Friday, 29 August 2008

Galileo still causing trouble for the Catholic Church

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Despite the fact that we're all largely agreed on the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun (without wishing to forget the Flat Earth Society), Galileo continues to cause problems for the Catholic Church. We had the protests against the Pope by Italian students earlier in the year, and now a proposal to erect a statue of the great astronomer in the Vatican could lead to controversy.

A mystery benefactor has stumped up the necessary cash for the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences to commission the statue, and to stave off controversy the Vatican had hoped to keep it secret for the time being. But the plans were leaked to the Italian press, and now naysayers claim the statue is a feeble ploy by the Church to make up for Galielo's persecution and claim him and his work as part of the Catholic tradition.

"It's an effort to make him a symbol, an attempt to make Galileo one of the emblems of the churchs. It's the church which needs rehabilitation on this case, not Galileo. He was right" said Paolo Galluzzi, head of the Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Florence.

Why so serious?

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Talk about taking a late jump on to a bandwagon – US magazine Christianity Today has just this week offered its opinion on summer blockbuster The Dark Knight, claiming that "America's hero worship has propelled the latest Batman film up the charts as the second-highest grossing movie of all time." (And there was me thinking it was just because it's a great movie.)

After drawing parallels between The Dark Knight and Old Testament "heroes" such as Samson and David, the article warns that "We must not ... draw too many parallels between the Old Testament and The Dark Knight."

Why not, I hear you ask. Surely the only option available to you after watching this masterful comic book adaptation is to draw comparisons with the Old Testament? Not so, says Christianity Today, because "In the movie, justice is detached from God" and "Drawing close parallels between The Dark Knight and Old Testament also misses the nuances of progressive revelation."

Well, that's cleared that one up.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Crucified frog remains defiant

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Does everyone remember the crucified frog that interfered with the Pope's holiday earlier this summer? So much so, in fact, that the Vatican appealed to the Bolzano Museum of Modern Art, in northern Italy, not to display it at all.

Well, it turns out the museum, possibly because it's under the jurisdiction of the Italian government and not the Vatican, or possibly to protect artistic freedom, or possibly just because they didn't care what the Pope thought, have gone and declared that the sculpture will remain on display (although after some deliberation, it must be said).

The Vatican says the sculpture "wounds the religious sentiments of so many people who see in the cross the symbol of God's love", and according to local government official Franz Pahl, who went on hunger strike as a protest, it is "not a work of art but a blashphemy and a disgusting piece of trash that upsets many people". However, when I first reported on this a while back I was able to non-exclusively reveal how it actually represents the “state of profound crisis” of artist, and I'm now able to update this – it is in fact "a self-portrait illustrating human angst".

I think I must have missed that episode of the Muppet Show.

On second thoughts - We haven't had a poll on here in a while so let's have a quick one – What do you think about the sculpture of the crucified frog?
  • It's blashphemy - this is why we used to have the Inquisition
  • It's blasphemy - nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, but can't they take it down or something?
  • It's a self-portrait illustrating human angst
  • It looks like Kermit the Frog after a heavy weekend with Miss Piggy
Vote at the top right of this page.

Obama, King and an anti-abortion shift with the Democrats

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It doesn't seem to pop into my inbox that often anymore, but when it does the Revealer never fails to serve up some good reading (or in this case links to some good reading).

With the Democratic convention in full swing, the latest instalment is election flavoured, opening with a link to this piece from The Nation comparing Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. Obama makes his nomination acceptance speech tonight in the Denver Broncos' stadium, not entirely unintentionally 45 years to the day since King delivered his "I have a dream" speech. Inevitably many have drawn comparisons between Obama and King but, suggets historian Adele Oltman in The Nation, the more valid comparison may be between Obama and King's father, Martin Sr.

Keeping with the election theme, there's also as link to a Wall Street Journal piece on the growing anti-abortion lobby within the Democratic Party. "On the fiery issue of abortion," writes Suzanne Staline, "the Democratic Party has been taking small but notable steps to the right – continuing to vigorously support abortion rights but adding more support for family-planning and other educational services that would 'reduce the need for abortions'." It's all part of attempts to bring evangelical voters over to the Democratic side (James Crabtree wrote about this in our June issue), but this shift to the right is worrying pro-choice Democrats.

To return briefly to Obama, anyone wondering how his rhetorical skills compare to King Jr should take a look at his masterful speech on race, delivered at the height of the furore over his former Pastor, Jeremiah Wright:

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Joe Biden - a Darwinist running mate

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Amid all the stories about Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden as his running mate for the presidential election, here's a bit of information the British press might have missed. It turns out the Delaware Senator has little time for Intelligent Design and creationism, having previously declared “I refuse to believe the majority of people believe this malarkey!”

I found that quote in this Fox News article designed to show why he'll be "easy fodder" for the Republican Party, but I'm sure plenty of people will find straight-talking Biden's words on creationism refreshing.

And I found the Fox article via a handy little site called Creation Tips ("News headlines of interest to Bible-believing Christians"), which also pointed me to a story on how US Catholic group Fidelis believes Obama's selection of pro-choice Catholic Biden "is a slap in the face to Catholic voters".

Also on the Creation Tips news page right now – a story on how the planet Mercury's magnetic field confirms that the Universe is only 6,000 years old, and a story entitled "If homsexuals were born that way, maybe homophobes were too".

Told you it was a handy site.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Damn statistics and all that...

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A survey has found that 57 per cent of American adults, and nearly 20 per cent of doctors, believe that God can reverse the fortunes of a patient with an otherwise terminal diagnosis.

That's a lot of people. If you take a randomly selected sample of 1,000 adults and 774 doctors as representative of the US population.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Keep nailing that faith vote

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It's not really a case of we told you so, but it was interesting to see the US presidential candidates courting the Christian vote this weekend with a joint appearance at Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in California.

It's a sign that James Crabtree was right, in our May/June cover story, when he predicted that this time around the evangelical vote would be crucial to both the Republican and Democratic candidates.

Obama and McCain haven't been seen together for months, but this event was important enough to get them to appear in the same place (and exchange what sounds like an amusingly unconvincing handshake and "Good to see ya").

Rick Warren's the poster pastor of what's being seen as a growing, more compassionate kind of Christian conservatism, whose followers, Crabtree argues, might just be open to voting Democrat in November, if they can look past issues like abortion and gay rights.

Friday, 15 August 2008

In spirit of the Olympics

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A photograph taken of the Spanish Beijing Olympics basketball team shows all the players in a slit-eyed pose, a photograph that has lowered the already poor reputation of the Spaniards for insensitivity towards racial issues. The photos were taken to aid the campaign for the team in Beijing, and it seems that none of the participants realised that the photo could be seen as racially insensitive, a mistake that is worsened by their wanting to host the 2016 games.

In another event, Swedish wrestler Ara Abrahamian won a bronze medal before promptly throwing it away. On receiving the bronze he took it off his neck and dropped it on the floor, declaring, “I don’t care about this medal, I wanted the gold.” When his semi-final loss of 3-2 was announced, Abrahamian shouted at the judge and had to be restrained by team mates. Of course, neither of these incidents really reflect the Olympic spirit, and coincidentally our current cover story asks whether that has survived at all underneath all the politics, money and religion.

Meanwhile, Becki Adlington, the British swimmer who won gold in the 400m freestyle, was two seconds off Janet Evans’ world record in the freestyle heats. However, she is still striving for gold – not only due to the grandeur of the medal itself, but also because her parents have promised to buy her a new pair of designer shoes for every gold she wins, and the next pair is worth £400. What exactly attracts women to high heels and expensive shoes? Sally Feldman posed this question in our May June issue.

Become 38 per cent God

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Spore’s fans are 38 per cent God,” says Will Wright, the developer of a new video game Spore. This game gives players the ability to develop a new species from a microscopic organism all the way into intelligent life that eventually moves into space.

As for “38 per cent God” – Wright says that Spore fans took 18 days to create 2 million species, and that God took 7 days to create “less than 2 million species”, so the players are effectively “0.38G”. He also claims that as the number of Spore species is increasing so fast, players will be at “1G” soon, and by the end of the year “3G”.

Unfortunately for Wright, ecologists dispute this claim as there are a lot more than 2 millions species – an estimated 5–30 million species are thought to exist, with only 1.75 million identified.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Johann Hari: We have a new blasphemy law, enforced by fear of Islamism

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Writing in today's Independent, Johann Hari argues that, just as we've banished the old Christian blasphemy law from the British statute books, the West has tied itself with a new blasphemy law relating to Islam, enforced not by legislation but by a lingering fear of Islamist violence reinforced by terrorism and events such as the Rushdie affair and the Danish cartoons controversy.

He argues that it was the courage of people to question the tenets of Christianity that loosened that religion's grip on society and forced it to reform, and that only similar criticism can lead Islam to do the same.

The striker, the ball and the Holy Goal

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That's right, more football and more Olympics. Watching the highlights from the football tournament last night I couldn't help noticing that the Nigerian side have adopted a novel goal celebration, whereby the scorer, in this case the wonderfully-named Isaac Promise, touches several of his teammates on the forehead, who then fall down flat on the floor.

Discussing this in the office this morning, we were convinced there must be some kind of religious element, so I conducted a bit of web research. This Metro report didn't shed any light, but the comments underneath did:

"He is sending the holy ghost to the players, like how pastors do in church." (2drama, michigan USA /Nigeria)

"The pushing you see them doing is a re-enactment of what happens in some Pentecostal churches. The person falls over because they are blessed and have received the power of God through the pastor." (Mike Jones, Lewisham)

While we wouldn't wish to rely on web comments as statements of fact, these suggestions seem more than reasonable. They correspond with what we were thinking anyway.

You can see the celebration in this video of the goal:

Cat lovers shouldn’t wear fur

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Pope Benedict XVI, thought of as a cat-lover, has come under criticism for his fashion sense, as he has been noticed wearing ermine, the winter coat of the stoat, on his hats and capes. This has caused large concern in the Italian Association for Defense of Animals and the Environment, which has put up a petition online that has so far acquired 1,900 signatures. In fact the publication last year of the book Joseph and Chico, a biography of the Pope told through the eyes of his pet cat, makes the Pope’s dress sense even more strange.

Jesus was a skater boy

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If you’re a bored teenager looking for a place to skateboard this summer, the last thing you need is to be warned of the coming Apocalypse in between sessions on the half-pipe. This is what’s been happening in West Fife, Scotland, where children are being convinced that the “world is going to die, and only those who love Jesus will be saved”, according to a parent who went with his child to a “skate demo”. Although the demo was sponsored by Cavalry Christian Fellowship no one expected to be told that the end of the world was coming – least of all the children who had come to learn about skating. Cavalry Christian Fellowship says, “We have the right by law to say what we believe, it’s as simple as that.”

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Olympic beach volleyball fails to end Russian-Georgian conflict

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Our July/August cover story asked whether sport, particularly Olympic sport, has the power to transcend politics and, on the evidence of events in Beijing this morning, the answer appears to be a firm "no".

Georgia beat Russia, for the only time this week, in the women's beach volleyball (genuine sport or attractive people in bikinis hitting a ball around a beach? You decide) and as this report from the Guardian shows, the Olympic dream failed to prevail. They didn't even manage to avoid mentioning the war.

The only thing that could turn me religious...

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The sports commentator Barry Davies has always insisted that, in order to maintain his broadcasting impartiality, he will never publicly reveal which football team he supports. However, as an employee of New Humanist, rather than one of the all-time great football commentators, I don't feel restrained in the same way and, after over a year of blogging on this site, I finally have the excuse I've been waiting for to declare my allegiance to the mighty Blackburn Rovers.

How, I hear you ask, has this provincial team, the only side other than Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea to lift the Premier League trophy, the club where Alan Shearer spent his best years, even entered the radar of the New Humanist blog?

Well, Rovers have just become the first Premier League club to provide supporters with a prayer room they can use on matchdays. They've built it in the Blackburn End stand, which may seem a strange place given that's the die-hard, beer-drinking stand, and it's aimed at attracting more supporters from various faiths.

To the secular football fan it may seem like a ridiculous idea to have a prayer room in a stadium, but as someone who grew up in Blackburn I can see the logic behind it. It's not the most prosperous of towns, and as a relatively small club Rovers have had to push up ticket costs in order to continue punching above their weight in competition with the Premier League big-boys, causing attendances to drop as many supporters have become priced out of following their team. At the same time, Rovers have long failed to attract a large support from the town's Muslim community, who make up around 20 per cent of the population.

If the prayer room helps to attract more of the town's Muslims to follow Paul Ince's Blue and White Army, everyone's a winner. And you never know – if the lads are 2-1 down with five minutes to go, you may be looking at the only thing that could get this blogger to consider calling on a higher power...

Environmentalists: stop saving the planet

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Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a champion of the Christian Right, believes, contrary to environmentalists worried about global warming, that the planet has already been saved once by Jesus, and doesn’t need to be saved by them. Bachmann says that Nancy Pelsoi, speaker of the US House of Representatives and a keen environmentalist, is “committed to her global warming fanaticism to the point where she has said that she’s trying to save the planet. We all know that someone did that over 2,000 years ago, they saved the planet – we didn’t need Nancy Pelsoi to do that.”

Meanwhile, as one Christian Fundamentalist tells us to stop worrying about the environment, another group is trying to control it. Focus on the Family is calling on US conservatives to pray for “torrential” downpours to flood Denver, where Barack Obama will accept the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in Denver stadium on August 28th. This message was put out by Stuart Shepard, a member of Focus on the Family, who asked, “Would it be wrong to ask people to pray for rain of biblical proportions?” Shepard is asking for the rain to start “two minutes before the speech is set to begin”. However, Shepard accepts that it’s “always up to God to decide… and if he decides it’s not really necessary” then he’ll live with that.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Bogus clergy alert

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It has recently come to attention that a bishop operating in Dallas, who is offering certain religious services for fees of $100 - $200, is a fake. The Catholic Church is appalled and assures us that they do not charge “per sacrament”. This fake bishop has been seen offering his services inside motels, but the church tells us (so that we may know the difference) that they only perform their sacraments inside a church – not hotels.

In other news, east San Diego County has shut down a Catholic church, after ordering it to “cease all religious activity or face legal action”. This was followed by the county threatening to cut the church’s power. After being open for 25 years the county has declared the church to be illegal, and in its place the county has allowed an establishment offering alcohol sales and live entertainment.

In outrage, the Pacific Justice Institute has filed a lawsuit to protect the church, and a spokesman asks, “Does the county really think this community is better off with a bar that invites substance abuse than with a church that is changing lives?”

What next for Isaac Hayes?

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Following the death on Sunday of soul legend Isaac Hayes, Nina Shen Rastogi at Slate provides some answers to the question of what Scientologists believe happens when they die.

Hayes famously left his role as Chef in South Park after creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker produced an episode, "Trapped in the Closet", which lambasted the Church of Scientology and prominent members such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

It was only last week that I saw Parker and Stone's response to Hayes' departure, the episode "The Return of Chef", where Chef's membership of a sinister group, the Super Adventure Club, eventually brings about his death. I thought Kyle's speech at Chef's funeral at the end of the episode was worth reproducing here:

Make Me A Christian - the final word

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For all my blogging on Channel 4's reality TV trash-fest Make Me A Christian, I should have remembered one of life's simple facts: Charlie Brooker always says it better...

Monday, 11 August 2008

Not a doomsday science experiment

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On the 10th September the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva will be started up for the first time. This machine, 13 years in the making and costing nearly £5 billion, has a 27km long accelerator which will cause beams of protons to smash into each other with such force that the conditions moments after the Big Bang will be reproduced, and it is hoped that so-far theoretical particles will be produced and confirmed to exist by scientists.

Also during this experiment it is said that miniature black holes might be produced, a matter that has caused much public debate. However according to scientists there is no chance, as some people believe, that these miniature black holes will fail to instantly evaporate. If they didn’t we could have a problem, as the doubters say that they could become trapped in the earth’s gravitational field, and slowly start to absorb the earth’s mass until they grow in size and swallow the planet whole. Fortunately a spokesman from the LHC reassures us that, “A year from now, the world will still be here”. A botanist, and occasional physicist, from Hawaii disagrees and claims that the LHC will rip a hole in the space time continuum, throwing the earth into a parallel universe and destroying it, and so is suing the company that is producing the LHC – CERN.

So when the machine is turned on in a few weeks time, while a few eccentrics are hiding deep underground, the rest of us will be outside wondering where the summer has gone, and what is going on at Geneva.

For the 86th time, I do

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While an ordinary man with 10 wives “would collapse and die”, Mohammed Bello Abubakar, an 84-year-old from Nigeria, now has 86 wives and has so far survived thanks to his power “given by Allah”. Due to this, he advises other men, that is, those out of direct communication with God, against having 86 wives and an estimated 170 children.

Mohammed Abubakar has wives a quarter of his age, one of whom says that he claimed the marriage was “directly an order from God”. As for the others, they all came with illnesses to find Mohammed (who also happens to have healing powers), all of whom he cured. If you have an illness, all you have to do is sit in front of him, and he can see it and “just remove it”.

Despite the large family, neither Mohammed nor his wives have any work, and to the casual observer it may seem a mystery how he makes the money to pay for food and clothes. No need to worry though, as Mohammed easily answers the question – he gets it from God.

Censorship is key in Make Me A Christian

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Well, for want of anything better to do last night I sat down and watched Channel 4's Make Me A Christian, which needless to say was reality TV at its finest. A few readers logged on to my previous post on this subject last night, leaving comments which mostly cover my views on the programme.

As I pointed out last week, as did some of the commenters, the pastor in charge of teaching the participants about Christianity, George Hargreaves, is at the somewhat extreme end of the religion. Naturally this came out in the programme, where he displayed a characteristic that serves to make people like myself uneasy about religion, namely the tendency to censor people's lives. One participant, a lapdancer, had a few books on witchcraft in her house so Hargreaves confiscated them on the grounds that she was flirting with demonic powers (and there was me thinking it was just a bit silly).

It was a pointless programme, which served to teach viewers little about Christianity expect that some of its more vocal adherents have failed to move on from the book burning of centuries past. But still, it was all worth it for the tattooed atheist biker's description of his education at a Christian school – "There was as much love as you'd get from Fred West at a patio party."

Friday, 8 August 2008

Sport, smog, rights and elaborate opening ceremonies

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In around half an hour's time the Olympic opening ceremony will begin in Beijing, though of course it remains to be seen whether it will be, well, seen, by anyone through the smog.

Either way, what are perhaps the most controversial games since Berlin in 1936 will have officially opened with the standard absurdly extravagant extravaganza and, in between the actual sport, we'll be constantly reminded of the human rights issues and commentators (hopefully not the sporting ones) will continue to question whether China should have been awarded the games in the first place.

But, as our current cover story points out, the Olympics (and sport in general) have long been shrouded in politics, religion and money, and the real question is whether the event itself can shine through the smog and ideology.

It's a sporting feast, even if half the sports are niche to say the least, and I for one will be watching.

Oh, and if anyone wants to see how an Olympic opening ceremony shouldn't proceed, follow the fate of the doves of peace in this clip from the 1988 event in Seoul. (If you want to speed things up skip to around 4mins)

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Welcome to the internet

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To help you get started, here's a useful guide to posting comments on the web, courtesy of our friends at The Onion.

Fire at Westboro Baptist Church

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While New Humanist would never say a building setting on fire is a good thing, there must be a few people out there struggling to sympathise with Fred Phelps and family after a fire broke out at their Westboro Baptist Church at the weekend.

Firefighters have yet to ascertain the cause of the blaze, but as the video below shows, church leader Phelps wasted no time in pointing out who was to blame, namely "fags", "fag sympathisers" "unfaithful oath-breaking judges" (aka "unfaithful devils in black robes"), "big media moguls", "the filthy fag-riddles military", "the mean-spirited citizens of this evil, hellbound nation" and, last but not least, "America's hypocrisy".

In other WBC news, they're planning on picketing the funeral of Tim McClean, the man beheaded on a Canadian bus last week, and they seem to have a competitor in the form of the satirical Eastboro Baptist Church. Led by the Pastor Ben Bigots, Eastboro operate under the mantra "God Hates Everyone Except Us". But, they say, while he hates everything, including the Universe, he hates Westboro Baptist Church most of all.

For your summer viewing - Make Me A Christian

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Here's religious programming at its finest – starting this Sunday Channel 4 have a new series, Make Me A Christian (they did Make Me A Muslim last year), in which a bunch of individuals who don't currently make the moral grade spend three weeks living as Christians.

Now, my first question was "what kind of Christian?", because I'm sure you'll agree it'd be easier to pretend to be some kinds, such as Church of England, for three weeks, than other, more evangelical, kinds. According to the publicity the "mentors come from different branches of Christianity", though it doesn't elaborate.

But the man in charge of it all is a certain Reverend George Hargreaves, an anti-gay evangelical preacher who leads The Christian Party. A quick web search throws up some interesting quotes from the Reverend, my favourite being his opposition to the Welsh flag:

"We will not allow this evil symbol of the devil to reign over Wales for another moment. Wales is the only country in history to have a red dragon on its national flag. This is the very symbol of the devil described in The Book of Revelation 12:3. This is nothing less than the sign of Satan, the devil, Lucifer that ancient serpent who deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. No other nation has had this red dragon as its ruling symbol. Wales has been under demonic oppression and under many curses because of this unwise choice."

If Hargreaves isn't a fan of the Welsh flag, he'll have some fun Christianising the motley crew Channel 4 have rounded up for him:
  • a biker who's a tattooist and a militant atheist
  • a young man who was brought up Christian until he was 12, and now has a girlfriend who is 10 weeks' pregnant
  • a lap-dancing manager who can't live without continually acquiring expensive designer shoes
  • middle-class parents who are so professionally busy that they have hardly any time to spend with their children
  • a man in his 20s who, unbeknown to his girlfriend, goes out every week drinking and womanising
  • a man who found Christianity unfulfilling and has converted to Islam
  • a lesbian who sometimes sleeps with men.
Oh, and the lap-dancing manager is also a fan of witchcraft. Can you believe some people think TV is dumbing down?

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Miracle in California...

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... as Jesus appears in a telegraph pole. Pilgrims have flocked to the site and left candles and flowers to commemorate this wonderful manifestation of their Lord.

And then some mindless vandals go and draw a moustache on him with a marker pen.

[Thanks Christina]

Tasteful psychics watch

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From today's Daily Mirror:


Three psychics are competing to find the body of British backpacker Peter Falconio in a TV challenge.

The clairvoyants have been followed across Australia's Northern Territory where Peter vanished, believed shot dead.

The results will be shown today on the Oz show The One.

Peter, 28, died after being flagged down in his camper van in 2001 but girlfriend Joanne Lees, now 34, fled. Bradley Murdoch, 49, is serving life for his murder."

Monday, 4 August 2008

The truth is out there

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Forget Intelligent Design and creationism – anyone wishing to take irrationalism to new heights will be pleased to hear that a few thousand people still believe the Earth is flat.

A magazine feature on the BBC website introduces us to The Flat Earth Society, and you have to love the quotes they've picked up from a couple of its members.

Like John Davis, a 25-year-old computer scientist from Tennessee: "I came to realise how much we take at face value. We humans seem to be pleased with just accepting what we are told, no matter how much it goes against our senses ... the Earth is flat and horizontally infinite - it stretches horizontally forever. And it is at least 9,000 kilometres deep".

Or James McIntyre, a British flat-earther who, after pointing out that the Earth is a disc, offers his elaborate explanation for why ships don't drop off the edge of the planet: "A cursory examination of a flat earth map fairly well explains the reason - the North Pole is central, and Antarctica comprises the entire circumference of the Earth. Circumnavigation is a case of travelling in a very broad circle across the surface of the Earth."


Dawkins on Darwin, tonight on Channel 4, 8pm

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No doubt many of you are looking forward to Richard Dawkins's welcome return to home turf with tonight's Channel 4 documentary The Genius of Darwin.

The title's fairly self-explanatory and since I haven't seen it yet I think I'll hand you over to someone who has – read the ever-brilliant Charlie Brooker's review from Saturday's Guardian.

Let's discuss the documentary tomorrow when we've actually seen it. In the meantime, here's a clip to whet your appetites.

New Humanist safe from Birmingham Council's web filter

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Hats off to the blogger in charge of Heresy Corner for injecting a bit of common sense into the row over Birmingham City Council's new web filter, which was last week reported to be blocking websites associated with atheism.

Digging deeper into the story, the blogger points out that sites were not blocked because of some local government vendetta against atheism, but rather because Birmingham Council has introduced a new web-filtering system called Blue Coat, a piece of American software which allows administrators to block certain categories of web content. The council blocked Category 22, which bizarrely lumps atheism in with Satanism, witchcraft and voodoo. As the blogger says, this is probably more indicative of US attitudes towards atheism than atttitudes among Birmingham bureaucrats.

The Heresy Corner blogger then goes on to test the Blue Coat status of various well-known "atheist" websites, including our own, finding that none of them come under Category 22. New Humanist is classed as "news/media", the National Secular Society are both "religion" and "society/ daily living" and the British Humanist Association are listed as "Cultural/ charitable organizations".

Not a great deal to panic about then.

Friday, 1 August 2008

There's nothing like a crucified frog to get your holiday started

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After taking over Sydney and almost causing a clamp down on civil liberties for World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI is now taking a well-earned summer holiday at the Bressanone seminary near Bolzano, northern Italy.

The only problem is that the whole trip is in danger of being ruined (okay, maybe not ruined) by a sculpture of a cartoon frog being crucified while holding a beer in one hand and an egg in the other. This stunning art work, by German artist Martin Kippenberger, is on display at the Bolzano Museum of Modern Art and has already been moved from the entrance to the third floor under pressure from the local bishop, and the separatist Union for South Tyrol have collected 10,000 signatures demanding its complete removal.

The Bishop of Bolzano has discussed this travesty with the Pope, but unfortunately he refused to divulge the Papal opinion. Meanwhile the museum have defended the sculpture, saying it is not an attack on Christianity but merely a reflection of the artist's “state of profound crisis”.

And there was me thinking he just hadn't got over hating that Crazy Frog ringtone from a couple of years ago.

Saudi pets banned to stop men on the pull

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As part of Saudi Arabia's never-ending mission to clamp down on immoral behaviour, religious police in the capital Riyadh have banned the sale of cats and dogs, and prohibited men from walking dogs in public.

While taking your pet for a stroll may not seem like the most immoral of acts, the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice are acting on the basis of a time-honoured stereotype – the ladies just love cuddly animals, and are guaranteed to fall for any man displaying similar affections.

Speaking to state newspaper Al-Hayat, the commission's general manager Othman al-Othman explained that the ban is designed to put a stop to "the rising of phenomenon of men using cats and dogs to make passes at women and pester families" as well as "violating proper behaviour in public squares and malls."

However, it remains to be seen if moral standards in Riyadh will soar as a result of the ban. Pet ownership is fairly rare in Saudi Arabia and similar bans in Mecca and Jiddah have failed to have the desired effect.

Reporting on the ban, Associated Press offer another possible reason – the ruling conservative Saudis view pets as a Western trend, popular among fashionable youngsters, just like pop music, fast food and jeans.