Nottingham Iconoclast

Nothing's sacred!

I don’t normally re-publish anyone else’s blogs… but this is just a very small exception on this auspicious occasion.

The Mad Hatters

It didn‚Äôt take long for the jokes to start circulating . . . ūüėÜ

Pope pulls out before finishing the job

Pope Resigns to contest Eastleigh By-Election

Pope Resigns ‚Äď ‚Äúto spend more time with his family‚ÄĚ

Nope Benedict

Guess what the Pope is giving up for Lent

Pope Resigns ‚Äď How could he leave all that behind?

Never send a Hitler Youth to do a man’s job.

Ex-Benedict for breakfast?

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The arrogance of faith

I’ve just come across a booklet which is part of a¬†Christian¬†indoctrination programme called Alpha. It’s written by someone called Nicky Gumbel and is breathtaking in its sweeping generalisations,¬†assumptions¬†and arrogant assertions of faith.

There isn’t enough room here to go into all the idiocy and lies this¬†book¬†contains (and this rubbish doesn’t actually deserve too much of my valuable time) but it is written in a vein that I have seen all too often in Christian literature, an absolute certainty about a God that, by definition, no-one can be certain about. However, that small fact doesn’t stop Ms/Mr Gumbel making the following¬†statements:

You and I were created to live in a relationship with God. Until we find that relationship there will always be something missing in our lives.

Even the closest human relationships, wonderful though they are, do not in themselves satisfy this emptiness deep inside. Nothing will fill this gap [but] God.

Until we are living in a relationship with God we will never find the true meaning and purpose of life.

And so it goes on… and on… and on, ignoring the fact that¬†many¬†of us who don’t have a ‘relationship with God’ don’t have a ‘deep emptiness inside’ and are very happy, content and fulfilled people.

The tone is one of unsurpassed arrogance, asserting that we are all sinners and that God will ‘satisfy our hunger for life beyond death’ and ‘for forgiveness’, all the time claiming that such beliefs are based on ‘firm historical evidence’ (this evidence turns out, of course, to have just one source, that well-known and proven historical document, the bible).

So what, you may say? If you don’t like it or agree with it, don’t read it. True. But this sort of proselytising propaganda is peddled to children and vulnerable people who may either take it as the truth or be desperate enough to see some hope in its lies and so buy into the whole¬†Christian¬†myth. Many Christians (particularly Nicky Gumbel, I’m sure) will see this as a good thing.

I, on the other hand, see it as a cynical manipulation of the weak and impressionable.

This sort of literature is insidious and belongs where my particular copy of this booklet is now going – in the recycling bin.

Fillet of foal anyone?

I’m not sure why there’s so much fuss about people eating horse by mistake in a range of ready meals sold across the UK.

If you’re going to eat, cows, pigs, sheep, lambs, calves, chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese, what’s the problem with horse (or dog or cat for that matter)?

And if it’s the fact that horse meat might contain the drug phenylbutazone, try having a look at the range of antibiotics and growth hormones given to all of those other animals that you merrily chomp your way through on a¬†regular¬†basis.

Culturally, we may not think that equine meat is something we should accept but carnivores getting on their high horse about this is pretty hypocritical.

And where did you really think that all those horses go that get killed every year in the Grand National?

Irony, insult or just blind tradition

It seems ironic (in fact, it seems bizarre from my atheistic perch) that the first official event to mark the centenary of the beginning of the First World War will be a national church service.

Almost a million members of the British army were killed in the four years of the conflict from 1914 to 1918 in some of the most appalling and inhumane conditions ever inflicted upon anyone. A realistic estimate of the total number of those killed, military and civilian on both sides, suggests that around 37 million people lost their lives.

Given that both armies thought they had God on their side (whichever one they recognised or worshipped) and the British troops were blessed by their padres on the first day of the Battle of the Somme (to name one amongst many bloody conflicts of the war) before 19,000 of them were mown down by German machine guns (the Germans presumably having been similarly blessed), does one not have to conclude that God swapped sides on a regular basis or that he deserted this conflict completely?

Either way, involving him now in the commemoration of such carnage shows just how insidious, illogical and insulting faith in such a fickle God actually is.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori?

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori?

So where was this angry mum when she was needed?

According to the Nottingham Post, a mother has “slammed the sentence given to a man who had unlawful sex with her 13-year-old daughter after meeting her on Facebook”.

“I want him off the streets. If he could do it to my daughter, he could do it to anyone’s and or anybody”, she said.

Well, no, actually he couldn’t. He¬†could¬†only do it to a 13-year-old girl whose¬†parents¬†are so negligent and disinterested in her welfare that they let her have an unmonitored Facebook account, don’t notice when she gets calls and texts from a complete stranger, allow her to go out into town unaccompanied without knowing where she’s going and with whom, and don’t get concerned about her whereabouts when she manages to spend over two hours in a hotel room with a man she’s never met before.

He certainly deserved the 9 month suspended sentence he got (and his defence that he didn’t know that it was illegal to have sex with a 13-year-old was surely a sick joke) but before she complains any more about the injustice of our legal system, this mum ought to ask herself what more she could have done to protect her¬†daughter¬†from this traumatic¬†experience.

What is it we’re proud of exactly?

I’d be the first to admit that I would never join the armed forces. I value my¬†own¬†life too much and I value that of others even more. I also know too much about history, which shows us that the armed forces of any country are generally an instrument of extreme, and often failed, politics and that the personnel are cannon fodder in a game of global power and corporate strategy.

That is not to demean the humanitarian work they sometimes carry out or to suggest that the motives of many for joining the services are not based on an admirable sense of duty and public service. (They’re also, of course, often based on a mixture of poor education, desperation, machismo, propensity to violence and a thirst for power and money… but that’s¬†another¬†debate.).

So why am I –¬†depending¬†on where you’re standing – stating the bleeding obvious or appearing to perpetrate an unacceptable slight on those who defend our shores?

My musings have been prompted by the announcement that Nottingham is to host Armed Forces Day in June and the usual orgasms of pride and joy that this¬†has¬†elicited¬†from the great and the good (and the ordinary). The very fact that this post – if it’s read by anyone – will attract the ire and venom of many and will probably be characterised as insulting of our brave boys and girls in uniform, perfectly illustrates how sacrosanct our armed forces are and how unassailable their place in the national consciousness.

Like the Royal Family, it is just not done to criticise the armed forces in the UK. Even those who voted or demonstrated against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars changed their tune once the troops had been¬†committed¬†and¬†chanted¬†the usual mantra about it being our patriotic duty to support them in their battle to ‘protect our life and liberty’.

And, even though those two wars, are now¬†recognised¬†as deeply flawed in their justification, purpose and prosecution, it’s still not acceptable to question what the hell we’re still doing in Afghanistan or suggest that all of those involved are not heroes..

Even when some of those ‘heroes’ are shown to be torturers and murderers, it seems that nothing can unite the nation in¬†patriotism¬†and pride like a good march past of soldiers can.

It is this¬†attitude¬†– and the respect we are supposed to accord our forces regardless of the rights and wrongs of their mission – that sustains the philosophy of ‘legitimate armed force’ and draws a convenient veil over the flawed political decision-making and global military-industrial¬†power-plays that see so many members of countless armies, navies and airforces killed and maimed worldwide on such a regular basis.

So what is it we’re all so proud of exactly?

Remove God and the Queen from the Scouts and Guides

The current consultation by both the scout and guide movements on rewriting their promises is very welcome. These two organisations have for too long lagged behind many other youth groups in not addressing the inevitable and inexorable rise of atheism and secularism and in not overtly and consciously seeking to welcome atheists and agnostics into their ranks.

If young people have a faith, that’s fine but popular organisations like the scouts and guides have an obligation to be open to all young people, regardless of their faith, sexuality or any other factor that defines their identity as individuals. By persisting for so long with a promise that requires young people to swear an oath to both God and the Queen, they risk¬†alienating¬†significant number of young people and thus not fulfilling¬†their¬†obligation as democratic and open organisations.

It’s a shame therefore that figures from the local religious¬†establishment¬†have felt it necessary to encourage the faithful (albeit with a very subtle message) to influence this consultation in favour of the status quo.

We can only hope that enough reforming and modernising voices will be heard to consign both current scout and guide promises to history and replace them with something more befitting the 21st Century.

Time to end this religious cruelty

Halal meat. Kosher meat. What is it? In basic terms it’s brutal, barbaric, cruel butchery of¬†defenceless¬†animals in the name of religion.

Halal¬†is an Arabic word that means “permissible.” In terms of food, it means food that is permissible according to Islamic law. For a meat to be certified “halal,” it cannot be a forbidden cut (such as meat from hindquarters) or animal (such as pork.)

The slaughter of a halal animal is called “zabihah” and certain guidelines have to be followed:

  • Allah’s (God’s) name must be pronounced during slaughter (I don’t know whether to laugh or vomit at this rule).
  • The instrument with which the animal is killed must be very sharp to ensure humane slaughter. The animal must be slit at the throat.(this is not humane – see video below – ¬†but it¬†obviously¬†assuages the conscience of those who consume Halal meat but don’t witness the killing, to¬†believe¬†that it is).
  • The animal must not be unconscious (this is what makes it barbaric and cruel).
  • The animal must be hung upside down and allowed to bleed dry. Eating blood is not halal (this is rubbish. Try eating any red meat without¬†consuming¬†some blood. It’s impossible)
  • These steps must be accomplished by a Muslim or the People of the Book (Christian or Jew.) Many observant Muslims find kosher meat acceptable (so Jews are no less¬†cruel¬†than Muslims… interesting)
  • The animal must have been fed a natural diet that did not contain animal by-products (oh, that makes it all OK then…).

In 2003, a¬†recommendation¬†was made to the British government that Halal and Kosher slaughter should be banned in the UK and only last year, MP’s said that exemptions from normal UK laws for shechita (Kosher) and zabihah (Halal) slaughter should be removed.

It may be that some animals killed to provide Kosher or Halal meat are stunned before having their throats slit but whilst such unfair exemptions from the law exist for religious groups, many animals will suffer unnecessarily.

This anomaly should be put right immediately with an outright ban on the production of Halal and Kosher meat in the UK and a mandatory duty for all such meat to be clearly labelled if sold in this country.

What would Jesus think of this?

The brand new, shiny Cornerstone Church has now opened on the site of the old MFI building on Castle Boulevard In Nottingham.

Now I’ve already briefly expounded my views on the necessity for churches in my first post on this site… but there are churches and there are churches and then there are huge monuments to the arrogance, moral superiority and stupidity of some sects of the Christian church. The¬†Cornerstone¬†is one of these.

On their very glossy – and no doubt very expensive – web site they say this:

We give thanks and praise to God for his amazing provision of over £4 million so far, enabling us to purchase land without the need for a mortgage. We now estimate needing to raise at least a further £2 million to complete the construction and development of the site.

Thanks and praise to God for his amazing provision? So did this money materialise out¬†of¬†thin air? Was it sent from heaven by a winged messenger? No, it was coughed up, supposedly, from the church’s congregation. ¬£4 million pounds from a congregation of 600 people. That means they’ve given nearly ¬£7000 each (or some have given less and some much more).

As usual with these sorts of people (evangelical Christians… or I suppose any Christians really. In fact any¬†adherent¬†of any religion), when anything¬†good¬†happens, it’s down to God but when anything bad happens – death, destruction, cancer, child abuse, et al – it’s the evil of men at work or¬†retribution¬†for our sins. So well done God for handing over the dosh on this one. No doubt the other ¬£2m is being ¬†levered out of the pockets of the faithful as I write, with promises of a guaranteed ticket to heaven in return.

But what will this fabulous, expensive building be used for?

Well, first and foremost of course, for regular communing with the Lord and singing his praises. Or, as some of us see it, gathering together to mutually reinforce an individual and collective delusion and to strengthen the psychological crutch that enables the faithful to cope with their lives.

But it can’t be just for that can it? Of course it can’t.

They also seek to brainwash and indoctrinate children and young people into their beliefs (and presumably those of their parents) through children’s and young people’s groups and bible classes. The most insidious of these is called Sparks Praise and is described thus: “Once a month we have a special time of praise for children aged 3-7 and their parents. It is a great time of interacting with each other and encouraging children to praise God in their own unique way.”¬†By definition, children are born atheists and can have no concept of God at this age. Quite how they praise him then I’m not sure. I’m all for kids interacting with each other but interacting with God is just a step – in fact, many steps – too far at such a young age.

Cornerstone also exports its grand delusion to other countries (presumably supplanting local beliefs, other religions and atheism in the process), with missions to all parts of the world… and I thought that missionaries had died out with the other vestiges of colonial oppression 50 years ago. Not so it appears. Some¬†people¬†still seem to think that exporting their brand of religion to other countries and cultures is a duty. It isn’t. More often than not it cultural fascism.

On the plus side, the Cornerstone works with the homeless and with people whose lives are blighted by poverty and substance abuse,¬†through their own projects and though the Aspire Project. This is a laudable and worthy ‘mission’ and is the sort of work that many churches and Christian organisations carry out. They should be congratulated for this.

Jesus (assuming that he ever existed in the form that¬†Christians¬†believe¬†he did) would no doubt approve of this… but if was to¬†return¬†now, would he really think that the ¬£6m spent on the new Cornerstone Church in order to offer a base for¬†these¬†activities and to sing his praises every Sunday was money well spent?

I suspect that a man who saw virtue in poverty, who told us that the meek would inherit the earth and who did that whole thing about rich men, camels and the eyes of needles would be aghast that so much money has been wasted on such an ostentatious building rather than on people.

Get rid of this awful anachronism of an anthem

I know that English football fans are emotionally attached to it (although they’re mostly too thick to realise that it’s for the whole of the UK not just for England), old soldiers love it¬†because¬†it’s about who they served for and in whose name their mates died and sports stars and fans alike thrill to its dirge-like tones as the Union Flag is hoisted at gold medal ceremonies¬†because¬†it reminds them of the greater¬†power¬†in whose name they have really put in all that effort… but I’d like to see the end of our atrocious national anthem.

It’s not even about¬†our¬†country; it’s about our monarch (the title changes when we get a king); the woman we are all supposed to refer to us a ‘your majesty’ (think about what that means for a moment) and who refers to us as ‘her subjects’ (think about that too).

And the words are obsequious and servile,¬†imploring¬†God (not an anthem for atheists then) to take good care of our wonderful queen so that she can ‘reign over us’ for many more years.

And what about the second verse? Usually only the first is sung, sometimes the last (there are five verses altogether apparently) but never the second. Here’s why:

O lord God arise,
Scatter our enemies,
And make them fall!
Confound their knavish tricks,
Confuse their politics,
On you our hopes we fix,
God save the Queen!

And then there’s the fourth verse (probably no-one’s ever heard of this):

Not in this land alone
But be God’s mercies known
From shore to shore
Lord make the nations see
That men should brothers be
And form one family
The wide world over

Sounds like a plea for international co-operation and¬†friendship¬†doesn’t it? And it might be (which¬†would be nice)… but I suspect there’s a colonial sub-plot here. If there isn’t, why don’t we ever sing it?

So the anthem says little about our country but quite a lot about God and the queen. Not very appealing to this atheist republican. But how many people take any notice of the words? How many people actually know the words? And how many people care? Very few is¬†probably¬†the answer to all three of those questions. Like the flag and the Queen herself, the anthem is something we cling to to preserve our national identity, rouse our spirits in adversity,¬†remember¬†when we used to rule half the world and set us apart from Johnny Foreigner. To most people, it doesn’t matter much what the words are.

So we’re stuck with this mournful reminder of Britain and Empire and how we are still subjects of an unelected, unaccountable¬†dynasty¬†in a country where, every time we play football or win a gold¬†medal¬†for something, we implore God to keep it that way.

How bloody depressing.

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