Friday, 27 June 2008

Westboro Baptist Church to picket George Carlin's funeral

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You have to pity those poor folk at the Westboro Baptist Church – they just keep on picketing funerals, whether they belong to Heath Ledger, victims of school massacres or US soldiers killed in Iraq, but no one seems to be getting any less gay, or any less atheist for that matter.

And now they've announced plans to picket the funeral of a man who really couldn't have cared less where a bunch of Christian fundamentalist homophobes from Kansas think he'll be spending his non-existent afterlife. Yes, that's right – the Westboro Baptist Church will be outside the funeral of the late, great George Carlin who, in their words was "the filthy blasphemer - the obscene potty-mouth skeptic, agnostic, and profane atheist - who had nothing but disdain for God and the Bible all the days of his tragic life - [who] is now, at this minute and for ever writhing and screaming in exquisite pain - pleading for mercy from that God he flipped off while performing for HBO for lucre."

Something tells us Carlin would have quite enjoyed that description.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Comedy legend George Carlin dies aged 71

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We were sad to hear that the American comedian George Carlin died at the weekend aged 71. As well as the fact that he played Rufus in the Bill and Ted films, which I loved when I was growing up, Carlin was one of comedy's most vociferous critics of organised religion and it can only be hoped that we will see his like again.

We'll be paying a proper tribute to Carlin in our forthcoming July/August issue, but for now sit back and admire the great man's views on religion:

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Meanwhile, the 'c' word's alive and well in London

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While anti-Scientology protesters are under attack for using the word "cult" elsewhere in the UK, their comrades in London have adopted a novel tactic for getting their message across. I spotted this sticker this lunchtime on a pedestrian crossing on Tottenham Court Road, just yards from Scientology's Dianetics centre. It's on a busy crossing too, just by the Odeon cinema, so I imagine plenty of people have registered their views on their way to the Sainsburys down the road...

It's "too ambiguous" to call Scientology a cu*t

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There's been another development in what's becoming a long-running dispute between anti-Scientology protesters and British police, as a 57-year-old man was charged with breach of the peace for displaying a sign that read "Stupid Cu*t" and "Greedy Cu*t" during a protest in Edinburgh at the weekend.

This follows a series of incidents where protesters in UK cities have been warned by police that branding Scientology a "dangerous cult" during demonstrations could be viewed as inciting religious hatred.

The Edinburgh protester was clearly looking to make a point about this with his "Cu*t" sign, as he explained in a blog post:

"Following the recent arrests of protesters who displayed the word 'cult', I decided to make the point that the word 'cult' was being treated as an offensive profanity when applied to Scientology. The arrest when it came was swift and non-negotiable. I was told, 'That's going too far, I'm arresting you'. I never received a warning."

Apparently the man was told his sign was "too ambiguous", which raises some interesting legal issues about acceptable levels of ambiguity. Would the police prefer more or less stars? Is "C**t" more acceptable than "Cu*t"? Or shall we just insert an "n" in the appropriate place and have done with it?

Answers in comments to this post....

Monday, 9 June 2008

French coach uses astrology to help pick his team

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Watching Germany v Poland on the BBC last night, I saw a bizarre little half time feature on how the French coach, Raymond Domenech, factors in astrology and the results of tarot readings when picking his team. Apparently he distrusts Scorpios and believes Leos have a tendency to show off. He didn't pick any Scorpios for his 2006 World Cup squad (even leaving out Robert Pires) and hasn't picked any for Euro 2008. His view of Leos means he's wary of playing them in defence, but the fact that the Arsenal captain William Gallas was born in August means Domenech generally has to overlook that rule.

It's all very odd and I'm not sure football fans over here would settle for the England manager basing his team selection on astrology (that said, we put up with Glenn Hoddle's faith healer for a while). However, the fact that Domenech took his country to within a Zinedine Zidane headbutt of winning the 2006 World Cup probably means French fans are willing to overlook his bizarre views, at least until they've seen how they perform in the present tournament.

Unfortunately I couldn't find a clip of the BBC feature on Domenech, which was a shame as it involved an Ozzy Osborne lookalike French astrologer explaining how horoscopes can be an excellent tool for managing a sports team. Instead you'll have to make do with this article from the Daily Mail...

Friday, 6 June 2008

Now Christians can email their friends after they've been swept up by the Rapture

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We've reported on a fair few bizarre religious websites in the past, but this one surely beats all the others. You've Been Left Behind allows Christians to prepare an email for up to 62 of their acquaintances likely to still be on Earth (under the governance of the Antichrist) after all the Bible-abiding Christians have been swept up into Heaven by the Rapture. Allow the You've Been Left Behind website to explain:

"We all have family and friends who have failed to receive the Good News of the Gospel. The unsaved will be 'left behind' on earth to go through the "tribulation period" after the "Rapture". Imagine how taken back they will be by the millions of missing Christians and devastation at the rapture. They will know it was true and that they have blown it. There will be a small window of time where they might be reached for the Kingdom of God. We have made it possible for you to send them a letter of love and a plea to receive Christ one last time."

Funnily enough, this service is not provided free of charge, with subscribers paying an annual fee of $40 for the security of knowing that their non-Christian friends and loved ones will be contacted at the beginning of the end. Emails will be sent 6 days after the Rapture, the website knowing it has happened "when 3 of our 5 team members scattered around the U.S fail to log in over a 3 day period. Another 3 days are given to fail safe any false triggering of the system."

I discovered You've Been Left Behind through the blog Threat Level (via the excellent News of the Weird), which emailed the site to find out if it's for real. They received a reply from it's creator, Mark Heard, who assured them that it is genuine and that it actually has some paying customers.

$40 a year well-spent, I'm sure you'll all agree...

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Can animals use language?

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Alex the parrot could, or so it appears. Read this lovely piece from the New Yorker on the whole issue of chatty beasts.

Pope's visit to Australia will drive up trips to brothels

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Here's an unfortunate knock-on effect if ever there was one – market research analysts IBIS World predict that the Pope's July visit to Sydney for Catholic World Youth Day will lead to an increase in business for the city's brothels, strip clubs and prostitutes.

225,000 pilgrims and clergy are expected at the event, which runs from 15-20 July, but Ed Butler of IBIS World was keen to stress that it is unlikely to be the Catholics, or that matter the Pope himself, caught with their trousers down:

"Any major event will drive tourism, which is closely related to the sex industry … and World Youth Day will also bring out a certain number of non-religious people."

Because, obviously, it's only those pesky "non-religious people" (who Fox Australia clarify as "tourists, support staff and media") who do things like visiting strip clubs and prostitutes. With this in mind, I thought I'd have a look what World Youth Day is all about. For a start it's a five-day event, so the Catholic Church is clearly not concerned by any kind of trade description legislation, and it "brings together young people from around the globe to celebrate and learn about their faith on a more regular basis."

Two things come to mind here. Firstly, of those 225,000 attendees, how many of the young people will be there entirely on the back of their own initiative and religious zeal, and how many will have been sent there by their parents? Secondly, this being a massive Catholic youth event, how much of it will consist of telling the young pilgrims (who are away from home in Australia's biggest city for 5 days) to steer clear of having sex?

If you follow my argument, you may agree that it might not just be those depraved "non-religious people" setting out on pilgrimages to Sydney's brothels and strip clubs next month...

[Thanks to Christina for the link]

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Ultra-orthodox Islamic seminary issues fatwa against terrorism

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The Darul-Uloom Deoband, the Islamic madrassa in rural India where Taliban leader Mullah Omar studied, this weekend issued a fatwa against terror during a peace conference in Delhi, with Grand Mufti Habibur Rehman declaring:

"The religion of Islam has come to wipe out all kinds of terrorism and to spread the message of global peace. Islam rejects all kinds of unjust violence, breach of peace, bloodshed, murder and plunder and does not allow it in any form."

The fatwa is a significant move for an institution that has been widely viewed as the inspiration behind many Islamic extremists. In the Nov/Dec 2007 issue of New Humanist Edna Fernandes told how she gained unique access to the madrassa while researching her book on Indian fundamentalism. In light of this latest development, it's an article well worth revisiting.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Things atheists could do without...

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You could probably devise quite a long list, but one thing would surely be anti-religious video games. A graduate of the University of Virginia has designed a game where the object is to prevent the spread of Christianity and Islam by travelling through history killing those religions' key prophets. As if that wasn't inflammatory enough, the ultimate aim of the game is to behead the prophet Muhammad.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the developer has chosen to keep his identity secret though, given the fact that publishers are fairly unlikely to be queuing up for the rights to his game, he's probably pretty low on al-Qaeda's hitlist right now.

Still, as the report from Virginia news channel WSLS10 shows, silly ideas like this give people a good excuse to have a go at atheism in general. The game's creator seems to think he's doing non-believers a huge favour – "Atheists have never really had anything to speak for them like this" – but with any luck few people will agree. If this game does actually exist, it sounds just as bad as the fundamentalist Christian title Left Behind: Eternal Forces (aim: convert or kill the infidels) and we think we'll give it a miss.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Now anti-Scientology protesters are under attack in Glasgow

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What is it with the police and Scientology? Following clampdowns on protesters using the word 'cult' in relation to Scientology in London and Birmingham, a Scottish newspaper yesterday reported similar action by the police in Glasgow.

According to the Sunday Herald, protesters from the group Anonymous were told to remove banners calling Scientology a 'cult' and this was confirmed by a spokeswoman for Strathclyde police, who tried to justify the action:

"The word is not a breach of the peace in itself. However, in this case it was exacerbating the situation and our stance was that we had to remove that. From a policing point of view, a balance has to be struck between the right to assemble and hold a meeting and other persons' rights to go about their business or demonstrate without being obstructed or hindered."

The only trend that seems to be emerging here is a complete lack of consistency on the part of the police, with different forces reaching entirely different conclusions regarding the use of the word 'cult'. As I said on Friday, surely the fact that the Crown Prosecution Service found no problem with protesters using the word in the City of London set a precedent that police can't prevent its use in other parts of the country? At least according to my understanding of how the law works (if any readers know a bit more about the law, please do explain some more by commenting on this post).

It's certainly time this issue was cleared up once and for all. Either using the word 'cult' in relation to Scientology is fine, in which case it can be used anywhere in the country, or it isn't, in which case there's a serious free speech issue that needs to be contested.

Bishop uses unfortunate analogy to criticise climate change deniers

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I'm not saying the Bishop of Stafford's heart wasn't in the right place when he wrote a letter for parish magazines in his diocese, but he certainly chose an unfortunate analogy when he compared those who do nothing about climate change to Josef Fritzl.

Saying that people who make no efforts to prevent global warming are "as guilty as" the Austrian child imprisoner and rapist, Bishop Gordon Mursell sought to justify the comparison:

"Josef Fritzl represents merely the most extreme form of a very common philosophy of life: I will do what makes me happy, and if that causes others to suffer, hard luck. In fact you could argue that, by our refusal to face the truth about climate change, we are as guilty as he is - we are in effect locking our children and grandchildren into a world with no future and throwing away the key."

Unsurprisingly the bishop has found himself in a bit of hot water and was on this morning's Today programme to defend his words, helpfully pointing out that he wasn't "trying to imply that people who ignore climate change are child abusers":

"I am simply trying to use an analogy to get people to wake up to the consequences of what we are failing to do, because if we don't there won't be a future for our children either."

Personally I think it's good to see bishops speaking up on issues like climate change. There are plenty of people out there who will listen to what they have to say, but for future reference it's probably worth remembering that the general public don't take kindly to being compared to incestuous rapists.