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In case of religious sensibilities, look away now.
Behind the cut is a collection of links (and some quotes and comments) all from the the press in the last six weeks or so, illustrating why I am not just atheist but anti-religion. I am sure that those of my flist who are religious are well aware that what they find behind the cut may offend them, though it is not aimed at them personally, and I am sure none of them would do any of the things detailed therein. However, I think free speech is in real danger, and a great deal of this danger comes from religion, so I am not going to shut up.

It's already been an interesting year for followers of religious idiocy – and some really good illustrations of why, while I can respect individual religious people as human beings, I really cannot even begin to respect religion!

I reported this when the story broke...

Pope lifts excommunication on Holocaust-denying bishop.


It didn't take long before...


Seminary sacks holocaust bishop.

As far as I know this Priest is still around, though


In his infallible way, the Pope promptly went on to promote an ultra-conservative priest in Austria...


Only for there to be so much fuss from Austrian Catholics that....


... said "Assistant Bishop" decided that discretion was the better part of valour.

What part of all of did the the Pope and his Vatican advisors not anticipate? Why, all of it, it appears! They've been cut off from the real world for far too long.

Meanwhile, a story broke in the UK that was spun as "PC head teacher stopped a member of staff asking people to pray for her children." Actually, the story, as it emerged, went like this. One kid tells another that if they don't believe in Jesus they will go to hell, and the teacher suggests to said kid that that isn't very nice, so perhaps they'd better not say it again. Mother of first kid, who is receptionist at said school, e-mails her friends asking for their prayers apparently to allow said kid to continue telling other kids that if they don't believe in Jesus they are going to be tortured for eternity, and saying rude things about her employers. The head got hold of the e-mail (presumably one of the receptionist's friends wasn't as friendly as she thought) and said receptionist got suspended for professional misconduct. (I suspect that includes for the using the school's computers to send said e-mail.)

The result was the obnoxious Archbishop of York sticking his nose into the case.


I quote: Archbishop Sentamu said it was "not only unacceptable but an affront" for public servants to use their authority to deny the legitimacy of the Christian faith when the religion had given them those powers under the constitution.

What powers is the old fool talking about? The right of one kid to frighten the hell (literarily) out of another and get away with it. The right of kids to preach in the classroom? What else did I expect from Sentamu who (unlike Tutu, for instance) I would not want speaking on my side in any circumstance?

Incidentally, if, in another case entirely, a nurse had offered to pray for me she would have got a mouthful and I would have asked to have been given another nurse – one who believed in medicine rather than woo. All tests on the effectiveness of prayer having given negative results (worse than placebo, incidentally), it is a worthless gesture, and for her own self-satisfaction rather than any good she might be doing the patient. Also, patients are vulnerable and I would classify it as a form of bullying. Unfortunately, this nurse has now been allowed back to work, but I hope she had learned her lesson and does not do this again. If she wants to pray for someone, she should do it in private and on her own time. This is only one step away from the situation, common in the States, where pharmacists can refuse to prescribe the pill, or the morning after pill, or, indeed, any drug that offends their personal religious sensibilities.

Then there's this


Oh, but they don't like us saying that there "probably" isn't a god. (It should have been "almost certainly", of course.)

Then there was the case of the editor and publisher of an English language newspaper in a basically Hindu country (India – normally considered secular and a bastion of free speech) who was arrested for reprinting an article from the Indie because it was offensive to Muslims.


This is the original article.


Certainly, many would find it offensive. So what? Well, apparently, part of the Indian penal code forbids “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.” Now, outraging religious feelings is not the same as racism – and freedom of belief is not the same as freedom from criticism. Nor is criticism of religion the same as stirring religious hatred or inciting violence, any more than criticising someone's politics is! We are only one step away from this - I am very frightened that this is where we are going in the UK. This is why the government was wrong to ban Geert Wilders from Britain – because his film (and he) does not incite violence. (The fact that he is an ultra right wing Christian – and mainly wrong – makes no difference; it is undeniably true that some parts of Islam incite terrorism, hate Democracy etc. (It is also undeniably true that the interpretation of the Koran/Sharia law in force across the religious part of the Middle East and Africa is racist and sexist, and I don't want it anywhere near where I am.) Telling the truth is something that no religion seems to care for very much.

But then, facts aren't important, faith is. How very convenient for institutions based on principles that cannot be empirically proved.

Oh, and late breaking news, how's


for irony?

"The founder of an Islamic television station in upstate New York aimed at countering Muslim stereotypes has confessed to beheading his wife."

Yes, I know that people of all religions and none kill each other, but that bit about "countering Muslim stereotypes" just means it needs pointing at. It's rather like the current Pope ordering the cover-up of pedophile priests... or, even better, the number of women violently picketing abortion clinics in the States who suddenly turn up inside wanting an abortion 'cos it's different for them/their children/their servants (honest!) and theirs is a special case. (Some even go back to picketing when they've had the abortion!)

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This weekend I picked up Guenter Lewy's The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany. It's written in a factual tone, not trying to beat the reader over the head with accusations, but shows the large amount of collaboration between the Nazi government and the German Catholic clergy. May of the bishops liked the Nazis' promises to fight against "godlessness" (which was generally joined with "Bolshevism"), and they didn't like the freedom of religion which the Weimar government had introduced, especially the threat to their government subsidies. I've read about a fifth of it so far, and probably will have more to say as I read through it.

I'll be really interested in reading your review.

Thanks for pulling these together. I'd caught most of them, but hadn't seen the Indian one.

Assume you have seen the stories today where Andrew Motion claims you can't understand English Literature without knowing the Bible. He's not a believer, apparently, but would like to see the Bible and the Koran taught as stories. I am now wondering how I managed to get a 2:1 in Eng Lit and later an MPhil without knowing very much at all about the Bible!

Sentamu is a thoroughly unpleasant man. I find him far more dangerous than Rowan Williams, who is largely treated as as harmless joke.

The pieces further reinforce to me the worrying claim that religion *should* be part of everyday life and that nurses can mutter mumbo-jumbo over you to make themselves feel better.

The French secular system has much to recommend it.

Well, you've probably heard of the Good Samaritan and have the basic structures down (Abraham, Moses, Exodus, and so forth) and probably know why "Blessed are the cheesemakers" is funny...

Certainly the former and the latter, not so sure about those in the middle *g*. I wonder how much of my knowledge comes from literature, rather than the other way round. I took the bible knowledge test (http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_7893000/7893592.stm?lss) on the BBC site this morning and scored 6/10 through guesswork and getting the literature-related ones correct!

I got 9/10, but one or two of them were blind guesses.

You definitely know your enemy *g*. Aside from the directly literature ones, mine were all blind guesses!

I grew up at the time when only Christianity was taught in RE, and it was only by protest that I managed to get out of taking it at O Level... primarily because, though I could have passed it standing on my head, I was already an atheist and would have passed because I knew what they wanted to hear. I'm fascinated by myth, and I guess I know my Bible the way Motion means - we also own both New and Old Testament apocrypha, and I've done a lot of reading on biblical scholarship and the history and archeology of the Near East (probably on a Know Your Enemy basis.)

I do tend to get Biblical references in literature... and it certainly made it easier to understand a lot of what was going on the comic book Lucifer.

I like the way the French are nominally Catholic but ignore everything the Pope says.

I went to a grammar school with ideas above its station, presided over by a seriously bible-bashing headteacher *g*. Interestingly, though, that didn't filter down into RE which was only compulsory until year three (as it was then) and from which I remember nothing.

In the sixth form we each had to take a turn at doing an assembly. I blotted my copybook by making mine fiercely non-religious and selecting I Vow to Thee My Country simply on the basis that the headmistress disliked it!

I adored Latin O Level and went off and happily read up on classical mythology. I have never, though, been able to read the bible as Motion suggests as simply stories. Too much other baggage there for me.

I had an argument with a French friend not so long ago about the French government's not allowing any religious symbols to be worn in schools. I approved whole-heartedly. She saw it as an attack on personal choice. I pointed out that that sort of personal choice belonged in someone's private life.

I was asked to read the lesson in Assembly, which I did as a favour to the Head Girl, whose job it was to find readers and who I liked a lot. Several people chided me for it, as being - as I would have termed myself at that point - an agnostic. (Before I learned what the term really meant, and that you could be an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist (of many different sects) or an agnostic deist.)

The real laugh was that Shelia, the aforementioned Head Girl, was as agnostic as I was.

If you'll excuse the expression, amen.

What part of all of did the the Pope and his Vatican advisors not anticipate? Why, all of it, it appears! They've been cut off from the real world for far too long.

He's Bavarian. What did you expect?!

The interesting thing for me about most of this is that it is all about politics first and religion a very poor second.

Now that the Anglican faith is bringing in its bishops from the very same places where children are declared witches and abandoned it is hardly surprising they bring their polictical attitudes with them.

What better way to raise the public profile of your faith and set 'us against them' than by storm in a teacup battles in schools? (Or abortion clinics or Salmon Rushdi or whatever.) The political game is about formenting divisions so your 'moderate' backers become extreme and your opinion gains political weight. It works too

The muslim hardliners, backed by Saudi (Wadi) money have been doing this in Africa for years.

Now the pope stuff is just the pope. Did you know that well over half the total funds raised by the RC faith comes from a relatively small number of RC's in Germany? Appeasing them has been the job of the previous pope and the current one. Follow the money works so well, especially when most of your church funds were stolen by the Mafia a few years ago. You can't make this stuff up.

There is such a thing as religious politics. In fact, a number of RC titles are based on secular Roman politics (as is the term Basilica.) Both religion and politics are about power over other people - which is why they are so hard to separate.

I started out, a long time ago, as reasonably tolerant of religion, maybe because I was taught RE to a very high standard at A level by two people I liked and respected very much, and who were both genuine scholars, in the old-fashioned sense of the word.

But for many years, I've come to acknowledge that I am essentially athiest. Mr FB is the same. But now, yes, we would both describe ourselves as anti-religion. Actively and very vocally. Even wishy-washy Anglicanism, as one of my old teachers used to describe it is simply the thin end of a very nasty wedge.

I always wanted to be able to believe... unfortunately, I never managed it from when I was about twelve.

I dropped it before O Level, much to the annoyance of my RE teacher. In the 6th, we had to have one lesson a week, which was taken by one of the youngest RE teachers in the school. As a matter of timing, that bunch were all taking sciences (except me, because I was taking an odd mixture of arts and sciences - English, Geography and Biology) and we were as bright and as stroppy a bunch of female rationalists as you might wish to meet. We drove the poor woman to distraction. Not that the A Level English stream were any better - we rubbished Milton as a group.

Though I know a lot of really nice and bright religious people, I have spent too much time recently yelling at the radio, and shaking with rage at some of what is published, particularly on the internet, to be able to keep my mouth shut the way I used to.

Mr FB and I are the same. We can no longer even be guaranteed to bit our lips at dinner parties, but fortunately, apart from one vicar's son, none of our friends are religious.

The sad thing is that I was once a Christian.

Then I made the mistake of attending Jesmond Parish Church, where they believe in the Bible literally and really really don't like homosexuals. I tried, I really did, but found myself being pushed into believing things which I found morally reprehensible or scientifically dubious (that one day course on "The Science of Creationism" was an insult to my intelligence- I may not be much of a scientist, but that law edgree did teach me something about backing up assertions with this strange thing called evidence...)

I miss my faith. I wish I could still be a Christian but I can't. I still find it hard to forgive that church, and its rector David Holloway for that.

You're not alone: it's a very real dilemma for many. A lot of people - and, oddly enough, a lot of people in the States - are what might be called 'social Christians'. (I don't know if they have Social Muslims or Social Hindus, though there are people who label themselves Atheist Jews.) Their social life is bound up in religion - and we are a social animal. (This is one of the ways in which organised religion has got itself well in from the moment it was invented. It uses both our sociality and our fear of death.)

It would be nice to think that if you follow the rules there will be an afterlife - but, for me, it won't wash. I simply cannot delude myself that that is the case - or that reincarnation takes place, either.

In many ways it's been easy for me - I've never had a single moment of religious feeling (or, for that matter, felt anything in the least supernatural) so just taking the rationalist path into atheism came naturally. (However, I love the religious poetry of John Donne, and the music of Messian and Handel.)

And then there's this piece of foulness

That's the 'law of God '? And people *worship* that malign thug?

Oh yes, that is totally vile (and I expect the Vatican, after the last debacle, might well try and sit on the Brazilian church) though over at Pharyngula, several Brazilians pointed out that the abortion was legal, and that public opinion was very strongly against the churchmen involved (not to mention the unfortunate likelihood of a lynch party against the stepfather who has been accused of the rape.)

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