Goodbye porkie pies

Until today, I was a lifetime member of the National Secular Society. Not any more.
Yesterday, I was sent http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2017/09/religious-segregation-under-one-roof-proposed-for-isle-of-man-school by a Manx born activist, now living in the UK, who was curious to know what I might be doing about it. The answer is cancelling my NSS membership.

In brief, the story is nonsense, as I told them months ago. They got on to it after being contacted by someone who was ill informed (and who had incidentally contacted me first). I looked into it, realised that the contact’s fears were groundless, but advised them who to talk to in order to get the truth and some reassurances. For reasons of their own, they chose to contact the NSS with their inaccuracies instead of resolving any real issue.

As a writer on both faith-based bigotry and religious privilege, as well as chairman of the local atheist group, I’ve been in regular contact with the NSS over the years – though the information flow is somewhat one-sided.

I inform them of things they might want to know about and ask for information on other matters. They rarely act on my information (so I cause it to be published outside the UK and months or even years later they catch up).When they do reply to my queries it seems they know far less about the topic than I already do. But more often, they don’t respond at all.

Still, we know each other – I even wrote the first review of their president’s autobiography, for an international atheist publication, which led to it being picked up elsewhere and getting good sales. So when the NSS contacted me about the St. Thomas’s story, and I gave them the facts (obtained direct and in off-the-record briefings from those at the coalface) I would reasonably expect them to hold fire.

Sadly, they chose to embroider half-truths and folk myths instead, as a way of tagging the Manx story onto a UK agenda which is also – largely – a deliberate misunderstanding, but does have the positive effect (for them) of stirring up other ill-informed folk who might possibly take out NSS membership.

Then again, this is the organisation which – until just a couple of years ago – employed as a campaigner the Islamophobic rabble-rouser Anne Marie Waters. Yes, the one who failed to gain the UKIP leadership yesterday. As a monitor of the far right for many years, I warned the NSS leadership privately about her real background and agenda a few years ago too. Again, they didn’t listen. Increased membership is key, it appears, even if it results in the (now suspended) chat facility for their weekly e-bulletins turning into something seemingly dominated by horrible Little Englanders – and worse.

Even sadder, this is the second time in under six months they’ve done this with a Manx story. The first time they did it was a belated response to a query I made to them last year about evangelical opportunism in Manx schools. By the time they did respond, I had already dealt with the matter, as I then informed them.

The NSS briefly used a largely inaccurate summary of the Manx case anyway, as a Trojan horse to publicise their potential campaign against unrelated UK phenomena. The Manx media touched on it, which caused the usual below-the-line muttering on local media websites from the usual bigots, but, in truth, there was no longer a story or an issue.

As it happens, the opportunist and bigot at the heart of it actually left the island last week, having had all sources of government revenue closed down to him. The details are too long and complicated to go into here, but let’s just say that if someone is determined enough to log evidence on inappropriate behaviour and abuse of religious privilege for years, then eventually there is so much of it that even the most myopic civil servant has to act.

Anyway, that’s all history now. In the time I was failing to get responses from the major UK atheist groups to queries on topics that now interest me, I started to get them from other sources – better informed, less opportunistic, not interested in turning molehills into mountains as a way to create a job for life. It has been a positive alternative to the mean-minded porkies perpetuated by career atheists, so for the future that is where I spend my limited free time.

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War on pap

This may sound harsh, but I’m sick of the media reports and popular chat about the Manchester bombing, and twice as irritated by the displays of flowers and heart-shaped balloons.

All those upbeat stories and vapid promises that the community will come together and won’t let this beat them? It won’t, and there was no community in the first place. That’s why people WHO LIVE THERE did it.

If you want community spirit, look at any city in Syria, where an incident like this is business as usual – on a quiet day. Look at all the other sectarian bomb attacks on rival Muslim communities or Christians throughout the Middle East in the last week.

Oh but of course, you can’t. Because the UK media has been so obsessed with Manchester it hasn’t found time to report them. And could it also be that the most recent unreported attacks would reflect badly on UK or US links to those perpetrating them?

But it wasn’t until I noticed that a TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s brilliant The Handmaid’s Tale starts tonight that I really thought this through and recognised something else. The terrorists have failed, not because Brits are strong enough to get over such attacks, but because they don’t even value the victims.

The thing is, this was an attack on contemporary Western culture, i.e. pop culture. Now pop culture (much to the annoyance of indie and “serious” rock fans) may well revolve around 13 year old girls, but it doesn’t actually like them. It just values them as consumers – or more precisely their ability to demand product from their parents.

That whole “princess” thing about daughters is a myth. As I keep discovering when talking to other parents, boys are valued, but for most lower middle class families girls are at best domestic workhorses to help around the house while they grow up, then married off ASAP.

And what is this strange 21st century obsession in such families for girls to learn to dance or sing? Witness the endless stream of girls from loser families who can sing a bit on talent shows. Even through the TV screen you can almost smell the desperation. If the audition doesn’t go well it’s back to the lottery and scratch cards.

Can you – seriously – imagine such families pouring all their resources into a girl who wanted to be, say, a scientist? Come to think of it, can you even imagine a bookshelf in the house?

And that attitude doesn’t just run through sink estates. It has long ceased to surprise me how, even in the wealthiest families, the choice of a daughter’s university is determined by the opportunities to socialise and marry into the right family, and not the chance of gaining top class tuition and rising quicker in a chosen profession.

Which is why I think the terrorists got it all wrong. They were trying a form of psychological warfare which in Muslim culture goes back all the way to Hassan i-Sabbah and the Assassins….. but they miscalculated.

Hassan i-Sabbah’s strategy enabled a small force to prevail over a much stronger one by striking unexpectedly and in a devastating way which so shocked the enemy that it lost heart. The point was to prove that you were not only invincible, but prepared to do nightmarish things to win. It was a way of keeping your own casualties to the minimum, and not even necessarily inflicting any on the enemy while absolutely terrifying them in the process.

For example, one fabled Assassin tactic (which often followed months quietly working your way into the enemy camp) was to leave a dagger dipped in poison on the pillow of the enemy commander or prince. The next day you sent him a note telling him to surrender.

For more contemporary examples, consider the films before the second Gulf War of Iraqi guards in bizarre training rituals that involved things like eating dogs. To Western observers this was plain weird, but for Muslims who regard dogs as haram to see fellow Muslims crazed enough to do this it would have been alarming.

There is also the Boko Haram capture of Nigerian schoolgirls for conversion and sale as sex slaves. It worked by striking right at the heart of everything the “enemy” held dear. These were girls with dreams of growing up and becoming teachers or doctors. Girls loved and supported in those dreams not just by their families but whole communities.

But it won’t work here because (sigh) while Brits pretend to indulge and put little girls on pedestals they do not actually like them very much. Especially when they stop being cute and try to act like adults.

No, if ISIS were really serious, and better informed, they’d have bombed Crufts. Or maybe they should find a way to hack all those fluffy kitten clips on You-Tube.

Or maybe not. Mistreat a dog in the UK and there’ll be a petition to bring back the death penalty. Child abuse? Mainstream Britain doesn’t even acknowledge it, unless it can be pinned on someone who is neither white nor Christian.

The Education Department is unwell

Hmm, happening again, isn’t it? My failure to achieve a blog a week, I mean.

It is hardly for lack of material. To be honest, it was more because I wanted to think about anything except http://www.iomtoday.co.im/article.cfm?id=33383, having been involved since the first complaint to a politician. Eventually, I am unable to tear myself away or to cure my compulsion to go and punch a wall in sheer frustration at the idiocy of our Education Department.

I get particularly angry at the ministerial statement that; “Scripture Union delivers Lovelife but with no religion in it”. Even for those Christians who can believe in transubstantiation this would be a bit of a stretch.

I refer any interested readers to the main Scripture Union website in the UK, which has boasted for several years that switching from visiting schools to offer specifically religious services (such as leading worship at assemblies) to pitching to provide secular educational curriculum items has led to increased opportunities to evangelise in schools.

In the time I have had personal reasons to worry about such matters, SUMT(Scripture Union Ministries Trust) has been employed by the Manx Education Department to deliver three such programs. In addition to Lovelife, these were a joint living history experience with Manx Heritage to recreate the lives of mediaeval monks at Rushen Abbey and a transition program for children moving up from junior to high schools.

No objective observer of any of the three who has spoken to me considered them as even barely adequate. The transition program, in particular, has been a disaster, the full scale of which will only be known to the Samaritans, Childline, a few dedicated teachers and youth workers and the island’s mental health services (if the last named can be said to exist either).

It is also irritating that this increased evangelising is at taxpayer expense and not, as before, voluntary activity ultimately paid for by Christians who happen to believe it desirable.

It is even more irritating that SUMT are providing tuition in topics of which they have no more specialist knowledge than any passing member of the public. Indeed, a major part of the problem which such education was supposed to address in the first place is the blinkered views of evangelical Christians.

What part of this is the Education Department having trouble with? Can I suggest they set it as an English comprehension test in schools, in which case hundreds of local kids could help them to the right answer?

We may have moved on from a situation where, in 1999, the island demonstrably provided the worst RE tuition in the British Isles to one where children have a reasonable chance of learning something of major world religions. But this mostly happened because non-Christians were finally able to play some part in RE and curriculum planning – despite an education act which is hardly more fit for purpose now than it was when superficial changes to RE provision were introduced.

While we still have a ludicrous situation where the chair of the Education Department’s REAC (Religious Education Advisory Council) is appointed by a church in another country rather than the Manx government, and children are legally required to attend the odd act of communal Christian worship which is of no relevance to almost all, even I would be prepared to admit some improvement.

The most useful one might have been that evangelicals who used to regard it as their right to enter schools freely and harangue children have found it harder to do so. Sad, then, that at a stroke all the advances of the last 15 years have been reversed.

But then the Minister quoted is no MENSA hopeful. He actually entered government after failing as a postman, and his first act upon being given a government post in another department was to try and close the island’s two main post offices, sell them off to developers and, in the process, put former colleagues close to retirement out of a job and rob them of their government pensions.

Oddly enough, the previous Education Minister was also a failed postie, and now I think of it I cannot recall any Manx Education Minister with a university degree.

But back to the main story….

In the business world, people who do not deliver a service do not get paid. In the case of the Education Department parents pay upfront for a service that is not delivered, then the Education Department compounds the error by paying outside agents who also do not deliver.

It seems we now have to deal with this by teaching our children to be patient and polite when trapped in a classroom with people whose understanding of the world is so obviously limited. In this case, as the only benefit seems to be to the alleged teacher (who for all I know might get some therapeutic value) I would have thought there is a reasonable case for the pupils being paid to sit through them, rather than the current arrangement, which certainly brings no benefit to any pupil, and may well do further harm to the troubled ones.

But two questions still remain.

(1) When is the Education Department going to provide the sex education classes which have become vital because of the pig-ignorance of the type of swivel-eyed loon now being employed to teach them?

(2) If they are not, when are they planning to refund parents for a service not delivered?

Corpse-kicking for Jesus

A Scottish friend drew my attention to a recent letter in the Oban Times by one Donald Morrison, who comes across as a major league retard, even by the notoriously low standards of Scottish Calvinism.

Morrison took the hump because someone had the audacity to organise a humanist funeral in Inverness, so spent about a page ranting in the local press about it. He claimed people who attended thought it the worst funeral they’d been to. He presents as a compulsive fabulist, so I assume he’s lying about that, and is using any weak excuse to (effectively) attack a dead person, their family and friends at a sad time.

Even for a god-bothering small town throwback this fool is offensive. He spends whole paragraphs whingeing because his god, sin, heaven and hell weren’t mentioned once, neither was his favoured collection of fairy tales, and nobody prayed. Shock horror.

He then rants on for another couple of paragraphs because the funeral celebrated the deceased’s life instead of dwelling on death and salivating about it. Finally he attributes a fictitious book to Nietzsche before saying that a popular joke (”God is dead: Nietzsche/ Nietzsche is dead: God”) appeared as graffiti days after Nietzsche died, when any fool knows it was little more than an icebreaker used by teachers in the 1960s to introduce fourth formers to some basic philosophy.

In a town where everyone must have known about the funeral, one feels for the friends and relatives of the deceased this boor insulted. The island suffers from thoughtless, fundamentalist cretins, but even they would not stoop to this.

Idiots like Morrison should stick to things they actually know about – like molesting sheep. I’m the last one for censorship, and generally love it when such religiots put their wellies in their mouths and give us all a good laugh. But in my days as a journo for small local papers even I would have thought twice before allowing them to denigrate the recently dead.

Loki is risen, and Bugs Bunny died for you

Hmm, apparently it’s Easter Day. I know this because when the light of my life turned on the TV this morning to see if anyone got bombed overnight a bloke dressed up like a daffodil was spouting latin at a large crowd of ageing conservatives.

If all these Christian leaders are going to give the public a message, then maybe I should do the same. Oh look, just ….. try to be happy, make others happy if you get a chance and don’t cause more damage to the world or bring people down more than your employer absolutely insists you do…and that’s about it really.

The whole thing’s a bit silly, but best not to get pedantic. If I remember correctly, it goes something like this…..

Today we give each other chocolate eggs because Bugs Bunny got executed for crimes he didn’t commit as some sort of obscure, interplanetary political pay-off arranged by his all-powerful Dad, which means that we are all now innocent – again mostly of crimes that we didn’t commit anyway.

All this happened two thousand years ago last Friday, and ever since we eat fish and not red meat on Fridays. I never quite grasped the logic behind that either, but given the strong links between religion and masochism maybe it was because Mary Magdalene got slapped with a wet fish by a Roman centurion at the crucifixion…..something like that anyway.

Oh do grow up, that’s no wilder a theory than anything you’ll find in the New Testament accounts.

And if there was ever a reason why Brits eat lamb at Easter they definitely forgot to tell me that at school, even back in those distant days when (the Christian) God and the Empire were central to the curriculum.

If I am musing upon such oddities, that may be because almost the last discussion with some younger workmates before downing tools on Thursday afternoon was on the meaning of Easter, from why Good Friday is a public holiday to where bunnies and chocolate come into the whole equation.

Nobody understands the bunnies and chocolate, but many say they were baptised, christened and confirmed and, while not weekly churchgoers, would have to go to church today with their families. Despite this, their knowledge of the Christian basics was – frankly – not just negligible but generally non-existent. To a mild-mannered if mischievous atheist this is all highly amusing.

And moving swiftly from the religious to the national aspects of Easter……

As the tramline quite literally runs down my street, today has also been marked at half-hourly intervals by rumbling, rattling and tooting trains – presumably full of happy punters, though I really cannot be sure as I was still in bed most of the time. What I can be sure of is that having studied the extensive selection of Easter entertainments being offered by state Klingons (and subsidised by my taxes) I am giving all of them a miss. Put this down as you will to an intense dislike of plastic nationalism, or just a general dislike of over-priced, over-subsidised heritage kitsch. It is also because I simply have better things to do – or just a chance to do as little as possible.

So, finally, the meaning of Easter for me is that I am not at work and even freer than usual to enjoy myself, including poking fun at powerful purveyors of nonsense. If I was celebrating the rebirth of any deity today, it would have to be Loki or some other manifestation of the Trickster.

Schmuck down

Last Sunday I was at the local Holocaust Memorial Day service. This shouldn’t be a cause of merriment, except when it offers a chance to mock people with irrational prejudices and too much power. And especially when I suspect the joke was created by those who are too often their victims.

As a rule, I avoid sick-fests which pass for national remembrance ceremonies, especially faith-led ones. I despise bigots and freeloaders on any day of the year, so why would I waste time watching them pretend to show remorse for tragedies, while denying their role in causing them?

Holocaust Memorial Day, though, is slightly different. Firstly, it didn’t originate as a church service, secondly the organisers do all they can to prevent it just turning into one, and thirdly they are genuinely interested in stressing that such pointless hate still goes on.

They are handicapped by politicians who will not attend any national ceremony unless it is led by a priest, and also by the tendency of professional religionists to jump on any grief bandwagon. Despite this, some of the organisers have used the service to point fingers at hatred in all its forms, and have twice given me a chance to do the same.

So, in turn, I try to support them and, in being there, make the point that this is not just another empty prayer-fest and that the non-religious cannot be shut out. This year I wasn’t a speaker, so made myself useful by chauffeuring some people who were there to sing in a choir.

It is also quite funny watching the various churches jockey for a role in the day. One aspect is the competition to host it (as the government won’t make a public building available). This sees the different denominations take a turn but, according to their place in the religious pecking order, most still get barred from leading the service. Then there is the competition to do the various bible readings. By tradition, the Governor does one and the Chief Minister used to (but now gives a short, non-religious, address), which leaves one for another church leader from one of the minor denominations.

And this year it really couldn’t have been a less appropriate church leader, or a worse speaker. This one is “lead pastor” in an obnoxious evangelical cult with seriously dodgy links and, for the last two months, at the centre of media speculation after it emerged that his church aggressively pumped the congregation to buy him a luxury house. I suppose the choice was made before the story broke and, being so brass-necked, he probably refused to withdraw to preserve the dignity of the day. On the other hand, as his cult’s reputation has always been far from spotless, you have to wonder just how clueless his fellow faith leaders are if they proposed him in the first place.

Well, at least we had a chance to find out if he truly was the kind of charismatic who manages to part the gullible from their life savings. All I can say is, if this charmless windbag really did, there must be a substantial number of Manx people with double digit IQs and no link to the real world.

Originally from “Norn Eyeland”, he is just as loud as Ian Paisley, but slyly chose to avoid obvious comparisons by adopting a weird mid-Atlantic accent, like some pretentious 1970’s DJ. Inevitably he chose a passage from Leviticus which, equally inevitably, was totally irrelevant (seemingly only chosen because it mentions the children of Israel) and very, very long. Looking round the church, it was hilarious watching the assembled clergy cringe as he chuntered on and on, and on, shouting louder, and louder. When he finally stopped there must have been a full two minute pause before the next participant felt brave enough to continue.

It marks the first time such a solemn occasion left me desperately biting my hand to avoid laughing out loud. I almost suspect that an arrogant bigot and his supporters were set up as the punch-line in a very wry Jewish joke.

Whatever, but on the way home one of my passengers and I had to wait until I’d dropped off the god-fearing before pulling into a layby to shriek with laughter.

Oy, yoy yoy…what a schmuck!

Manger danger

Well, it’s that time of year again. You know, the one when churchgoers accuse everyone else of trying to cancel Christmas. Before they can do this, they need a weak excuse, which varies from supermarkets selling the wrong kind of Christmas card to nativity plays and scenes allegedly being “banned” by local authorities.

Last year the local flashpoint was a particularly large and gruesome set of nativity figures (more like gargoyles) set out in the lobby of the local hospital.

The figures themselves have quite a funny history. Originally they were built for a local church, where they were displayed for a Christmas or two before parents, quite rightly, complained that some of them (I believe Joseph and Mary were the major culprits) were so ugly that children ran away screaming and couldn’t be enticed to look in the crib at the main attraction. So, they were stored away and forgotten about until the priest retired and was replaced by a younger, more belligerent, model.

The new guy fell over them one day while looking for incense, communion wine… Jesus Crackers …. choirboys…… something like that anyway. He set them up in the church, at which point he was not only told by parents why they’d been banished in the first place but also discovered that, while stored away, they’d got damp and were now beginning to rot. A coat of varnish couldn’t hide the smell, and certainly didn’t make Joe and Mary look any less like Quasimodo and the Gorgon.

What to do? Is it sacrilegious to burn knackered nativity figures? I don’t suppose they prepare you for such dilemmas in the seminary.

His inspired answer was to “donate” them to the hospital, where, for the first Christmas, they were installed in the hospital chapel. Apart from the whiff, the main complaint was not their plug-ugliness but their sheer size and inconvenience. The Muslim staff who are the chapel’s only daily worshippers (they use a chapel side-room) couldn’t squeeze past them. Nobody else would have noticed them, because even half the staff don’t know the chapel exists.

But the donating priest had other complaints, which he got his parishioners to express. Namely, why was their generous “gift” hidden away in a room specifically built for a (non-existent) hospital Christian community instead of installed in a prominent public place where it could inconvenience and scare the Bejesus out of the general public?

So last year it was (in the process blocking the main entrance to the hospital and hiding all the direction boards frantic relatives look for as they rush through the door), and both staff and public duly complained. The sensible management response to this might have been to put the monsters somewhere less intrusive, but the Manx NHS does not have sensible management.

So, this year, the whole freak show was wheeled out in the same place. In addition, the whole display is cased in a purpose-built box. Officially, this is to “protect” the gargoyles without obscuring the direction boards. Not so. I suspect it is actually to protect the surrounding walls from mould, and to contain the stink. Because if the spores from these things spread to even one ward, there would be an outbreak of emphysema.

Quite hilarious to think that some hospitals ban smoking – not only indoors but even in car parks – while being complicit in the introduction of other health hazards, simply in order to keep a handful of religious zealots quiet.