By Michael Gryboski, Christian Post
April 23rd, 2014 Jill Posted in Atheism Comments Off
By Michael Gryboski, Christian Post
By Patrick Wintour, Guardian
Prime minister's references to Britain as a Christian country have negative consequences, say campaigners
More than 50 prominent public figures including novelist, diplomats, Nobel prize winners and playwrights have accused David Cameron of fostering divisions in the UK by repeatedly referring to Britain as a Christian country.
Signatories to the letter asserting that Britain is not a Christian country include Philip Pullman, Ken Follett, Prof Alice Roberts, Prof Harold Kroto and Sir Terry Pratchett.
The authors say they respect Cameron's own religious beliefs but say they "object to his repeated mischaracterising of our country as a 'Christian country' and the negative consequences for our politics and society that this view engenders".
In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, they assert: "Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established church, we are not a 'Christian country'. Repeated surveys, polls, and studies show most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities and at a social level, Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces.
"We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives and a largely non-religious society. To constantly claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society. Although it is right to recognise the contribution made by many Christians to social action, it is wrong to try to exceptionalise their contribution when it is equalled by British people of different beliefs. It needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, who – as polls show – do not want religions or religious identities to be actively prioritised by their elected government."
Read also: Leading academics condemn Cameron's Christian stance. But, hang on, where is Richard Dawkins? by Damian Thompson, Telegraph
The Ecology of Political Institutions by Brother Ivo
By Bill Heine, Oxford Mail
TODAY is Good Friday, the day we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, but there will be no re-enactment of the Passion Play on the Cowley Road this year.
When the play was first performed two years ago it was a great success. This year it is a complete failure; it has been cancelled at the last minute.
What’s the bottom line in this saga? Scores of actors, singers, musicians and costume makers have been rehearsing since mid-November. The local church groups are baffled. The audience is angry.
The organisers at St Stephen’s House seminary in East Oxford put up a notice on the website: “The Passion Play has had to be cancelled. This is due to an intractable situation… the decision was taken this evening (last Saturday) that we could not proceed as we would technically be permitting an offence by doing so.”
The group put on the same play in the Cowley Road two years ago. It wasn’t illegal then. So what’s changed? The “reasons” don’t really provide an answer; so what’s going on? The question remains: Is this a tragedy or a comedy?
[...] The Reverend Councillor Mike Wolff investigated. “All the people in the city council were trying to be helpful, but a fatal disconnect came down and people were talking at cross purposes. This is a lesson for Christians that if they are going to talk about Passion Plays, please bear in mind the possibility that fifty per cent of people making decisions on it might not know what the Christians are talking about.
By Damian Thompson, Telegraph
By Michael Kirke, MercatorNet
What is the difference between the Muslim call for sharia law and the Christian aspiration that no civil law should be contrary to the core moral principles of the Christian faith?
The answer is liberal secularism.
Not, however, that destructive brand of secularism which is now at the heart of the cold culture war which is rupturing the civil and religious tolerance which the Western world has enjoyed, on and off, for two centuries or more. We are talking about the secularism which has its roots in the development of the Christian church's own teaching.
It is a fact of history that down through the centuries there has been a kind of law operating by which much of the development of Christian teaching – by which, I suppose, we mean our understanding of all the implications of Christ's teaching – takes place in a context of conflict. This conflict comes from challenges from without or within to the practices and beliefs of any given time or place which are deemed to be consistent with and even central to what Judeo-Christian Scriptures and Tradition teach. Out of these conflicts comes a constantly developing thought about and practical approach to the journey on which Christian “wayfarers” are embarked and which in any given age seeks to meet the needs of this pilgrim people and the entire race to which they belong.
So, in the early centuries the true identity of Christ as God and Man became clearer, as did the special character of his mother's identity and holiness. In later centuries the purpose, nature and structure of the government of the Church which he founded became clearer. In the early modern age – the epoch of the Reformation, Protestant and Catholic – that Church, weakened by the corruption of its all-too-human members, was challenged. That challenge threatened both its teaching and its very form. But in its response to that challenge and threat came a new understanding, hand in hand with its reaffirmation of its original foundational teaching.
March 3rd, 2014 Jill Posted in Atheism Comments Off
From Creative Minority Report
Lucy Mangan, writing at the UK Guardian, says that she feels lots o' guilt. But she needs a secular alternative to confession, somewhere to put all this guilt.
But my prime motivating force, the engine that powers all else, is guilt. You don't have to be Catholic, of course, to suffer the same fate (though if my anecdotal evidence gleaned from nearly four decades' membership of a family of mentally-convulsing freaks is anything to go by, it does help). It's a temperamental thing. And for those of us who are daily wearied by the ever-accumulating burden it brings, the idea of having somewhere to go every Sunday to be absolved of all your sins (perceived and unperceived, just in case you overlooked something – what catch-all bliss!); and being ascribed a penance has a charm all its own. Just once, I'd like to feel fully shriven, like the bedragoned Eustace in The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, after Aslan scores through his scaly hide and tears it off to leave him standing there "smooth and soft as a peeled switch", and free.
We need to develop a secular alternative. "I can see it now," Toryboy says – and I won't lie (can you imagine the internal contortions if I did?), there is something faintly contemptuous about his tone. "Queues of liberals outside a recycled cardboard confessional in a community centre. 'Forgive me, Father/Mother/Caregiver of either or indeterminate gender, for when somebody made a joke at my dinner table about immigrants, I did not fully ascertain that it was meant meta-ironically before I laughed; nor did I later offset the carbon I emitted while doing so.' 'Write four articles on intersectionality and walk to Waitrose with organic peas in your shoes, while checking your privilege as penance,' your soggy, proportionally represented elected excuse for a father confessor will say. 'And forgive me for being in a position to forgive you.' God almighty. Who art in heaven, actually, and is much better."
You would think that being an atheist would be liberating, but in fact it doesn't make sense. If you believe that there is no god, and that religion is an agglomeration of useful traditions and practices that has evolved to manage our desires and fears, then paralysing panic when these are stripped from you by the rational parts of your brain are entirely logical responses.
I thought the whole point of atheism was that you weren't supposed to feel guilt.
If there is no objective right and wrong, then what's the guilt over?
by John Bingham, Telegraph
A young Afghan man who became an atheist after coming to Britain has been granted asylum on the grounds that the threat to his life for having no faith would amount to “religious” persecution.
In what is thought to be the first case of its kind in the UK, the Home Office accepted that sending the man back to his country of birth could put him in danger specifically because of his lack of religious beliefs.
The man, who is not being named for safety reasons, was born a Muslim but abandoned his faith after coming to the UK as a teenager around five years ago.
Apostasy – or abandoning the faith – can be punished with the death penalty under Afghan law.
Central to his case to the Home Office was the example of Abdul Rahman an Afghan man who was put on trial and faced death in 2006 for converting to Christianity.
From Brother Ivo
Well, it didn’t take long.
Having failed in their annual ambition to remove the birth of Christ from the Christmas season, the atheists returned on Boxing Day with assistance from their cheerleaders at the Today programme, who invited Sir Tim Berners Lee to guest edit the programme. We were not only offered an “alternative” Thought for the Day from an atheist “minister” but also a Thought for the Day from a Unitarian whose views could not be considered representative of Orthodox Christianity.
Like a resentful child showing off after attention has been centred upon a sibling, there had to be a cultural response from the atheist opinion formers at our State Broadcaster, and so there was.
Presenter Evan Harris noted that he could ask questions of their invented Thought for the Day presenter but not of the regular contributors: it was an implied criticism of the status quo, overlooking that there is no prohibition or inhibition upon the programme editors exploring religious matters anytime they choose 365 days of the year during the daily two hour programme.
Tim Berners Lee explained that he included the atheist spot as a “challenge” to the BBC establishment, as if the cultural ethos of the faith following majority were somehow dominating the everyday programme. Plainly this is not the case.
By Jon Thompson, Jubilee Centre
This paper argues that Christianity is the most coherent form of humanism. By contrast, secular humanism is historically and philosophically dependent upon Christianity's view of the human person. In a survey of the origins, emergence and development of secular humanism, this paper explores that historical connection before examining some of the implications which flow from a divorce of human values from Christian belief.
On a beautiful, busy Saturday afternoon in Cambridge there is a massive queue outside the Cambridge Union. Meandering through an alley and taking a right angle down the street, it is full of scores of people from all walks of life, all age ranges, and all levels of education, everyone eagerly awaiting entrance to hear the philosopher Alain de Botton. While it is striking in itself to see a philosopher draw such a large crowd of non-academics (try to imagine 12 year-old children showing up to a lecture on epistemic warrant and error), the content of the lecture is even more surprising: religion for atheists. In this lecture (and in a book by the same title), de Botton attempts to use religious ideas and practices as a means to help secular people find moral direction and meaning for their lives—the two areas secular thought has perennially struggled to address.  But de Botton’s project is really nothing new. He represents one in a long line of thinkers known as secular humanists—those who attempt to ground human values in atheistic terms. It is the wide appeal and readership of de Botton’s work which suggest that the secular humanist movement is very influential today and therefore worthy of close consideration.
By Gillan Scott, God & Politics in the UK
At the end of last week the BBC’s head of religion and ethics, Aaqil Ahmed gave a damning appraisal of the current state of religious understanding in Britain. ‘The public has such “poor religious literacy” that a modern audience would be baffled by the Monty Python film The Life of Brian – because it would not understand the Biblical references’.
by Michael Heidt in Nairobi, VOL
Introducing speakers on the first full day of GAFCON II, retired Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali identified three major threats to Christian culture, he believed cannot be turned away from or denied any longer.
For Nazir-Ali, these threats are aggressive secularism, radical Islam and a syncretism that holds all religions to be essentially the same. The bishop went on to describe these in greater detail, beginning with secularism, which he felt "infects much of the West" and has increasing influence in other countries.
Citing research that shows human beings to have a spiritual dimension innately within themselves, Nazir-Ali acknowledged that Western people have a personal, instead of social understanding of spiritual life. Religion, which he equated with spirituality in its social aspect, has become a "bad word" in the West, and this has led inevitably to "excessive individualism."
Because of this rejection of religion in general and Christianity in particular, Bishop Nazir-Ali believed that secularism was jettisoning what he described as a "precious heritage" of a "nation formed by the Gospel" with the "idea of a godly ruler subject to law" and a "godly society of mutual interdependence."
There was, said the bishop, plenty of how being asked by society but little of why, "We're not asking what is the purpose of the universe, of our lives, where we're going." This retreat from Christian, Gospel values and belief has had a devastating impact on human dignity, equality and liberty. Secularism had, he felt, twisted the meaning of these qualities of human flourishing, using them without acknowledging their foundation in Christian truth.
October 21st, 2013 Jill Posted in Atheism Comments Off
By Andreas Mullings, Yorkshire Post
A godless church may seem to some as an oxymoron, but it has become a reality as the oldest church in Leeds opens its doors for an atheist congregation.
The Sunday Assembly Leeds is a non-profit organisation which has chosen to put away religion but still keep the traditions of song and sermons.
Originally starting in London last January it was created by two comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans.
After success in the capital they have now launched their movement worldwide in their ‘40 days and 40 nights tour’, which will be opening assemblies in the UK, including Leeds, Ireland, US, Canada and Australia. Michelle Beckett, 40 from Harrogate is one of the Leeds’ assembly organisers. She said: “We have had a huge response so far. We have already had over 100 people sign up for the assembly. We’d like to take all of the good bits out of church, and leave the religious stuff behind.
“It’s a shame that people who have no faith do not know the feeling of belonging that comes with religion, that’s why we are doing this.”
She added: “The structure is the same as church, you will have talks, songs and a sense of community. The London assemblies have now started to sprout charity works and community book groups.”
Without the use of religious hymns and a religious text, the group uses inspirational talks and pop songs, such as Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now and Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
By Peter Hitchens, Mailonline
I am asked in what way atheists are free riders in Christian societies. In this way: They expect the benefits of such societies, general honesty in all dealings, self-restraint, sobriety and gentleness in public and private conduct, diligence in work, marital fidelity and parental responsibility, the tender care of the old (these are examples) to persist after the morality which prescribed them has been dismantled.
Practical atheism, as I term it, is common in those blasted regions of our cities where nobody is married, there are no fathers, the remaining shops have steel shutters, the schools are places of dread for anyone who values learning or order, the police only visit to flash their lights for a few minutes before departing (and anyone who calls them is a ‘grass’), the ground-floor windows have bars, and the vandalised phone-boxes are smeared with spittle and littered used needles.
It’s also common among many bankers and other businessmen, who get away with what they can; among young people who procure abortions because babies are inconvenient to them, and older people who dissolve marriages because they are inconvenient, who drink to excess, take drugs and allow their children to do so.
These habits of mind then spread into the trades and professions where selfishness can cost more than a little self-esteem – the banker who risks his depositor’s money, the police officer who lies in court, or who fails to act when a case like that of Fiona Pilkington comes before him, the lawyer who fails to protect his clients’ interests with sufficient diligence and attention, the surgeon (or the school bus driver, or the train driver, or the lorry driver) who has cannabis in his bloodstream while he operates, the journalist who prefers to hack a phone than to do the hard grind of proper reporting.
We begin to see this around us. The test is always what people do when they think nobody is looking. Civilisation doesn’t suddenly collapse, any more than our northern Sun suddenly sets. I suspect militant practical atheism is quite common in the aborting classes, the divorcing classes, the cohabiting classes, the banking classes and the drug-taking classes. Those who spread this idea aren’t as popular as they are in the bookshops for no reason at all.
October 15th, 2013 Jill Posted in Atheism Comments Off
by David Holloway
The Girl Guide Promise
There was a problem at the beginning of last month. On 1 September 2013 the Girl Guide promise, “the beating heart of guiding” according to the Chief Guide, was to change. The promise that was being discarded was as follows:
I promise that I will do my best
To love my God
To serve the Queen and my country
To help other people
And to keep the Brownie/Guide Law
Instead it was mandated from Girlguiding’s central authority that from the 1 September every girl and leader must say these words:
I promise that I will do my best
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs
To serve the Queen and my community
To help other people
And to keep the Brownie/Guide Law
Jesmond Parish Church sponsored brownie and guide units are refusing to make the new promise. They are right to do so for at least five reasons.
Girlguiding’s charitable object and agreements
First, Brownie/Guide Law requires it! The charitable object of Girlguiding is to help girls “develop emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually”. For our units at JPC that has to be in the context of the sponsorship agreements. These require that “in accordance with the Guiding Manual all members are encouraged to be active in a religious faith”; and a similar requirement is in the Guiding Manual itself in the section entitled, Equality and Diversity – Spirituality and as updated on 9 September 2013. Of course, the religious faith in which our parents know their girls will be encouraged to be active, and for which many parents choose our groups, is that of the community of JPC – a Christian Church. But both Jesus and the Apostles make it clear that the “self” cannot always be seen as a source of enlightenment and an object for commitment to which you should be true. For sometimes a person’s “self” is a dark and conflicting source of deception and to be resisted. This biblical psychology is expressed in Ephesians 4.18-24 that says people can be …
From Canada's Sun News
MONTREAL — Catholic and Protestant instruction was removed from Quebec schools more than 15 years ago but nuns and priests are now replaced by "spiritual community animators," some of whom lead students in meditation and rhythmic breathing sessions.
The spirituality program, entrenched in the province's Education Act, has raised red flags in the Catholic church, which has publicly opposed the Parti Quebecois's plans to ban religious symbols among school workers and other bureaucrats.
The PQ abolished religious school boards in 1997, the last time it was in power, as part of a plan to implement what it calls "state neutrality" on the question of religion.
All boards were ordered to hire spiritual animators in 2000 to run anti-bullying campaigns, organize humanitarian efforts and "focus on young people's search for meaning," according to an education ministry directive.
In a 2006 report, entitled Developing the Inner Life and Changing the World, the ministry said its activities are complementary to religion and "do not present any particular belief as being superior."
Among the spirituality program's "areas of operation" are "interiority, silence and meditation."
From God and Politics in the UK
Today’s post is an immediate response by Danny Webster to an inflammatory report released today by the National Secular Society attacking the work of Christian groups who offer their services to schools. Danny blogs at the curiously entitled Broken Cameras and Gustav Klimt and tweets at @danny_webster.
By Kirsten Andersen, LifeSite News
An Ohio school district has agreed to pay five anonymous complainants $3,000 each in damages, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison, Wisconsin, a combined $80,000 in court costs after being sued for keeping an image of Jesus Christ on school property, reports the Columbus Dispatch.
By John Bingham, Telegraph
The Scouts have achieved the rare distinction of being praised by bishops and atheist groups alike after introducing a new pledge for non-believers – without scrapping references to God.
For the first time in the organisation’s 106-year history, those who do not have a religious faith be able to take an alternative version of its distinctive oath of allegiance without having to go against their beliefs.
The traditional wording in which young people promise “to do my duty to God and to the Queen” will remain the “core” promise for the organisation founded on Christian lines more than a century ago.
But the change means atheists can become full members for the first time, without having to lie about their beliefs.
The move drew favourable comparisons with that taken earlier this year by the Girl Guides which scrapped all mention of both "God" and "country" from its own pledge, requiring members to promise to “be true to myself”.
It was accused of denying girls and Guide leaders a choice and of ditching the Almighty in favour of “consumerist self-help jargon”.
September 24th, 2013 Jill Posted in Atheism Comments Off
Charles Moore reviews An Appetite for Wonder by Richard Dawkins (Bantam Press)