Code, which gives local authorities no power to introduce official holidays. The new legislative amendments, drafted by United Russia's Duma deputies from the republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, would fix the omission, giving such power to regional authorities.

Pavel Krasheninnikov, the bill's co-author, said: "Russia is a secular state, and therefore it would be completely incorrect to infringe upon a citizen's right to observe religious holidays."
Greece: The Greek Orthodox Church is generating controversy for not paying its share of taxes as the country's economy collapses. Previously thought unchallengeable, the Church has at last been forced to reveal the extent of its wealth, and the meagreness of its fiscal contribution to state coffers. Read more.
Australia: The Catholic Church has defended itself against fresh claims it tried to cover up a police investigation into the abuse of intellectually disabled children at one of its Adelaide schools. The allegations were aired this week on the ABC's Four Corners programme. It used 20 year old documents to reveal the Church received legal advice telling it to avoid mentioning in writing charges of sexual abuse against a volunteer bus driver at St Ann's Special School in Adelaide.
This kept the allegations from the public, and no attempt was made by the school or the Catholic Education Office to pursue the police inquiry into the bus driver, Brian Perkins, which stalled.
USA: An Illinois judge has rejected an appeal by Catholic Charities for reconsideration of his decision allowing the state government to end contracts with the Catholic agencies for adoption and foster-care services. The Catholic Charities agencies are losing their contracts because they cannot comply with new state regulations requiring equal treatment for same-sex couples. Catholic Charities leaders said that they would appeal against the ruling. 
New Zealand: In a valedictory speech, retiring Green Party MP Keith Locke called for an end to parliamentary prayers. "The Christian prayer which begins parliament's business each day is out of date," he says. "We need a more inclusive secular statement, given that half of the members in this house are not religious, or of another faith." Mr Locke has been an MP for 12 years and retired on Wednesday.
Turkey: Cartoonist Ömer Bahadir Baruter has been jailed in Turkey for a cartoon with the words "There is no God and Religion is a lie" on the pillar of a mosque. The formal criminal charge, prepared by Office of the Chief Prosecutor in Istanbul, was for the crime of "Openly humiliating the religious values that are adopted by a section of society." The charge followed a complaint filed by the Trade Union of Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation Employees. Turkey is — nominally — a secular state.
Switzerland: On Wednesday, Switzerland's lower house of parliament voted 101–77 to outlaw veils such as the burqa worn by some Muslim women when using public transportation or dealing with authorities. The measure goes next to the upper house and is being pushed by the nationalist Swiss People's Party ahead of federal elections in October. 
Introduction to Secularism booklet now available
NSS Vice-President Gerard Phillips has written a short introduction to secularism which is now available by post from the office. Interest in secularism is growing as more people become concerned at the impact of religious intervention in their daily lives.

This new publication has been written as a primer to secularism for those would like to learn more. It asks: What is secularism? Is secularism relevant to the UK? Does secularism work in practice? What are the challenges for secularists?
NSS President Terry Sanderson commented: "This short introduction sets out the basic arguments for secularism. It's a highly complex area, of course, open to much interpretation. This intro seeks only to prompt debate, rather than provide any ultimate answer."
Introduction to Secularism costs £2.50 plus £1 p&p. You can buy it online or by post from NSS, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL.
Sheffield: "Should Assisted Suicide be Legal?" – a talk by Steve Barksby, Dignity in Dying, presented by Sheffield Humanist Society. Wednesday 5th October, 8pm at the University Arms, 197 Brook Hill, Sheffield, S3 7HG.

Stoke-on-Trent: Weird: Science! – a talk by Professor Chris French. Wednesday 5th October 2011, 7.00pm for 7.30pm, The Holy Inadequate, 67 Etruria Old Road, Etruria, Stoke-On-Trent,
ST1 5PE. Full details. Please RSVP

Oxford: Marlene Dietrich – an affectionate tribute. Terry Sanderson reprises his ever-popular tribute to the "world's most glamorous atheist" for Oxford Humanists at the West Oxford Community Centre, Botley Road, Oxford OX2 0BT on Friday 21 October at 7.45pm. Tickets £10 (£5 students).
Rome: 2nd Annual International Celebration Day for Survivors of Catholic Clergy Abuse, Saturday, October 29, 2011. Organised by Survivors Voice.
NSS speaks out
The new statistics from the ONS (see report above) resulted in the NSS being quoted in the Daily Telegraph. Terry Sanderson spoke about it on Premier Christian Radio and BBC Radio WM. Terry was also quoted in the Times supporting Rowan Atkinson's opinion that vicars are not funny but are, in the main, arrogant and conceited.

In Scotland, Norman Bonney wrote in the Edinburgh Evening News about more faith schools in Scotland dangerously increasing religious divisions.
Keith Porteous Wood was quoted by the Press Association over the evangelical Dr Richard Scott facing General Medical Council disciplinary proceedings over allegedly trying to persuade a vulnerable patient that Christianity was a better religion. Our comments were also picked up by the professional magazine Pulse.
Letters to Newsline
Please send your letters for publication to We want to publish as many letters as possible, so please keep them brief: no more than 250 words. We reserve the right to edit. Opinions expressed in letters are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the NSS.

From John Radford:
First, John Edmondson on the Ladele case: The question, surely, is not whether an anti-gay person is best suited to effect a civil union of two gay people, but whether a registrar should be obliged to do their job when required to do so, regardless of their personal preferences. It is for the couple themselves to decide who is most suitable.
Second, Derek Franklin: Sorry to be pedantic, but 'Dark Ages' is a term customarily used to refer to the two centuries in Britain following the Roman withdrawal about 400 CE, because of the lack of written records. The Middle Ages are taken to end around 1500. Edward Wightman's execution took place in the modern period of British history.

From John Wm Schifeler:
In the many States within the United States of America, if one appears within a court of law to offer testimony, one is required to swear to the following: "I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God." Does this hold truth in Great Britain too? We are expected to place our right hand on the Bible, a book of religious folklore and superstition, while raising our left hand and swearing unto an imaginary and so-called "divine being" that we shall tell the truth. In other words, we have to lie in order not to lie. It is as though we are not in a court of law, but rather in a temple of religion, where only "true believers" (cf. Eric Hoffer's The True Believer) are allowed to tell the truth lest the non-believers submit accordingly.

From Richard Eastburn-Hewitt:
Terry Sanderson asks, inter alia, "what is it about religion that makes politicians so fawning?" Politics — the art and science of government (OED) — and religion have, since pre-historic times, worked together to enslave and control the subjects of just about every nation under the sun.

Complying with one's national religion has, for the 'health' of a nation, been considered an absolute necessity: belief, as such, was comparatively unimportant. As long as disbelief was not expressed it was irrelevant. The workings of a democracy, even an imperfect one, do not permit the drastic penalties of yesteryear; but we have not yet reached the stage where politicians feel they dare to relegate religion to the scrap heap as it deserves. Keep working at it!
From Michael Igoe:
Our friends, the Christian Institute, in their homosexuality-obsessed postings, regularly place the term gay rights in quotation marks, suggesting doubt of the very concept, which the law now doesn't share. Ungenerously, it did this recently in a pamphlet quoting Peter Tatchell, who had just spoken out on their behalf, supporting their right to free speech. So are there straight rights, but not gay: theirs to free speech, for example? Or do rights depend on orientation? Speak up, C.I. Peter's made sure you can.

From Angela Brown:
Re John Gray's piece on the BBC website: belief in a god is not in itself a problem; the fact that many scientists are not atheists shows that science and religion need not be incompatible. Even atheists must agree that we do not fully understand how the universe came to exist. Nor need we worry that some people enjoy or get benefit from such practices as singing rousing hymns or silent meditation. The problem for many secularists is first, that religion seems often to result in questionable or totally unacceptable behaviour; and, second, religions do not typically enable and encourage their members to think for themselves. Gray says: 'What we believe doesn't in the end matter very much. What matters is how we live'. I am inclined to agree – but would argue that that religion is all too often a poor teacher of how to live.

From Colin Miller:
My advice to all those trying to change the scouts into a more secularist organisation, don't bother, get involved with the Woodcraft Folk instead, absolutely religion free, no gender barriers or sexuality barriers, progressive and cooperative. No-brainer really: "Span the World with Friendship" is the WF motto.

From Raymond Berger:
In response to Barbara Smoker, I am a member of Republic and just because there have been some awful leaders (yes Hitler and Stalin inter alia) there have also been some very good leaders who weren't popped from the womb into that privileged position, but were chosen.

As both a secularist and a republican, I yearn to see people show more belief in the world as it is. This includes both the abandonment of religious myths and the whole hierarchical nonsense, the kowtowing, the adulation, the media hype, which has come to surround this group of mediocre and selfish people and make them into demigods of a sort.
As a child in 1950 I was marched out of school one day to join ranks of other schoolkids who were marshalled and lined up to wave and cheer as the then Princess Elizabeth went past in her car. After a long wait an entourage of vehicles drove past a long way away from me. I could not see the occupants of the vehicles. As instructed I dutifully doffed my school cap but could not bring myself to cheer. I knew then as a lad what I know now as a pensioner that this was and is even today an exercise in maintaining bogus adulation for an outdated institution, very much like religion.
From Jack Becconsall:
The BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme on 25th September included an interview with the present Chairman of Citizens Advice Bureau, who happens to be John Gladwin, the former Bishop of Chelmsford. C.A.B. has entered into a partnership with the Church of England, whereby church premises will serve as contact points where people can get advice from C.A.B. volunteers. The purpose of C.A.B., according to its website, is to provide "free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to everyone on their rights and responsibilities. It values diversity, promotes equality and challenges discrimination." Excellent.

Replying to the not very searching questioning by Edward Stourton, the Chairman emphasized that, notwithstanding its use of churches, C.A.B. would continue to treat all citizens equally, whatever their religious or other background. I suppose that the volunteers who provide this admirable and extremely valuable service will try hard to do that, but unfortunately Mr Gladwin, apparently unable to detach himself from his previous occupation, spoiled it a bit by bringing in the importance of the Christian Gospel.
From Elaine Kilshaw:
I was so deeply involved in the Troy Davis case for at least a year and was so saddened that his execution was carried out. I just created a petition entitled American Congress: Stop the Death Penalty in America. I hope you'll sign it.
(Ed writes: Some comment on this case.)

From Gary Marlow:
May I offer my thanks to the NSS for advertising the 10th annual celebration to remember NSS founder and secular leader Charles Bradlaugh. The commemoration went well and was covered by the local press. The Leicester Secular Society sent two representatives, one of whom spoke. My own speech on Bradlaugh has been uploaded to YouTube, under the title Charles Bradlaugh 2011.

My apologises for the poor lighting at the beginning. Bradlaugh left a legacy that secularists can be rightly proud. He was a friend and champion of the people and fought tooth and nail to soften Christian influence and dogma. Some of Bradlaugh's writings may be found at the Internet Infidels. With next years celebrations already in mind, are members aware if Bradlaugh has any relatives living today. It would be interesting to have their input.
On a final note, some readers of Newsline might find this song, exposing the hypocrisy of the faithful, of interest.
Ed writes: The excellent new biography of Charles Bradlaugh, Dare to Stand Alone, is available from the NSS bookshop
From Shaun Joynson:
Like Craig Lucas (Newsline, last week), I found John Gray's article on the BBC website 'Can Religion Tell Us More Than Science' to be utterly execrable.

In fact, as a philosophy graduate, I would say that it's the very worst piece of writing I have ever seen from a (so called) professional philosopher – and that was precisely what I told Mr Gray when I wrote to him via his publishers, Penguin.
As their offices in London's Strand are close to me, I even delivered the letter by hand. I accompanied it with annotations that completely demolished his rather pathetic excuses for arguments. I told him that I perhaps should have written an article in reply, but added that the article was so terrible that it did not warrant such an effort, so he would have to make do with just my notes.
I think that if Mr Lucas and others like him agree that the piece was an absolute stinker, they should do what I did. And if enough people did that, Mr Gray might actually return to doing what philosophers are supposed to do before making utterances, which is to think.
From Jeff Clarke:
On perusing the Radio Times, possibly the least dumbed-down but most religiously biased of the broadcast media weeklies, I came across an article by Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester, pointing out 'Why we need (Radio Three's twice weekly) Songs of Praise more than ever.'

Here he blames the 1960's for '…a questioning of traditional patterns that had long been taken for granted.' He goes on to condemn, '…a me-first consumerist culture that has encouraged acquisitiveness and dishonesty…' He follows this by blaming the recent riots on, '…what can happen when the distinction between right and wrong is blurred and once-respected moral imperatives are forgotten.'
I wondered when reading this if the Bishop has any sense of history and if the 'traditional values' include religious brain-washing, mind control and some rather nasty punishments for not accepting a particular version of the Holy Word.
As for the riots, I have to ask when and where throughout history has Christianity has been free of rioting and violence – the most recent, of course, being the religious, (Christian), divisions in Northern Ireland.
And greed? The Catholic Church grew wealthy from the greatest looting operation in human history when the conquistadors discovered the treasures of the Americas. The tyrannical Henry VIII could only fund his attempts at self-aggrandisement by plundering the vast wealth accumulated by the Christian monasteries in England and the Church of England is still a major owner of commercial property in the UK.
As for the recently much-publicised immoral practices of the Catholic clergy world wide: perhaps this can be ignored as this one-true-faith is run by the Pope, unlike the other one-true-faith headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury – which is free of all guilt, naturally, unless you lift up and peer under the rug.
These preachers seem not to understand that moral, that is constructive social behaviour, is not an invention of any religion but has been recognised, if not always realised, throughout 5,000 years of recorded human history and doubtless a very long time before.

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