Friday, 28 November 2008

Apparently we're chickens...

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As many of you know, our God Trumps cards have had lots of hits and lots of feedback, most of which has, perhaps surprisingly, been very positive (for example here, here and here). It turns out people quite enjoy jokes.

Most people, that is. Not Damian Thompson, the editor-in-chief of the Catholic Herald who also blogs for the Telegraph. Here's a selection of his thoughts on God Trumps, entitled "Humanist attack on religions chickens out of criticising Islam":
The New Humanist website carries a set of "God Trumps" cards mocking all the major world religions. Except one. Can you guess which it is? Yup, the religion of peace. A religion so peaceful, in fact, that the humanists make a nervous joke out of their decision not to criticise it . . .

. . . The next card is "Muslim". The text reads: "Ultimate trump card. No jokes can be made here! Well done to the extremist section of this faith for making it impossible to have any kind of reasoned debate, or even a good-humoured debate around this subject. You trump everyone - even the integrity of this feature."

I'll say. It is perfectly possible to have a reasoned debate about Islam, unless you are a politically correct coward. Islam has its "weapon of choice" - several, actually - and also some doctrines just as "daffy" as those of Christianity. Heard the one about Mohammed's night journey to Jerusalem?

And if you're going to joke about Henry VIII's divorce, which the Anglican card does, why not throw in a reference to Mo's child bride? But, you see, that would risk offending Muslims. And we can't have that in a feature dedicated to satirising religions, can we?

There's lots we could say about this, but we thought we'd let Christina Martin do the talking, since she devised God Trumps:

While most people are seeing God Trumps for what they are, i.e. a joke, a small minority are getting their panties in a flap, bless them. The most vocal being Damian Thompson, Editor of the Catholic Herald no less, and a blogger for the Telegraph – they truly don't come any more uptight than that.

I don't mind that he (and the many people who added angry comments to his piece) didn't like the God Trumps. Humour is subjective. But what isn't subjective is his nonsense accusation that the Muslim card was a cowardly cop-out. The reasons for this are four fold. Yes four fold, take that Damian!

Firstly, I wrote it, so I should know. And I can exclusively reveal that I composed the Islam card as I did because I thought it would be funny. Sorry to pull the rug out from underneath all that the sabre rattling but it really is that mundane.

Secondly, it comes down to my childhood experiences of playing Top Trumps 'Ghouls and Ghosts' in the playground everyday for a year. The demon card had a hundred points for everything and would beat all of the other cards. Accordingly when I started composing this piece I thought, "Who holds the ultimate trump?" Originally it was going to be the Pope as he seems to be able to charge around getting his own way completely unchallenged, and he has the whole Papal infallibility thing going on, but I thought it would be a better satire to use it on Islam.

Which brings me to point number three – that it's a satire. A satire of the way society deals with the issues surrounding Islam. People pussy foot around them, I don't like it either, hence my rather pointed remark on the card about it being bad for society at large.

And finally, point number four – how much of a cop-out can it really be if the card name checks extremists, says they're ruining free speech and is illustrated with a picture of a mad mullah? Far from shying away from the issue I think we did a good job of confronting it head on, in a humorous fashion. And that's the whole point of the piece. Nobody gets any special treatment. They all get equally mocked. Each of the cards use broad societal generalisations to comic effect. The overall message being – isn't all of this nonsense?

Update: And thanks to Mr Thompson God Trumps has now been listed on Islamophobia Watch, although they don't actually say whether they think it is Islamophobic. They just take Thompson's word for it that we'd "chickened out" of criticising Islam. Whether that means that we're Islamophobic, Thompson's Islamophobic, or no one's Islamophobic I just don't know.

It's Chocco-Christ time

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Shall we begin the day with a quote? It's a good one:

"It is terrible that Jesus is being wrapped up in gold foil and sold along with chocolate bunnies, edible penguins and lollipops. This is ruining the symbol of Jesus himself"

The words of Aegidius Engel, a spokesman for the German archbishopric of Paderborn, which is unhappy with the exploits of Frank Oynhausen of Duisburg, who's been flogging chocolate Jesus figures to what sounds like great success.

Oynhausen was unemployed for a couple of years, but that was before his divine eureka moment: "I started thinking about how I could reintroduce traditional religious values into this commercial world."

So "Sweet Lord" was born, and with it a ready made reason for both the Protestant and Catholic churches to claim offence. And if our picture is making you feel peckish, the good news is that Oynhausen's doing so well that he plans to go global with this sugarry Messiah.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Atheist bus diversions

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Time for an update on Atheist Bus shenanigans around the globe. First up Australia where the Australian Foundation of Atheism planned to emulate the British bus campaign with one of their own. They wanted to carry the message: “Atheism – Celebrate reason!' But APN Outdoor’, the company responsible for Public Metropolitan Transport Advertising, has said 'no'. Apparently the message is unacceptable, though why remains a mystery. A spokesman for the AFA said: "The planet is moving to a more enlightened era but apparently, public transport advertising agents in Australia have missed the bus." Boom boom.

Meanwhile in Ireland Mary Kenny, a religious commentator much renowned for her [insert sarcastic comment here in place of the truth that she is a ranting nutter], has her say in the Irish Independent about the plan to replicate the bus campaign in Ireland. Its hilarious, especially if while you read it you play spot the fact that is correct - like where’s Wally, but harder. More here.


[Thanks Ariane]

Want to make money? Start a religion

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...so said L Ron Hubbard, who then followed his own advice and set up the Church of Scientology which, according to this estimate brings in something like $500 million a year. Most unsurprising fact revealed: Tom "thumb" Cruise has donated $25 Million. Most upsetting fact: $7.5 million came from Bart Simpson (well, Nancy Cartwright who is the voice of the little scamp).

Say it ain't so Bart!

[Thanks to Caspar Henderson for link]

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Thank you, Sarah Palin

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She may not be the second most powerful person on the planet, yet, but she sure touched a chord in the hearts of good honest 'murcan folks, you betcha!



... and she's running away with the Bad Faith Awards (see poll top right) which should please her and all the people in the ad, shouldn't it?

What's every bloggers favourite animal?

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Lynx.. (geddit, you know links.. aw never mind)

Anyway here are a couple of New Humanist related links for you.

This is Martin Rowson on the Professional Cartoonists Organisation blog talking about how he got slapped by a Labour MP, and about God Trumps. He's right that we are very excited about how God Trumps went viral, but the numbers are out of date. We did have 55,000 visitors last Thursday, but it didn't stop there. There were 35,000 on Friday, and as of yesterday God Trumps has has more than 120,000 visits, which makes it our most read article ever (by a factor of 6). As Martin suggests we will definitely be doing a round two, to satisfy all those who have written in asking for their religion not to be left out. So fear not Mormons, Eastern Orthodoxers, Ba'hais, Fulan Gongs and Jedi your time will come. We'll be posting a new poll soon where you can vote for what you want to see and propose your own.

And here is the Guardian weekly podcast featuring Robin Ince and me talking about our 9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People show (at the start ) and how to combine sceince and jokes (at the end), with our friends on the Guardian's sceince team, Alok Jha, James Randerson and Ian Sample. Have a listen, its good.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Spurious Christianity reference of the day

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Here's a thought process for you:

Ageing political journalist + ballroom dancing show + unwarranted public popularity + absurd public "resignation" spectacle = sign of the wider decline in Christian values

Does it make sense? Probably not, but it does to Justin Thacker, Head of Theology at the Evangelical Alliance. Any excuse to talk about God, eh?

The return of Popewatch

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Did we ever have a feature called Popewatch? I think you'll find we did - just off the top of my head I can refer you to the following editions of New Humanist: Vol 122 No3, Vol 122 No 6, Vol 123 No 1...

Let's face it - we watch Benny so you don't have to. And thank Christ we do, or you may never have known about his new power – retrospective prophecy. Yes, it turns out that the Pope knew all along that we'd be entering a period of financial turmoil, as he prophesied it in 1985. Which makes me imagine a process a little like this (I will play the role of Pope for a moment):
Person X: If only we could have known that our future would be spent living in crudely fortified caves, battling the dinosaurs so foolishly resurrected by scientists who believed they could control nature.

Me: I knew it was going to happen.

X: What?

Me: I knew, I prophesied it.

X: Why didn't you tell us?

Me: It was a prophecy. I only tell people about them after they've actually happened.
Is this what the Pope's been up to? Not really - it turns out that what he actually did in the '80s, presumably in between sniffing glue and listening to The Specials, was write an article along the lines of "sometimes bad things will happen to the economy", or in his own words a decline in ethics "can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse.''

Hardly Nostradamus, is he? But I do like how if anyone else wrote a simple assessment of things that can go wrong in the economy it would be seen as a prediction but, when the (future) Pope does it, it becomes a "prophecy".

PS - anyone who finds my dinosaurs example too ridiculous may wish to read this.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Is Obama a "real" Christian?

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During the election campaign we had the whole "is he a Muslim" stupidity, and now another controversy (of sorts) seems to have broken out over whether or not Barack Obama is a bone fide Christian or not, as Tom Heneghan reports on the Reuters faith blog.

Apparently it all comes down to an interview the now president-elect gave in 2004 in which he described Jesus as “a bridge between God and man”, which some say suggests he doesn't believe Christ was literally the son of God. According to some bloggers, this amounts to a denial of the Nicene Creed – something I last heard of people arguing over when I studied a bit of Byzantine history at university.

There's been much for us Brits to envy in this year's fascinating US election but, as you'll see in this next passage, where I've substituted Gordon Brown for Barack Obama, this is one silly dispute I'm pleased to say will probably never enter British politics:
Bloggers Joe Carter and Rod Dreher read in Gordon Brown’s interview a denial of the Nicene Creed since he called Jesus “a bridge between God and man” rather than clearly saying he is the Son of God (hat tip to Steve Waldman). “Unless Brown was being incredibly and uncharacteristically inarticulate, this is heterodox. You cannot be a Christian in any meaningful sense and deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. You just can’t,” Dreher writes. Has Brown denied the divinity of Jesus Christ here? That’s not clear here. Another point that Carter notes is that he doesn’t believe that people who have not embraced Jesus as their personal saviour will automatically go to hell. “I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That’s just not part of my religious makeup,” he said.
[Found via Reuters]

If you're going to quote chunks from something, it may as well be The Onion...

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I had to share some of this opinion piece I just read on The Onion:
I'm Not One Of Those 'Love Thy Neighbor' Christians
By Janet Cosgrove

Everybody has this image of "crazy Christians" based on what they hear in the media, but it's just not true. Most Christians are normal, decent folks. We don't all blindly follow a bunch of outdated biblical tenets or go all fanatical about every bit of dogma. What I'm trying to say is, don't let the actions of a vocal few color your perceptions about what the majority of us are like.

Like me. I may be a Christian, but it's not like I'm one of those wacko "love your neighbor as yourself " types.

God forbid!

I'm here to tell you there are lots of Christians who aren't anything like the preconceived notions you may have. We're not all into "turning the other cheek." We don't spend our days committing random acts of kindness for no credit. And although we believe that the moral precepts in the Book of Leviticus are the infallible word of God, it doesn't mean we're all obsessed with extremist notions like "righteousness" and "justice."

My faith in the Lord is about the pure, simple values: raising children right, saying grace at the table, strictly forbidding those who are Methodists or Presbyterians from receiving communion because their beliefs are heresies, and curing homosexuals. That's all. Just the core beliefs. You won't see me going on some frothy-mouthed tirade about being a comfort to the downtrodden...

Make sure you read the rest - it's very funny.

[Found via Friendly Atheist]

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Dates for your diary in 2009

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Just a quick note to let you know about three events coming up next year in Conway Hall, London, organised by our friends at Centre for Inquiry London and South Place Ethical Society. Cut-price entry is available to New Humanist subscribers and members of the RA, SPES, BHA and GALHA, and students. Full details and booking info on the CFI website:

WEIRD SCIENCE Saturday, 17th January 2009. 10.30am-4pm. A day exploring the science of the weird, and weird and flaky science, with Ben Goldacre, Richard Wiseman, Chris French, Stephen Law.

GOD IN THE LAB Saturday, 21st March. 10.30am-4pm. With Oxford University scientists. A day with leading scientific researchers into faith - looking at hearing voices, possession, the effect of faith on pain perception, etc. What goes on the brain of someone hearing voices? Come and see the fMRI scans. Is a disposition to religious belief hard-wired into us? Yes, says one of our speakers, and provides empirical evidence.

SCIENCE AND RELIGION Saturday, 25th April. 10.30am-4pm. Simon Singh, Mary Warnock, Jack Cohen, Stephen Law. A day exploring the relationship between science and religion

New York Times on Sharia in Britain

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There's nothing particularly new here, but I was interested to see that the New York Times has picked up on the use of Sharia law in the UK. It's all things we know – Sharia law has been in use for some time in arbitration cases (as have C of E "ecclesiastical courts" and Jewish "beth din"), its use is on the rise, Rowan Williams put his foot in it earlier this year – but they do have some excellent first-hand examples from a Sharia court in Leyton, east London. Here's an example of the kind of "arbitration" they've been dishing out:
"The woman in black wanted an Islamic divorce. She told the religious judge that her husband hit her, cursed her and wanted her dead. But her husband was opposed, and the Islamic scholar adjudicating the case seemed determined to keep the couple together. So, sensing defeat, she brought our her secret weapon: her father.

In walked a bearded man in long robes who described his son-in-law as a hot-tempered man who had duped his daughter, evaded the police and humiliated his family. The judge promptly reversed himself and recommended divorce."

See, it was all going badly until the father walked in, with the "judge" saying “Please, will you give him another chance?” and "I'll give you one month's time to reconcile". But since the word of a man trumps that of a woman, and the word of an older man presumably trumps that of a younger man, the father was able to sort it all out with these words of wisdom:

“He was not a cucumber that we could cut open to know that he was rotten inside. The only solution is divorce.”
Okay, so it sounds like the correct decision was made in the end in that case, but only because the father intervened. Do we really want this kind of process to have legal backing in the UK? Here's another example from Leyton:
Another woman, 25, wanted out of a two-year-old arranged marriage with a man who refused to consummate the relationship. Dr. Hasan counseled dialogue. “Until we see the husband,” he said, “we can’t be sure that what you’re saying is true.”
The clearest arguments against Sharia that I've heard and read have been put by the Independent columnist Johann Hari. I recently saw him speak on the subject in a debate at the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain conference (clip included below), and after that he kindly nominated Rowan Williams for our Bad Faith Award (click here to hear that nomination). Why? Because, in suggesting we should allow Sharia in Britain, Williams was advocating exposing Muslim women in this country to "a court system that reinforces the most ugly forms of mysogyny."

Patrick Jones/Waterstones/Stephen Green update

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Today's emails day on the blog. Welsh poet Patrick Jones has sent us a further update on the row over his cancelled book signing at Waterstones and Stephen Green's inflammatory behaviour. Some of you will know that the controversy prompted some members of the Welsh Assembly to invite Jones to do a reading there. Unsurprisingly Green weighed in on this too ("Welsh Lib Dems become the 'Insult Jesus' Party"), and now Jones tells us some Welsh AMs are joining in:
Thank you for posting my email - just a quick update - three Welsh AM.s are now trying to get the reading cancelled at the Welsh Assembly due "to blasphemy and profanity in the poems" and that "the UK is a Christian country" and "believe in freedom of speech ...but" - and I promise I have not sent an email or invited them or anything!!! I think it goes to show the knee jerk reactions that abound.

Also Borders have stepped in and we will be launching the book on Dec 11th at the Cardiff store with a further reading in London's Borders - which i hope will show the way that it should have been handled and that the issue was not how Christian Voice heard of the book but their reaction and their destruction of free speech. The venues I am reading at (and I could be reading any poem - even Rowan Williams!) are being bombarded and threatened with calls and emails from CV members and some are quite upset and anxious about this.

I hope you are well and thank you for hosting this debate.

Take care

Patrick


St Monica's Governors - Natalie Haynes responds

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A couple of days ago we published an email from Dale Haslam, a reporter on the Bury Times who covered the story of St Monica's High School in Prestwich deciding not to give its female pupils the HPV vaccine (which protects against cervical cancer) back when it hit the news. Haslam argued that Natalie Haynes was wrong to nominate the school's governors for our Bad Faith Award because they took the decision for medical, not moral, reasons. Natalie begs to differ – here's her response:
Dale Haslam, Senior Reporter of the Bury Times, has complained that many people missed the point of his coverage of the St Monica’s School fiasco. Perhaps it’s easier to believe that than accept the much more plausible diagnosis – that most people understood his point quite clearly, then immediately disregarded it as eminently and evidently spurious.

He seems convinced that the school’s participation in a trial of the vaccine is a sign of their belief in its moral rectitude. This flies in the face of actual evidence from one of their governors, Monsignor Allen, who implied that the vaccination was, in essence, encouraging girls to be promiscuous: “Morally it seems to be a sticking-plaster response. Parents must consider the knock-on effect of encouraging sexual promiscuity. Instead of taking it for granted that teenagers will engage in sexual activity, we can offer a vision of a full life keeping yourself for a lifelong partnership in marriage.”

Mr Haslam suggests that the school could not possibly object to the vaccine on moral grounds "else why would it have allowed the trial?". Well, I can think of three reasons, off the top of my head.

One, the governing body might not have been consulted about the vaccine trial.

Two, the governing body might have changed some of its members since the trial was approved.

Three, and most cynically, the school might allow a trial it considered immoral for precisely the reason that it could then more legitimately refuse to administer the vaccine once the trial was over. Short term loss for long term gain. Trial girls obviously encouraged into a life of sexual promiscuity and degradation, but future generations saved for a "lifelong partnership in marriage".

He takes exception to my accusation of hypocrisy levelled at an organization that allows the TB jab but not the HPV one: "TB jabs have been used for decades and myriad research has been done into the side effects of them - that is not the case with the cervical cancer jab." Yes, quite. The TB jab is considered safe now, precisely because it has been used millions of times. Some people have adverse reactions to it, although not many, but the net gain is clearly worth the occasional side effects. If schools in the past had had the same attitude as St Monica’s, the TB jab might not have been used millions of times, and many more of us would have contracted TB. Thank goodness previous generations were more courageous, or perhaps less venal, than the current one.

He goes on to say, "If the school allowed the vaccine to be taken on school grounds, parents would carte blanche allow it and therefore, hold the school responsible should the worst happen (a child dies/becomes seriously ill due to a side effect and let's remember the school does not have access to the pupils' medical records, so even if it did know that the vaccine, for example, made autistic pupil seriously ill, it wouldn't even know which pupils were autistic)."

Now, let’s look at the argument here. Am I seriously intended to believe that parents of an autistic child, which Mr Haslam appears to believe would be especially vulnerable to contracting serious illness from a vaccine, would simply assume that if the school was conducting the vaccination programme, it was safe for their particular, prone-to-illness child? How ridiculous. Parents of chronically ill children are almost invariably conscious of potential hazards. They are hardly likely to take the school’s word for what is or isn’t appropriate for their child – they would speak to their GP. And school policy isn’t usually decided on what would be appropriate for one, unusual child: it’s decided on what is appropriate for most children. An autistic child will often require special provision – why should vaccinations be any different from school lunches or reading lessons?

He says "In that trial, staff saw side effects in some of its pupils, who either went home ill the same day, phoned in sick the following day or were excused from class while they vomited or felt light headed." The actual statistics for the trial give rise to the fiction here – the trials involved more than 100,000 girls, and the number of adverse reactions was so low, it was equivalent to 2.6 cases in every 100,000 doses. None of which had serious lasting effects. I suppose it’s possible that every single one of those (approximately) 3 sick girls was at St Monica’s, or that the girls there are somehow susceptible to side effects in a way that girls everywhere else aren’t. It is, however, a great deal more likely that someone is lying or mistaken. Either the staff are exaggerating what they saw, or the girls saw an excellent opportunity to have a day off. You’ve been a teenager – what do you think is likely?

He concludes, "It is not a moral argument". It is precisely that. Quite aside from the issue of women’s sexual health, this vaccine protects a group. Herd immunity relies on enough of us having jabs for illnesses we may never get to protect the few of us who don’t get the jab and might get the illness. When parents refused to get the MMR job for their children, they didn’t just endanger their own offspring, they endangered everyone who came into contact with them, including some children too young to receive the MMR jab yet themselves.

St Monica’s is the only school in the country to refuse to administer the HPV vaccine on its premises. So while it is possible that they are privy to special medical knowledge that the rest of us can only imagine, it seems much more likely that they are, in fact, wrong. What a pity their local press is too gutless or gullible to question them.
So, the debate goes on. Let us know what you think by replying to this post.

Update: Dale Haslam has replied to Natalie now – read it in the comments on this post

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Sick of being preached at? Try our quick and easy method for choosing the best religion

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You know the feeling. It's Christmas Day, the whole family's bored and you're having a metaphysical crisis as you struggle to work out just which religion you should belong to. Well, now you can take on all those problems at once by orchestrating a game of God Trumps, our cut-out-and-keep game that helps you choose your spiritual home once and for all...

Okay, enough of that - all this blog post is really saying is that Christina Martin's excellent God Trumps cards from our new issue are now online and ready for your viewing. There's an example to the right, but make sure you click the link I just used to see the rest.

Monday, 17 November 2008

2 for 1 book censorship

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Funny how these things come along all at once. As the controversy over the Patrick Jones book signing at Waterstones goes on, we hear news of Amazon preventing UK shoppers from buying copies of a book by a former Irish Scientologist.

Customers attempting to buy John Duignan's The Complex: An Insider Exposes the Covert World of the Church of Scientology (there's a taste of what he has to say here) received emails informing them that the book, which has only been published in Ireland but was available through Amazon, had been removed from sale to UK buyers "for legal reason".

Amazon have yet to give a proper reason, but a press release from anti-Scientology group Anonymous suggests pressure from the Church of Scientology could be behind the decision, especially given the organisation's past form when it comes to litigation. The press release also says Duigan is "furious and dismayed" but "not at all surprised given the Church's record on freedom of expression".

Best Ann Coulter quote ever?

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She made an early run for the Bad Faith Award, only to be outdone by the enduring love we atheists hold for defeated VP candidate Sarah Palin. It's therefore appropriate that my favourite Coulter quote should concern her feelings on the Chiller from Wasilla:
"Indeed, the only good thing about McCain is that he gave us a genuine conservative, Sarah Palin. He's like one of those insects that lives just long enough to reproduce so that the species can survive. That's why a lot of us are referring to Sarah as "The One" these days.

Like Sarah Connor in "The Terminator," Sarah Palin is destined to give birth to a new movement. That's why the Democrats are trying to kill her. And Arnold Schwarzenegger is involved somehow, too. Good Lord, I'm tired."

Patrick Jones on the Waterstones/Stephen Green controversy

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Further to Waterstones cancelling a book signing by Welsh poet Patrick Jones, due to provocative comments by Stephen Green of Christian "Lone" Voice, here's what Jones himself had to say in reply to an email from our editor, Caspar Melville, asking for his side of the story:
"Hi thanks for email –

This email [which New Humanist received from Waterstones] is a rather pathetic attempt to get out of their decision to cancel the launch.

I sent a few emails to various groups about 10 days before the launch – to organisations, to religious groups – Christian Voice being one – with a few poems and asking for a debate – that is all– now for that to be seem as a provocation for violent threats etc by Christian Voice is beyond my understanding-

I always do this before – as I do not have a vast PR machine etc and I genuinely wanted to have this debate – now Christian Voice obviously went a stage further and decided to threaten the event and Waterstones cancelled-

nNow the difference between an email with poems that would already be in the book and what has followed is immense – Christian Voice is now threatening every single venue i am reading at!!!

The only other email I have ever sent was in march after a TV programme where he was so vitriolic and hate-filled to openly gay singer and actor Ian H Watkins.

So you make your choice

Thank You

Patrick Jones"
In addition Patrick gave some examples of the poems he sent to various groups, including Christian Voice. If you want to read them, they're all on his homepage.

As I said, I was away all last week so have just been introduced to this story today, so very quickly here's my take. Can people please stop listening to Stephen Green. There's a good reason we refer to his organisation as Christian "Lone" Voice, and for anyone to treat it as a voice of Christianity is an insult to most Christians. Green is the closest thing this country seems to have to Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. Of course he's a very tame, very British version - no picketing funerals for him, but plenty of other picketing, usually based on his raging homophobia. Yet he gets quoted in the media all the time as "Stephen Green of Christian pressure group Christian Voice", including by the BBC who even invite him on to their radio stations to discuss things, as if he's actually representative of a significant body of opinion. And now Waterstones seem so convinced of his influence that they cancel event because of the man.

I'll say it again – the man is irrelevant and does not represent anything.

A defence of the St Monica's governors

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Beady-eyed readers will have noticed, with or without interest, that I haven't been around for the past week and that our editor Caspar Melville stepped into the blogging fray in my absence. Whether you noticed or not, he's certainly given me lots to catch up on – we'll come to the antics of Britain's second-rate answer to the Westboro Baptist Church, Stephen Green, in the next post, and I'll quickly acknowledge how much I love the Bill Oddie story, but the real business of this post concerns St Monica's RC High School in Prestwich.

Earlier this year the governors of St Monica's took the infamous decision to refuse to allow the HPV vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer, to be administered on their school's premises, a decision they explained as follows: “We do not believe that school is the right place for the three injections to be administered.”

Many belived the Catholic school's decision was based on the horrifically twisted logic that immunising teenage girls against HPV, a sexually-transmitted virus, would encourage them to indulge in a spot of under-age sex, or in the words of Stephen Green (yes, him again) “Anyone giving this drug to a girl is telling her: 'I think you are a slag'.”

It was for this reason that Natalie Haynes nominated the St Monica's governors for our Bad Faith Awards. Initially our in-house bookmakers Paddy Gowers (who definitely don't just consist of me making up figures) gave the governors long outsider odds of 100/1, but they have since stunned pundits by surging to a solid 4th place with 11% of the vote.

As a result of this nomination Dale Haslam, a reporter on the Bury Times who covered the St Monica's story earlier this year, wrote to us defending the school. Here's what he had to say:

"With regards to your nomination of St Monica's High School for the New Humanist magazine Bad Faith Awards. I covered this story when it first came to light an feel many people missed the point.

The school did not ban its pupils from taking part in this vaccine. On the contrary: it was the first school anywhere in the UK to offer the vaccine in a trial earlier this year! In that trial, staff saw side effects in some of its pupils, who either went home ill the same day, phoned in sick the following day or were excused from class while they vomited or felt light headed. As a result, the school is concerned that it would face even worse problems if it did it again. It does not object to the vacinne on moral grounds (else why would it have allowed the trial?) but staff simply say a school is not the right place for vaccines.

Natalie Haynes implies it is hypocritical for the school to offer TB jabs and not cervical cancer jabs. TB jabs have been used for decades and myriad research has been done into the side effects of them - that is not the case with the cervical cancer jab. If the school allowed the vaccine to be taken on school grounds, parents would carte blanche allow it and therefore hold the school responsible should the worst happen (a child dies/becomes seriously ill due to a side effect, and let's remember the school does not have access to the pupils' medical records, so even if it did know that the vaccine, for example, made autistic pupil seriously ill, it wouldn't even know which pupils were autistic).

The school has said to parents - we don't know enough about this vaccine, so the onus is on you. Go out and find out about it and then judge whether you want your daughter to have it at your GPs surgery. It is not a moral argument."
How does this affect the governors' run for the Bad Faith Award? This all holds with their official line from the time of the decision, which stressed that it wasn't a "moral decision", but it's worth remembering what one of the governors, Monsignor John Allen, had to say about the vaccine following the pilot scheme last year:
"Morally it seems to be a sticking plaster response. Parents must consider the knock-on effect of encouraging sexual promiscuity. Instead of taking it for granted that teenagers will engage in sexual activity, we can offer a vision of a full life keeping yourself for a lifelong partnership in marriage."
Confusing business. The only school in the UK to explicitly ban the vaccine from being administered on its premises is a Catholic school with a Monsignor on its board of governors who made the above comments, yet the official line (and one reinforced by the email Dale Haslam sent us) is that the decision was based purely on medical concerns.

What do you think? Let us know by commenting on this post.

Bad Faith Awards 2008: Vote now

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It's the historic poll you've all been waiting for. No, not the Presidential election. We already know what's happened in that one. Now that it's out of the way we're inviting you to cast your vote to help decide which deluded fantasist will walk away with the prestigious 2008 New Humanist Bad Faith Award.

Regular readers will know we've been gradually releasing the nominees by podcast during the past week, and we are now proud to present you with a motley crew of nine servants to the cause of unreason, who you can single out by voting in the poll at the top right of this page. We've also put together all the podcast nominations into this single edition:






  • Adnan Oktar aka Harun Yahya: Infamous Islamic creationist, author of the Atlas of Creation. Hit the headlines this year by getting Richard Dawkins's website banned in Turkey and offering a trillion dollars for anyone who can prove that evolution happened. For more info, watch Richard Dawkins's very funny dissection of his "ideas".
  • Ann Coulter: Barmy US conservative blonde bombshell – she must be feeling pretty low following last night's events. Obviously Coulter deserves to be nominated every year, but comedian Robin Ince put her forward this year having spent a portion of 2008 struggling his way through a paperback copy of her book Godless: The Church of Liberalism, which suffice to say has left him slightly infuriated.
  • Bishop of Durham aka Tom Wright: His views on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill? "Gender-bending was so last century; we now do species-bending". Enough said.
  • Cardinal Keith O'Brien: The head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, and another cleric who landed himself in the running due to ignorant comments over the Embryology Bill. Talks about Nazis, Frankenstein and Dunblane when most other people are trying to have a sensible discussion about science.
  • The Governors of St Monica's High School, Prestwich: We had a major breakthrough in the UK this year when cervical cancer vaccinations were introduced for 12-13 year old girls in schools. So it's a shame the governors of St Monica's Catholic school decided to keep their pupils exposed to a fatal cancer because they think giving girls the jab would encourage promiscuity. Idiocy and bad faith of the highest order.
  • Rowan Williams: Ah, the Archbeard. Why did he make those comments about Sharia Law? He's still the only man who knows the answer to that, but in addition to all the fuss they caused they've landed him a Bad Faith nomination from Johann Hari.
  • Sarah Palin: Sarah, oh Sarah. So easy to look at (so some say), but not so difficult to define. You burst onto the scene with your convention speech, and we lapped up those videos of you being blessed against witchcraft and nodding your head while some nutter talked about the End Times. You were the best thing that ever happened to me (I've blogged about you 29 times since you entered my life), but now you're gone. Goodbye.
  • Stephen Green: He of Christian Voice (or possibly the only guy from Christian Voice). Obviously he's committed too many offences to mention, but I think my favourite this year was when he picketed "Gay Sunday" at London Zoo. He's nominated here for saying the following about the Atheist Bus Campaign: "People don't like being preached at".
  • Tony Blair: Is he old news? Perhaps, but comedian Nick Doody is none too impressed with his post-PM conversion and his round-the-world faith drive.
So there you go. Quite a field - get your votes in now and have a say in who becomes 2008's most scurrilous enemy of reason. To help you along your way our in-house bookmakers Paddy Gowers have priced up the runners and riders:

Adnan Oktar: 5/4 F; Rowan Williams 7/1; Sarah Palin 15/2; Cardinal Keith O'Brien 14/1; Stephen Green 18/1; Ann Coulter 25/1; Bishop of Durham 30/1; Tony Blair 40/1; Prestwich Governors 100/1

It's over to you - the poll's at the top right of this page. If you've enjoyed our Bad Faith podcasts, be sure you don't miss out on future audio content by subscribing to our podcast by RSS or email.

Join the Facebook Group "Vote In The Bad Faith Awards"

Friday, 14 November 2008

Waterstones update

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We have received an email response from Gerry Johnson, who I think is the Chief Executive of Waterstone's explaining why they decided to cancel Patrick Jones' book signing. Here's what he had to say:

Waterstone's does occasionally receive requests that we remove books from sale. Our answer is always that we do not act as a censor, and we cannot and should not decide what the public may or may not read, and we will only remove a title from sale on the advice of the publisher. That remains the case for Mr Jones' book, and it remains available from Waterstone's. Any questions or comments regarding the content of the book should be directed towards the Welsh Books Council.

The poetry reading was organised and planned in good faith between our store and the publisher. However, it would appear that shortly before the event took place, the author deliberately took provocative action to create a furore around the publication of his book. These actions were taken without prior discussion with the store or their consent and altered the nature of the pre-agreed event. For this reason and because of the risk of disruption to the store, our staff and customers we felt it appropriate to cancel the event.

Best wishes,
Gerry Johnson

I'd be very interested to know what form this provocative action took - Stephen Green says he received an email from Jones with some of the more salacious poems in it. If anyone has a copy of that email - or you are reading this Mr Jones- it would be great it you could post it into the comments so we can judge for ourselves if Waterstone's action was reasonable. I think we need to hear Patrick Jones or his publishers side before we can make a rational judgement.

Waht do ya'll think? Feel free to post comments.

No communion for Obama voters

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Nice to see the Catholic Church meddling in politics again, they do it with such ballsy gusto... no Anglican-style prevarication and hedge-betting for them.

[Thanks Christina]

Stop the bus, Oddie feels sick

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Sorry chaps, the Atheist Bus Campaign was a great idea but we're going to have to cancel it... because former-Goodie turned irascible twit-cher Bill Oddie says he doesn't like it. And who said former funny men with little clue should stop pontificating on stuff thats none of theirs and get back to bothering the wildlife? Oh yeah, that would be me.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Stephen Green makes a late bid for Bad Faith Award

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Just as it looked like Sarah Palin was going to walk away with the Bad Faith Awards, Christian 'lone' Voice Stephen Green makes a late bid for the prize, by forcing the Waterstones in Cardiff to cancel a book signing. Patrick Jones was due to sign copies of his new poetry collection Darkness is Where the Stars Are but Waterstones cancelled at the last moment citing concerns about disruption. Apparently our friend Stephen had mobilised a few believers, aggrieved at what they consider Jones' blasphemy, who sent emails and called the store. What's the deal! Are we allowed to pressure bookstores to cancel events featuring people we don't like... if so there's a few I'd like to start with.

I phoned the manager of the Cardiff Store, who wouldn't comment but referred me to John Howells in their central press office. He said the event was cancelled because of concerns about safety in the light of a high volume of complaints received yesterday (he wouldn't say how many or what proportion were emails or phone calls). I asked him if they were threatening or intimidating and he said they weren't but expressed outrage and offence. Clearly there was ayt least an implicit threat of disruption.

He then raised the issue that Stephen Green does in this radio exchange with Patrick Jones - apparently Jones had distributed a press release before the event, to a list including Green- that contained some of the allegedly offensive lines about sex and religion. Howells said that Waterstones tried to contact Jones and his publishers about this yesterday but were unable to so had no choice but to cancel. But even if Jones did send a provocative press release, so what? He is trying to promote his book and if he feels he would also like to challenge Green's anachronistic notions of blasphemy, why shouldn't he? Surely it is a matter of principle that you should not be able to precipitate the cancellation of any event just by claiming it offends you or implying that you will attempt to disrupt it? Surely it is the author and publisher who Waterstones should be supporting here? Or is that too much to ask from a company whose entire profits are built on the hard work of writers? The book remains on sale at the store (print run of 100 apparently) - after all, Howells says - we do not censor.

Green is a self-promoting loon with a good email distribution list but with no real constituency, who gets far too much attention in the media. But even if he was a legitimate leader speaking on behalf of thousands Waterstones answer should have been the same: If you don't like the book don't read it and don't come to the books signing. End of. If bookstores start caving in to this kind of (albeit cowardly and pathetic click-of-a-mouse intimidation) then we really are in the shit.

What you can do:
  • Email Waterstones' cheif exec to let him know what you think: gerry.johnson@waterstones.com
  • Vote for Stephen Green in our Bad Faith Awards (if you've already voted and you feel strongly enough you can change your vote. I have)
  • Listen to Ariane Sherine of the Atheist Bus Campaign nominate Green for the priceless statement that "people don't like to be preached at."
[Thanks to Greg Pycroft for the link]

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Bad Faith on Comment is Free

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The Guardian posted a piece by me on the Bad Faith Awards, its starts like this:

"One of the biggest complaints about us non-religious types is that ours is essentially a negative position. Rather than being "for" something in a thrusting positive "yes-we-can" type of way what defines us is that we are against – God, religion, superstition, pseudoscience. While faith-based people are all about proposing, all we do is oppose, and we do it, it is argued, in a trivialising, smug, sarcastic and cynical manner that pays insufficient respect to the feelings and deeply held beliefs of others.

Well quite. Take the New Humanist Bad Faith Awards 2008, just launched by New Humanist magazine (polls are open until the end of November). How typical that at this moment of great Obama-optimism the sceptics would launch an initiative that appears to be aimed solely at mocking. For those who are sick and tired of jumped up atheists sneering at the god-ful, then I strongly urge you not to follow this link to the online poll.

The rest of you, come on over for some superior satirical sneering..."

read the rest (plus 30 comments)

And don't forget to vote.

For a full list of candidates and links to all the podcast nominations go here

Monday, 10 November 2008

They blew it

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One of the many pleasures of the Obama win is listening to conservatives wail about what went wrong. Here's PJ O'Rourke on the subject

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Podcast: Canvassing opinion on the Atheist Bus Campaign

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As you all know, the campaign to put ads on London buses reading "There's probably no God; now stop worrying and enjoy your life" went stellar when it launched the other week, raising over £100,000 in just four days (it's now on over £117,000).

The week before the campaign launched, creator Ariane Sherine spent an afternoon on the streets of central London asking members of the public what they thought of the idea. She was armed with our podcasting equipment and a mock-up of the bus, and you can now hear what people had to say:







As you may have noticed, we've been podcasting lots recently (make sure you listen to the Bad Faith podcast above and vote in the poll), and we have a few more surprises pending for the coming weeks. To make sure you don't miss out sign up to our podcasts by email or RSS.

Ariane's also written the diary for the new issue of New Humanist, which is out now.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Bad Faith: The final two nominations

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In a few moments a poll will be appearing on this blog allowing you to vote for who you think should win this year's New Humanist Bad Faith Award. But first let me give you the last two podcast nominations. Our editor Caspar Melville makes a pitch for notorious Islamic creationist Adnan Oktar, aka Harun Yahya, while comedian and writer Natalie Haynes has diverged from the rest of our panel by nominating not an individual, but rather the entire board of governors at a High School near Manchester. If you're wondering why, follow the link below and have a listen:

Click here to hear Caspar Melville nominate Adnan Oktar

Click here to hear Natalie Haynes nominate the governors of St Monica's High School, Prestwich

Stay tuned for the full list of combatants, the all-important poll and a combined podcast of all 9 nominations.

For your listening pleasure

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Fela Kuti saw it coming...

President Barack Obama

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I made it to the end. Incredible. I'll blog about this further tomorrow, but I felt this moment might just be worth marking...

2:33am blog post: do I call the election?

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Well, if there are any readers out there who, for some reason known only to them, have turned to the New Humanist Blog for their American election coverage, you're witnessing my first ever early hours blog post.

I'm sat watching CNN on cable with an American friend, and the big decision I have to make is do I call the election? And it is a big decision, because I don't want to go the same way as some of the big US networks have in the past and get it wrong. No, really.

We're taking this very seriously here - we're using an interactive map on a great website called 270 to Win, and we're filling in each state with red or blue once things become apparent. Taking a look at what we're doing, we currently have it 175 - 123 to Obama and we're being a lot more cautious than the BBC, who have it 195-76 (as I type they've just given Ohio to the Democrats). It's looking good for Obama - give him California, Colorado, Washington and Florida and he's home and dry.

So am I going to call it? . . . Obama.

There we go. I did it. And America's probably watching. I expect CNN to report on this soon after hit "publish".

On another note, we've seen one near-definite piece of good news come through tonight. A few days ago I reported on the reprehensible efforts of incumbent North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole to smear her opponent Kay Hagan by saying she's been hanging out with atheists. It hasn't worked - all polls say Hagan's won by a big margin.

And just as I was about to hit publish, CNN called Ohio for Obama. They've been being very cautious all night, so that really is big news.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Bad Faith podcasts: 3 more nominations

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We're picking up the pace to bring you three more nominations as the world prepares to go to the polls in our historic Bad Faith Awards elections.

Today we have Atheist Bus Campaign creator Ariane Sherine nominating everyone's favourite British raging evangelical homophobe Stephen Green on the back of some rather silly comments he made about the Bus Campaign, along with comedian Nick Doody's nomination of our former PM Tony Blair. Tony may seem like old news, but Doody's not too impressed with his post-premiership Catholic conversion and his subsequent mission to bring the world to its knees (in prayer). We also have our friend Andrew Copson from the BHA nominating the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien. During the debate over the Embryology Bill he's equalled, if not bettered the ignorance of yesterday's Anglican nominee the Bishop of Durham – listen to Andrew to hear why.

Here are the links:

Click here to hear Ariane Sherine nominate Stephen Green

Click here to hear Nick Doody nominate Tony Blair


Click here to hear Andrew Copson nominate Cardinal Keith O'Brien


Remember to sign up to our podcasts by email or RSS, and be sure to come back tomorrow to have your say on who you think should win by voting in our poll. Two more podcasts will appear tomorrow, and in case you missed them here are the other podcast nominations (excluding those above):
See, the lovely Sarah Palin is nominated, and it's (hopefully) her last day at the office today, so that gave me an opportunity to use her in the image above. I call it my Crucifix of Pain.

Clocking on at Vatican City

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You all know the feeling – you show up at work a few minutes late, perhaps after a heavy night on the tiles or because the dog ate your diary or something, and before you know it your boss is on to you about shoddy timekeeping. Imagine then, if your boss was Pope Benedict XVI. We all know he's not a Nazi, so no room here for jokes about National Socialist efficiency, but it does seem he's not a fan of Vatican employees turning up late, given the fact that he's just introduced swipe cards for all those working in the Holy See.

Everyone from office clerks up to the Pope's personal guards will now be required to clock in and out of work. We're not sure if starting work late already carried the threat of eternal damnation, but if it did it clearly wasn't working. Nothing a bit of good old-fashioned bureaucracy can't fix.

The parable of the Westboro Baptist Church and the prodigal son

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Here's something I didn't know until today, although maybe I should have done – Fred Phelps (AKA Mr Westboro Baptist Church) has a son, Nate Phelps, who is an atheist and outspoken critic of his father and his church.

I learnt this by reading this interview with Nate from Canadian website Ubyssey Online. It's a pretty horrific story of hellfire, manipulation and abuse (Phelps Snr once beat Nate with a pickaxe handle 200 times, on Christmas night), but it gives you a sense of how Phelps has maintained his control over his cult (despite their "Baptist Church" name, it seems more accuarate to call them a cult).

And if you need any further indication of what Phelps has done to the minds of his children, look at the first comment on the interview with Nate, from his sister Shirley Phelps-Roper. You may remember her as the awful woman leading proceedings during Louis Theroux's time with the cult.

It's all fairly depressing stuff.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Bad Faith podcast: Bishop of Durham

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I told you there was another Bad Faith podcast due today, and here it is. Hot off our MP3 handheld recording thingy is Christina Martin's nomination of the Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright – a very silly man who you may remember made some very silly comments about the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. I'm not going to spoil the podcast by repeating his words here, but if this award was simply being given for silliest comment he'd have my vote for coming out with the year's most stunningly ignorant remark:

Click here to hear Christina Martin nominate the Bishop of Durham

You can have your say on the Bad Faith Awards when our poll opens on Wednesday, but in the meantime make sure you don't miss out on the podcasts by subscribing in one of two ways:
In addition to Christina, we've already had the following nominations:
You can make your own nominations by commenting on this post, and check back on Wednesday to vote.

Bad Faith podcast: Johann Hari nominates Rowan Williams

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We weren't lying when we said we were going big on the 2008 Bad Faith Awards this week (did we say we were "going big" on them?). Having added the first two podcast nominations on Friday, we can now bring you this week's first in the form of Independent columnist Johann Hari's nomination of Rowan Williams.

As fellow heathen blogger the Heresiarch rightly pointed out over the weekend, the Archbeard simply had to be up for the 2008 award following his suggestion earlier this year that it might be a good idea to use Sharia law in the UK. So when we bumped into Johann Hari at the Ex-Muslims' conference a few weeks ago, where he'd just been speaking on this very subject, we knew he was the perfect person to nominate the Archbish:

Click here to hear Johann Hari nominate Rowan Williams


In case you missed them (on the blog post below), you can also listen to PZ Myers nominating Sarah Palin and Robin Ince nominating Ann Coulter. There are several more nominations to come this week, including another later today, so to ensure you don't miss out subscribe to our podcasts in one of two ways:
And, as I said last time out, we're still open to nominations before the poll goes live on Wednesday. Let us know who you think should win by commenting on this post.