Sunday, 15 September 2013

Lost in (cyber)space

As someone who has to use the thing daily, I take particular interest in the ‘improved’ new Manx government website.
Needless to say, ‘improved’ is not an accurate statement of affairs. Most of the pages professionals need to work with government have been moved around, not linked handily enough together to allow you to carry out necessary tasks smoothly or just taken down completely in some cases. Combined with a few major crashes of the office computer system which wiped out all our useful links it has been an …..interesting (!) experience for a week or two now just trying to get the basics done, get out, and go home.
But one vanishing link is worthy of comment here, and might even be indicative of a governmental rethink (though I doubt it).
There used to be a front page link to a page listing contacts for local religious groups – church postal and website addresses, phone numbers for clergy and that sort of thing. It also, more usefully, gave contacts for the obscurer Christian sects and non-Christian faiths. I say useful, firstly because it proved they exist (contrary to the ‘expert’ advice given to government less than a decade ago by a high-ranking Anglican) and more generally if, say, somebody Muslim or Jewish had been taken ill or died and you needed immediate advice on what to do next.
As far as I can gather, the page first appeared courtesy of the Tourist Department as a way to help tourists find the more obscure churches involved in the annual Flower Festival, and for religiously minded visitors to find a place of Sunday worship. This was in an era when links between Manx church and state were so strong that some worshippers were effectively getting a government salary to practice their faith. In recent years, that generation have retired and it  was also noticeable that the traditional churches took up less and less of the listings and new cults or non-Christian religions were becoming the majority.
I (luckily) knew the old government website so well that I was able to restore the new equivalents of all the vital professional links I use within a day, but after searching extensively I am 100% sure there is no longer any list of religious contacts. As I know for a fact it was the only source used by certain government departments to find a suitable cross-section of religious leaders to advise on ethical issues, it will be worth challenging future government pronouncements that they have consulted faith communities on their policies and met with no objections.
But did the page vanish (a) because churches close to government cannot cope with evidence of their minority status, even when only measured against other faiths (b) completely by accident and rank civil service incompetence or (c) because some government bean-counter worked out that nobody goes to church any more?
Now THAT might be worth knowing. Unlike most of the endless, consistently pointless and fact free ‘media communications’ from government.

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