Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Empty vessels

I can’t be the only one here who wonders why Manx churches hire out local schools for Sunday services when most churches are empty.
For example, why do a bizarre collection of evangelical misfits meet in my daughter’s old school when the entire congregations of all Ramsey churches would fit comfortably in the hall of a village church less than a mile away?
Many Freethinkers also wondered if some denominations have a special relationship with the Education Department, if they were paying to use the schools, or if anyone else could use them on the same basis. So, we asked our secretary to make enquiries, and the reply makes interesting reading.
In short, the Education Department admits to five 'Christian groups’ using schools for Sunday worship (which in turn might have a cynic asking what other worship and what other days). We’re told they pay normal rates, that other groups could hire schools though not at the same time, and that the Sunday rate is £26 an hour.
I find it all very silly, to be honest.
From other items at this blog you’ll know that one amongst many Ramsey churches with single figure congregations expelled its only teenage worshipper for singing too loud, while on the other hand the Anglicans went so far as to seek a law change to enable church sharing, having ‘rationalised’ almost all their professional clergy, put the vicarages on the market and handed the Synod management over to right wing hobby vicars (mostly old school financiers made redundant by the tightening up of offshore finance or soon to retire civil servants who got our island into the current recession in the first place).
I’m reliably informed that when the last guest workers leave Catholic priests will be no busier. Meanwhile the Methodists, like some strange Celtic variant on Sicilians, still have family feuds going back over a century rooted in grievances from the original split between ‘prims’ and mainstream Methodism. As for Baptists, Pentecostalists and the rest of the lunatic fringe!
Why do they hate each other? I don’t expect them to approve of us, but wouldn’t it be a start to like themselves?
I tell you straight, put three Manx Christians in a room and two will excommunicate the other one, probably citing any suitable verse from Levicticus. And I’m honestly convinced that the only folk they hate more than each other are themselves. Seriously, isn’t it strange that so many loons who claim to be pro-life end up either self-harming or trying to blow up the rest of the world for being ‘sinners’?
All in all, a case of ”Give ‘em enough rope….”
Sorry, shouldn’t laugh.
I just laughed.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Of spooks and spookchasers

The Freedom to Fester PR hacks bigging up some of our bogus charities have been busy again, judging from http://www.energyfm.net/cms/news_story_70823.html .
This time it’s an update on attempts to innocently suggest our firefighters, and not evangelical nutters linked to US ‘megachurches’, have been ‘helping’ in Romania.
I’ve raised aspects of this phenomena before (see Chief Minister, international joke and Another day, another Christian attack on Africans for more on this particular case). Sadly, things have got worse.
While Manx ‘aid’ goes to Romanian nationalist politicians and a party descended from Second World War fascists, local Hungarian human rights outfits which offered some hope have died away, to be replaced by ‘help’ from Jobbrik, the new Hungarian fascist grouping. On TV while over there I saw a ‘protest’ of ethnic Hungarian-Romanians led by paramilitaries carrying arrow cross flags. Just what that part of the world needs –mirror image fascist groupings representing two ethnic traditions fighting it out in the streets while EU grants and international aid are getting creamed off to the US via evangelical charities and ‘universities’ which offer Mickey Mouse degrees.
But reading what I’d uncovered before on Oradea’s history, an interesting question arises.
You’ll note that close to Oradea a cold war concentration camp that ‘officially’ never existed has been taken over by the US military, who are officially not there either, and super-officially haven’t used it to torture Muslims extradited illegally from EU countries.
Now we know that the US military is infested with evangelical fundies, who regard modern wars as crusades against Islam. Logically then, the Baptist churches of Oradea (which, of course, do not owe their native members to a requirement that applicants for Samaritans Purse food parcels sign up to the local Baptist church, or that potential employees of US corporations join such churches rather than homegrown ones in order to demonstrate their moral values), must have a few US military personnel praying there in between waterboarding European Muslims who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So, adherents to a strange religious cult which talks to a bloke who isn’t there, who are themselves not there (officially) in a church which ‘spontaneously’ began from a Christian denomination which was also never there until Western governments decided to ‘help rebuild’ a country with grant aid which 'only' (i.e. never) goes to redevelopment projects suggested by local people or run by local companies. Incidentally, wonder where the Muslims who aren't there either worship?
All in all, very confusing. Wouldn’t it be quicker for Tynwald to just send our charitable donation direct to to US megachurches.
That’s not to suggest that they end up there already, of course.

Liar, liar, pants on fire

I woke up this morning still annoyed at the Archbishop of Canterbury.
That’s both startling and too obscure a beginning, so I’ll start again.
Thing is, I read a report over on Ekklesia about the Arch of Cant’s visit to Japan. Well, Japan, close to International Peace Day so you’d think he’d spout something nice about the need to communicate instead of nuking each other, that sort of thing, wouldn’t you?
But no, seems he chose to blame rational thinking for all the evil unleashed in the 20th century, and presumably all the potential evil of the 21st.
For example, try…
"[T]he sober testimony of the twentieth century is that the rationality of secular thinking is no guarantee of universal understanding and reconciliation. A rationality that has brought us into the age of nuclear weaponry and global economic meltdown invites some sharp questions, to put it mildly."
Or there’s…..
"However secular our age likes to think it is, the disastrous results of exploitative habits and of financial obsession bring people back to the recognition that they need the element of the sacred in their lives – in the sense that they need the freedom to respond to the beautiful and the puzzling and the tragic, to all the things that we do not have the power to manage."
And even…..
"It is in this sense that a religiously grounded education is a deeply 'reasonable' one. It communicates the skills we need to inhabit the real world. That may sound a little strange at first. So often, 'living in the real world' is a phrase that people use when they want to justify ruthless competition, mistrust, low expectations. But the reality around us is not simply one of menace and uncertainty, a place in which the other is always a source of anxiety. It is a place that nourishes us and keeps us alive – through material processes and through human community, from family to society."
You can read the rest at http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/10285.
Oh…..pot, kettle, black….LIAR, LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE!
As if rationalism was the cause of 20th century social problems, not the primary source of opposition to them.
As if religion was something apart from the ‘real world’ when, if anything, organised religion is one of the most competitive, aggressive, materialist examples of capitalist excess, often brimming over into the outright fascism which it predated, nurtured, encouraged and profited from financially, politically and socially.
If Vincent ‘what, me, protect kiddie fiddlers’ Nicholls or John ‘here’s a trick with a balloon instead of a sermon’ Sentamu came out with this shite I’d just laugh. But Williams, whatever else, may be the only genuinely well read cleric in Britain, so I expect better.
In fact, he’s annoyed me so much I’ll reveal how he misused his education to pull a cheap rhetorical trick.
What he did was play on the post-structuralist ideas of Derrida and Foucault which he, alone amongst his peers, actually will have read and engaged with. In fact, he used to teach this stuff.
Foucault analysed discourse in order to examine how places like prisons, army barracks, schools and factories develop from religious to apparently secular institutions after the Enlightenment, and how that structure tends to constrain the individual even though supposedly our lives are human centred, not faith centred.
It’s uncomfortable stuff, and atheists from a hard science background hate him on kneejerk prejudice because of it, especially as he takes a poke or two at ‘our’ secular saints in passing. But that’s often because they’re too idle to read past page 1 of any book which demonstrates how science is also a discourse, not a set of stand alone hard facts. And without Foucault feminism, our understanding of sexuality or inbuilt prejudice in AIDS/HIV responses (to take but three fields) would be much poorer, and Queer Theory wouldn’t exist, period.
Derrida, the other post-structuralist heavy, is famous for ‘deconstruction’ – the art of taking apart the structure of any belief system (which would include the way we view natural science, not just supernatural pseudo-sciences) to reveal the in-built design flaws. Sadly, he did this so rigorously that he ended up excusing nazis, and also tended to call all his critics cretins instead of answering them. So, failure as a human being, but that doesn’t excuse dissing ideas which happen to be a tad uncomfortable.
What Williams does these days is to ‘problematise’ words we think we understand, like ‘rationality’. That’s fair enough, but he offers cartoons and partial pictures instead of taking apart the ‘belief’ or ‘idea’ properly to reveal internal contradictions. And he somehow considers religion above or apart from this, when the first thing he knows from all those books he’s read and all those classes he’s taught on the topic is that RELIGION IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT.
If it isn’t, who pays his salary, who arranged his plane ticket to Japan, who built the university where he gave the speech?
OK, he’s giving a public speech, not a post-grad lecture. But it was in a university, and his audience read the odd book (and I don’t mean really odd books like the Bible either). So, putting it bluntly, he was dishonest and he played on prejudice like a politician (instead of challenging it like the independent critic he pretends to be). And that makes him as bad as other religious throwbacks, such as the boy-nazi homophobic freak Brown just invited to tour Britain at our expense.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

News or obituary?

What a good job the Radio Cowshed news desk is shut at weekends, otherwise we wouldn’t have the tittle tattle about churches which the religious correspondent slips in to fill the gap.
But once you know a little about what’s behind such panic-driven publicity, it can be almost interesting.
Take the item about an ‘important’ Synod debate today (see http://www.manxradio.com/newsread.aspx?id=38967).
It should surprise nobody that the Anglican leadership is being economical with the facts - the only relevant ones here are the appointment of the honorary canons.
For a start there is no ‘discussion’ at Manx synods, especially at this one. Anglicans can spend decades wittering without result about pie in the sky topics with long titles like like transubstantiation (or even antidisestablishmentarianism). I’m not sure they can even spell democracy (which most of us take almost from birth as a basic standard for civilisation).
Doubt that very much if they struggle with racism and sexism. And as for homophobia….!
No, Sentamu’s Apprentice has his orders from York, and will have pretty much had the recommendations written for him, as they were elsewhere. A little monitoring of Ruth Gledhill’s religious column at The Times reveals the extent to which Anglicans everywhere are cutting and running, brokering deals with other churches or even other faiths to keep cornershops open.
On the island, as I’ve blogged before, these include ecclesiastical legislation to allow church sharing with other denominations, and subsidising or even employing nutters from the evangelical lunatic fringe. The honorary canons from other denominations are another desperate move. More recently, I was fascinated to hear that the new Diocesan Missioner even asked to meet the Inter Faith Group.
I laughed my socks off at that last one! Thing is, this group was set up precisely because a senior cleric (now retired - thankfully) kept telling politicians such faiths do not exist on the island, and so there was no need for government to consult them on moral or social issues.
So, dead in a generation then. Probably would be already if there weren’t so many senior Manx civil servants training as hobby vicars while their sell-by date looms.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Toytown goes tits up

I was amused by a story in this week’s Courier accompanied by a picture of Sentamu’s Apprentice driving one of our trains (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/All-aboard-for-the-Sunday.5655524.jp.
It’s all a bit too close to Thomas the Tank Engine for comfort. Toytown bishop driving a train that only runs for tourists, and even then not that well or often.
For a second I was indignant that this shameless religionist marketing made the front page, and that a government department had connived in the creation of it. This even though the Courier isn’t a newspaper, just a freesheet that allows Johnston Press to run a second set of government and business public announcements.
In case nobody has twigged, this allows aforesaid businesses and government to meet legal requirements to publish such notices in two different publications. It also explains why the ‘news’ is almost entirely made up of items written by either official press officers of government departments or PR hacks indirectly employed by government via the Freedom to Flourish scam. That includes most of the charity and community news, by the way.
So, toy clergyman, toy trains, toy newspaper full of bogus news concocted by what you’d have to term ‘the Establishment’ to feed the illusion that we’re living in a real democratic country where we run our own affairs and things only happen because we chose for them to happen.
Problem is, unlike Thomas the Tank Engine, you can’t just turn this crap off and get on with real life instead. In fact, it’s more evidence that even Toytown is going tits up.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Save the children from these freaks

There’s more evidence of both Anglicanism’s decline and the cosy relationship between church and state in this week’s Manx Independent.
An article (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/west-news/Sam-welcomed-to-cathedral-youth.5656601.jp) announces that Sam Rothcell was recently commissioned as a youth worker at the Cathedral.
So far, so what, if he was just pestering kids whose parents drag them to church, but the disturbing news is he seems to have a licence for child abuse at the Peel primary and secondary schools.
Would members of other crazed cults be as welcome? If not, why this one?
Another unsettling revelation is that he’s already working with Scripture Union Ministries Trust, which is well under the thumb of the island’s most fundamentalist church (which is in turn run by a US megachurch). There he co-ordinates 15 other ‘youth workers’ who are allowed the free run of island schools.
Having bumped into a few of these, it staggers both me and work colleagues that people who seem to be borderline mental retards are allowed close to small, vulnerable kids. But that’s our wonderful education system for you.
St Thomas’s primary school, the island’s only Anglican school, is also being run by a fundamentalist, due to no Anglican teachers applying when the previous head teacher retired last year. This one attends a church where you’d need at least one screw loose to be a member, and to have absolutely no moral scruples to stay once you’re aware of some of the goings on.
All in all, not a happy situation.
There’s an obvious problem when folk who are little (if any) better than smack dealers are allowed into Manx schools.
But when a church which was, at least, once a benchmark for Christian decency is reduced to hiring help from the evangelical lunatic fringe to abuse kids…..!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Freak alert

I think the island might have an infestation of Scientologists.
I’ve seen some guys dressed like comic book FBI agents stopping folk in the street over the last couple of weeks but just assumed they were Morons (sorry ...Mormons!), now I'm not so sure.
Today we had a copy of a leaflet entitled The Way To Happiness through the letterbox. It looked cheesy enough to be religious, despite the ‘non-religious’ claim on the cover, so ignoring all the bumpf inside I cut straight to the inside page credits.
Even worse than I thought, as the author is given as L. Ron Hubbard. So it’s a Scientology scam then.
I’ve just had a horrible thought.
Does this mean the island is going to be invaded by Tom Cruise, John Travolta and the rest of the Hollywood prat pack? Let’s hope not, though that would be just the grade of celebrity dingbat we do attract on past records.
Why is it all our half-decent celebs pop their clogs, get driven mad by parochialism or just get senile? (By the way, that’s George Macdonald Fraser, Andy Kershaw and Norman Wisdom, who I assure off-island readers was a sweet little geezer who’d make time for anyone before his demise). Meanwhile we give the Bee Gees the freedom of Douglas and it can only be a matter of time before the one that lives here is made an MLC.
And why not? He’s already an egocentric waste of space with no link to the real world, so he’d fit right in.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Media studies for beginners

Absolutely everything that’s wrong with the Manx media is typified by a front page item in this week’s Examiner.
"Manx Radio has revealed a new logo in what it describes as its ‘biggest image change in its 45-year history.’"
If nobody up at Radio Cowshed has worked out yet that radio is not actually a visual medium that explains the crap that they pass off as 'programming'.
On the other hand, that the local newspaper puts this on the front page suggests they have a few problems with the concept of newsgathering too.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Back to school

Well, a few days into the new school year at a new school for our lass and my wife has a 9 AM phone-call at work from the acting Deputy-Head.
It’s assembly time, and she’s read our note that if The Prodigy has to sit through religious guff she should be allowed to just sit quietly instead of praying or otherwise actively participating.
“I wanted to be clear. Can she actually attend the assembly?”
“Is there an alternative, such as a teacher to sit with her or other non-attenders?”
“Well, no. She’s the only one. Other parents never ask.”
“So, as you’re telling us there’s no alternative I think you’ve answered your own question. We have no problem with her learning about world religions, just don’t make her pray, and don’t embarrass her when she doesn’t. OK?”

I have to admit, while amused at the inability of the largest junior school in the North of the island to respect a child’s rights and meet their legal obligations, we’re astonished that, for once, a teacher actually read the note. Also amused that, while there is no teacher available to sit with her for 10 minutes as she happily reads a book, there’s always a posse of them to childmind the dingbats who come in and run a lunchtime Bible club.
Oh well. I suppose that’s a start. Only took three years. Christ on a bike, give them another decade and they’ll be noticing 95% of the kids aren’t even from churchgoing homes.
Actually, what’s more pathetic is that in a school of around 200 kids we’re the only parents defending our child from spook-chasing ignoramuses. But I think I know why.
The truth is, for all the carefully edited press releases each summer about a handful of kids getting a stack of ‘A’ grades, the Manx education system fails most kids. A hundred or so get away to uni every year, and most won’t come back. The rest will be lucky if there are enough unskilled or semi-skilled jobs to go around for more than a few years at a time, because the only thing they were really taught was to know their place.
And worst of all, having been made to feel like scum by teachers, politicians and educationalists in their school days, when they have their own kids and send them to school they lack the confidence to demand a better deal for the next generation, or even that schools deliver the little the law says they are entitled to.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Marking the UN International Day of Peace on IOM.

I’ve received the following message, which I’m happy to publicise as I have a lot of time for the sender, Carol Jempson.
Carol was chair of Isle of Man Freethinkers, but stepped down to concentrate on other things. For example, she’s tackling the embarrassing stink of Manx anti-Semitism by trying to educate locals about her own roots, which, in the process, will probably help newer cultures to integrate into Manx community with less folk myths or theo-fascist baggage.

The message is:

Peace in our community and our world.
For a moment, please consider a word… peace.
Or the absence of peace and what defines it. It is an absence of personal trauma. It is an absence of conflict. It is about creating an environment that is harmonious within us and within our communities.
On Saturday 19 September 2009, Carol Jempson and Pamela Birnie invite everyone in our amazing community to gather together to mark the United Nations International Day of Peace.
Join us anytime from 8pm for an overnight candlelit vigil around the war memorial on Harris Promenade, Douglas. You can join us for as long or as short a time as you would like. We even hope to have some singing!
Please bring a candle in a glass with you and, of course, wear warm clothes.
We have received wonderful support from our community protectors (Constabulary/Civil Defence/Fire & Rescue Service/Ambulance Service).
If you can’t make it to the vigil, remember that you can promote peace by:

· Developing your own inner peace: with your families, work colleagues, friends and community. Make a strong effort on Peace Day to compliment rather than criticise.

· Committing to a special project in your area that incorporates Peace Day values.

· Encouraging others to join you.

This is not a fundraising event, there will be no collections and no-one will be expected to make a donation.
Let each of us on the Isle of Man make the International Day of Peace a day to remember.
Spread the message of hope and strive for the best in mankind.

N.B. I should say that I removed one sentence with a link to a 'charity' website controlled by evangelical freeloaders.
While Carol may have decided that it is necessary to work with these parties in order to break down prejudice, on principle I will not publicise the pathetic efforts of bigots who, having created social division by their ridiculous prejudices, then seek public funds under the pretence of trying to ‘help’.
The ‘problem’, I would suggest, originated in their heads alone, and should have been solved there, not inflicted on others.

No Paseran!

Well, as I said in the previous post, I’m back.
Actually, I’ve been back over a week but was re-adjusting to Kipper Republic reality and thinking through all I’ve seen and done while away in Hungary. I’ve been looking through stuff like the local free papers piled on the doormat, or the weekly NSS ‘Newsline’ (previously a small source of sanity in a deluded world) and I feel like a Martian.
For example, contributors to a National Secular Society forum reduced to suggesting that a ‘protest’ by a bunch of BNP rejects, the English Defence League, might count as a legitimate one against an alleged future threat of English ‘Islamofascism’. I can’t even be bothered writing in, just look at any of the ever reliable Richard Bartholomew’s work on such topics – e.g. http://barthsnotes.wordpress.com/2009/09/06/edl-again/ or http://barthsnotes.wordpress.com/2009/09/04/english-defence-league-interviewed-by-veteran-us-anti-gay-bigot/ and work it out for yourselves.
But even before returning from Hungary I’d decided this blog has to change direction.
What I saw there was a growing threat from fascism caused by a corrupt government which pretends the working class no longer exists. The inevitable result is that powerless people turn to the false answers of the only folk who claim to care (i.e. neo-nazis and the churches) who feed off each other’s lies and pick on the same culprits (foreigners, the undeserving poor, gays, uppity women….). What depressed me more was seeing intellectuals (even Jewish ones), while not joining the outright fascists for obvious reasons, going along with the general analysis.
Is this sounding familiar?
The thing is, I’ve long argued that religious evangelicals (Christian in the Manx case) and fascists work the same way and feed off the same targets. They see a breakdown in society (real or the result of media who’d rather jump on an easy myth or parrot a government PR handout than do the research), people who feel vulnerable or afraid, and they leech on it. They bang on council house doors and offer false hope, while those I’ve looked to recently as allies shudder at the very thought of a council house.
Saddest thing is, I grew up on those estates too and should know better. My grandparents all left school at 14, my parents at 15, not from choice but from class and religious prejudice.
My godmother – brilliant at maths but couldn’t get a scholarship at 13 ‘because a Taig would only go and waste it’ then spent her life book-keeping for middle class dullards.
Her dad – fought off Loyalist thugs in Edinburgh streets and got a Jewish kid out of Czechoslovakia in 1939 by pretending to be her uncle, then turned down the foreman’s job at the brewery where he worked (owned by her real uncle) rather than help the boss keep his workmates in line.
My paternal grandfather - who taught me you always fight fascists, but not foreigners or others of your own class, after having his life saved in World War One by a German.
My paternal grandmother - a Sally Army street preacher in the 1920’s when, as a single woman, she couldn’t even vote - never mind preach in a ‘proper’ church.
My wife’s grandfather, conscripted into the Hungarian Army in 1944 and sent to the Russian Front – only documents recently released from the Russian hospital where he died, having never fired a shot, revealed he’d been a secret Communist Party member throughout the fascist Horthy regime era.
I could go on, but you get the point. Couple of degrees and a whiff of a smug Oxford biologist’s generalities and I’m laughing at my own heritage, not nailing the bastards who keep others down.
Well not any more.
From now on I don’t confuse class with ignorance, and don’t deal in generalities concocted by those who want to hang on to power and repeated by those too lazy to ask questions.
But I will devote time to explaining how scams like Freedom to Flourish are used by the Manx government, religious interests and corporate bodies to destroy real community and replace it with astroturf (pseudo ‘grass roots’ activity) controlled by them.
And I will blog more on those who fight back against fascism (secular or religious), be it in East Europe, the Middle East or far nearer home.
Speaking of which, the International Campaign Against Honour Killings website (see sidebar) is down for maintenance, having been attacked so often.
ICHK should wear such attacks as a medal. Unlike many of us cyber-dilettantes, it seems they are having a real world effect.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Never a copper when you need one

Well, I'm back, and spookchasing parasites take note: my tolerance of you has now hit zero.
Today, as I hurried down Ramsey’s Parliament Street on domestic duties, a Moron missionary tried to block my path. Our conversation was brief and, for him, unproductive.
“Good morning sir, I have good news for you.”
“No thanks, I’m not interested.”
“But sir, I don’t think you know what I’m offering.”
“I do. Racism, sexism, homophobia, outright lies and an empty wallet. Did I miss anything? No, thought not. Now fuck off and get a job.”

By the way, this happened bang outside the police station, so here’s a word of advice for our new, community conscious police while I’m at it (as you claim to be so interested in public feedback).
Stop fannying about with fundie throwbacks in broom cupboards and get these beggars off the street. It’s what I pay you for, and after all, unlike you, I won’t be retiring in middle age on a fat pension.