Monday, 31 October 2011

I was wrong about the Rapture, says Harold Camping

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Harold Camping
Predicting the end of the world should be a fairly unambiguous enterprise. If you forecast Doom for a given date, the question of whether or not it has happened is not really open to interpretation – if you wake up the morning after and there aren't crows stripping the flesh from the corpses of those left behind (I don't know why you'd be just waking up and looking out of the window in this situation, but let's just run with it), then the world hasn't ended and you need to hold up your hands and admit that you got it wrong.

With that in mind, it shouldn't really surprise you to hear that the California-based preacher Harold Camping has apologised for wrongly predicting the Rapture for 21 October, except that in his case we are talking about someone who has form in the field of failed Apocalyptic calculation. Camping famously predicted the End for 21 May this year, only to move the goalposts when life on Earth persisted on the 22nd, and previously made a failed forecast for 6 September 1994.

This time, however, it seems that Camping, who suffered a stroke in June of this year, will not be offering up another date, having admitted, albeit in a rather incomprehensible and roundabout way, that he got things wrong. In an audio message on 28 October, he told followers of his Family Radio ministry that his prediction had been inaccurate, and said that the continuation of life on Earth after 21 October had unfolded according to God's plan:
"Why didn't Christ return on Oct. 21? It seems embarrassing for Family Radio. But God was in charge of everything. We came to that conclusion after quite careful study of the Bible. He allowed everything to happen the way it did without correction. He could have stopped everything if He had wanted to.

I am very encouraged by letters that I have received and [am] receiving at this time concerning this matter. Amongst other things I have been checking my notes more carefully than ever. And I do find that there is other language in the Bible that we still have to look at very carefully and will impinge upon this question very definitely. And we should be very patient about this matter. At least in a minimal way we are learning to walk more and more humble before God."
So it seems unlikely that we will be receiving any more Armageddon predictions from Camping, who also apologised for saying that those who didn't believe in the 21 May date would not be saved. But fans of the Apocalypse need not despair – there is no shortage of people willing to forecast our collective demise, and with the link between 2012 and the Mayan calendar, next year ought to be a bumper one for predictions of The End.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Baroness Warsi: Britain needs to become more Christian

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Baroness Warsi
The Conservative Party chair Baroness Warsi, who has previously sparked debate with speeches about the government's willingness to "Do God" and the supposed social acceptability of Islamophobia, has a piece in today's Daily Telegraph in which she discusses the importance of religious tolerance.

At first glance, it doesn't seem as though Warsi is making an unreasonable argument. She begins with the tragic example of the Pakistani politician Shahbaz Bhatti, who was assassinated in March of this year on account of being a Christian, and goes on to argue that understanding between people of different faiths is important:
"Two things struck me that are as relevant to us as they are to Pakistan. First, it is a mistake to assume that you compromise your identity the more you try to understand others. The stronger your understanding of your neighbour, the stronger your own religious identity becomes."
Leaving aside the manner in which Warsi seems to ignore people of no religion (we'll come back to that one), I can't really argue with what she says. Remove the word "religious" from the last sentence, and it's a perfectly reasonable, if slightly platitudinous, statement. But then she goes on to say:
"For many years, I have been saying that the stronger we are as a Christian nation, the more understanding we will be of other faiths. That is why, a year ago, I went to a bishops’ conference and said that this Government would “do God”. It is why the Pope’s visit was so important for our country. And it is why I am proud that this year, for the first time, the Prime Minister held an Easter reception in Downing Street.

We need to create a country in which people can be unashamedly proud of their faith – where they don’t feel that they have to leave religion at the door. That means being proud of Christianity, not downgrading it. It means encouraging people to say that their faith inspires what they do. It means supporting religious charities in delivering public services in schools, hospices and rehabilitation."
So suddenly we have made the leap from the importance of people being secure in their own identity – fine – to the importance of Britain being stronger as a "Christian nation". Why must the former necessitate the latter? In order for people to feel secure in their own religious (or non-religious, but Warsi doesn't seem too concerned with that) identity, is it not better for the "nation", by which I'm assuming Warsi also means the state, not to side with one religion over all others? I'm not even sure how being part of a "Christian nation" is supposed to work for non-Christians  – is someone supposed to consider their individual identity to be, say, Muslim, but their "collective identity" to be somehow Christian, as a citizen of the "Christian nation" of Britain?

Whenever I read something like this, I find myself wondering why some people have such a problem with secularism. Baroness Warsi writes of the importance of religious freedom and tolerance, and goes on to talk about Britain's "proud history of pluralism and inter-faith dialogue" – surely having a secular state that favours no one belief system over another is the most effective, and indeed the most simple, way of securing that?

Talking Dorries on the Pod Delusion

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I think we all owe Nadine Dorries some thanks for giving us something to talk about this week. Since she launched her attacks on humanists, responding to her nomination for our Bad Faith Award by suggesting that humanists in general are extremists who support infanticide, I've had cause to publish two blogposts (this and this) on the subject, and it feels like we've discussed little else on Twitter and Facebook. And now, if you like, you can also listen to me talking about it on the Pod Delusion podcast, as editor James O'Malley popped by our office yesterday to interview me about the history of the Bad Faith Award, this year's runners and riders, and runaway leader Dorries' charges of humanist extremism.

You can find out more about the Pod Delusion and listen to this week's show on their website, or alternatively listen directly using the embedded player below (the stuff on Dorries starts at 1:42, with me at 7:12, but do listen to the whole show if you can – it's very good).



As for the Bad Faith Award, Dorries is currently destroying the rest of the field with 52 per cent of the vote. If you haven't already voted, you can do so using this poll.


Thursday, 27 October 2011

Obligatory Halloween post: Jesus Ween!

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Relentless knife-merchant Michael Myers looks to settle
a sibling-rivalry in Halloween (1978)
Every year it seems I end up doing a post about Christian objections to Halloween festivities (cf: this, this, this, this and this). To be honest, I quite enjoy it. I get to use terrifying pictures of pumpkins and skeletons and horror film stills and the like, and it gives me chance to wheel out a phrase I like to think I coined – "Biblical correctness gone mad".

But this year I thought I wasn't going to write one. I hadn't really seen anything of relevance, so I thought I'd just give it a miss. After all, it's not even like I particularly care about Halloween myself. But this was before I'd heard of Jesus Ween. I could probably end this blogpost here and let you explore the relevant website, because it just sounds great, doesn't it? Jesus Ween! Some of you may have already read about it in Shortlist magazine, as their columnist Danny Wallace has written about a photo of him being used to promote it, but to summarise it's an attempt by a group of American Christians to reclaim 31 October for Christianity. Here's some blurb from the website:
"JesusWeen is a non profit organization also known as JesusWin. We are focused on helping people live better lives through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. JesusWeen is a God-given vision which was born as an answer to the cry of many every October 31st. The dictionary meaning of Ween is to expect, believe or think. We therefore see October 31st as a day to expect a gift of salvation and re-think receiving Jesus.

Every year, the world and its system have a day set aside (October 31st) to celebrate ungodly images and evil characters while Christians all over the world participate, hide or just stay quiet on Halloween day. Being a day that is widely acceptable to solicit and knock on doors, God inspired us to encourage Christians to use this day as an opportunity to spread the gospel. The days of hiding are over and we choose to take a stand for Jesus. 'Evil prevails when good people do nothing'. JesusWeen is expected to become the most effective Christian outreach day ever and that is why we also call it 'World Evangelism Day'."
Those are lofty ambitions, but I have to say I'm sceptical as to whether the idea is going to catch on, given that the aim is to take a fun aspect of Halloween – dressing up in costumes and knocking on peoples' doors asking for sweets – and replace it with a spot of staid Jehovah's-Witness-style door-to-door evangelism.

And, speaking of Halloween, I was interested to see that Fox News in the US has been complaining of a "War on Halloween", claiming, in the time-honoured tradition of the "War on Christmas", that schools are banning Halloween celebrations for fear of offending immigrants. Unsurprisingly, the complaints are rather spurious, but I just found myself wondering what Fox, with its concerns about "political correctness", would make of the "Biblical Correctness" of Jesus Ween? Because if trying to convert the Halloween festivities into a worldwide day of door-to-door evangelism isn't a declaration of War on Halloween, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Nadine Dorries defends her comments about humanists

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Yesterday, I posted on the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries' reaction to becoming the frontrunner for our annual Bad Faith Award, whereby she described New Humanist as an "extreme" organisation and a "cult", and suggested that humanists advocate infanticide.

Unsurprisingly she received some emails from humanists objecting to this, so she has now posted a second blogpost in which she attempts to defend her comments. Again, I'll reproduce it in full here:
Humanists (2)

"Posted Tuesday, 25 October 2011 at 15:18
We have had a number of emails regarding my comment on my blog earlier this week regarding the attitude of humanists towards infanticide.

Some have forwaded snapshot Tweets from people such as a lawyer announcing that he was proud to be a humanist and asking me to prove that humanists would advocate killing babies.

Well here you go. Here is the proof in the words of the Australian humanist Peter Singer who was awarded 'humanist of the year' by the Australian humanist society in 2004.

This, in my opinion, evil humanist states that infanticide is ok and that the life of a baby is of less value than a pig.

In 1979 he wrote, “Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons”; therefore, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”

In 1993 he stated that no newborn should be considered a person until 30 days after birth and that the attending physician should kill some disabled babies on the spot.

I think they call this 'Eugenics'.

Instead of upgrading the fetus to the status of a person, however, Peter Singer downgrades the newborn to the status of nonperson because newborns, like fetuses, are incapable “of seeing themselves as distinct entities, existing over time." They are not rational, self-conscious beings with a desire to live.

Since, in Singer’s criteria, personhood hinges on these factors, killing a newborn (or fetus) is not the same as killing a person. In fact, some acts of infanticide are less problematic than killing a happy cat. If, for example, parents kill one disabled infant to make way for another baby that will be happier than the first, the total amount of happiness increases for all interested parties. Singer’s logic can be summed up this way: Until a baby is capable of self-awareness, there is no controlling reason not to kill it to serve the preferences of the parents.

There is a lot more about him on this blog.

So, the Australian humanist society makes their man of the year one who advocates infanticide. Nice.

I feel slightly disgusted that such an extreme group of people even print my name in their glossy (we are ever so innocent really) magazine. Oh yes, and that reminds me, which former LibDem MP has a role to play in the British Humanist Society? Maybe that's why Evan Harris' nickname in Parliament is Dr Death...

Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2d ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993),
Jeffrey Reiman, Critical Moral Liberalism (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997
Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 1st ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979)
Michael Tooley, “Abortion and Infanticide,” in Rights and Wrongs of Abortion, ed. Marshall Cohen, Thomas Nagel, and Thomas Scanlon (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974)."
Whether or not this is a correct representation of Singer (no doubt someone who knows his work will find the time to analyse Dorries on this), it's worth pointing out that he has no connection to New Humanist, and the fact that the Council of Australian Humanist Societies (which Dorries incorrectly names, as she also does the British Humanist Association) gave him an award really has no bearing on what the readers of our magazine, who have made her the frontrunner for the Bad Faith Award, think about abortion and the ethics of killing infants.

In fact, I think something very interesting has come out of all this. In the past, Dorries has frequently argued that she is in fact "pro-choice", but simply believes that certain changes to the law need to be made to improve the advice given to women and prevent late-term abortion. But her attacks on humanists, who broadly tend to be pro-choice, but will disagree among themselves on many aspects of the debate, suggest to me a determination to discredit the views of anyone who is opposed to the anti-abortion lobby. She might object to being nominated for our Bad Faith Award, but by using it as a reason to launch into two diatribes against "humanists" in general, she is displaying contempt for a large section of society within which, if she took the time to do some research, she would find a wide range of nuanced views on the abortion debate.

To vote in the Bad Faith Awards, use this poll:


 

Monday, 24 October 2011

Scientology targeted South Park creators over 2005 Tom Cruise episode

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A still from the 2005 South Park episode
It's common knowledge that the Church of Scientology has a history of targeting its most prominent opponents, attempting to dig up dirt and generally make life more difficult for them, so it doesn't come as a huge surprise to learn that South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker were investigated by the cult following the legendary (and hilarious) 2005 episode "Trapped in the Closet", which mocked the cult and some of its famous adherents, including Tom Cruise.

Nevertheless, it's always fascinating to gain an insight into the workings of Scientology, and those have been coming thick and fast in recent months courtesy of the former Church executive Marty Rathbun, who has been spilling the beans by publishing internal documents on his blog. His latest post features a 2006 document from the Church's Office of Special Affairs (a sort of internal intelligence agency) identifying associates of Stone and Parker who could be investigated in order to find "some viable strings that can be pulled" against the South Park writers. The document states that details could be obtained through "covert information gathering such as trash collection, purchased phone records, hacked airline reservations, purchased bank records".

Going through opponents' trash is a known Scientology tactic and, speaking to Village Voice magazine's Tony Ortega, who has tirelessly tracked the Church's activities in recent years, Rathbun explained what it would be looking to find using such grubby methods:
"Phone records. Bank records. Personal letters that expose some kind of vulnerability. They'll read stuff into the kind of alcohol you're drinking and how much. Prescriptions. They'll figure out your diet. They can find out a lot about you through your trash."
So, let that be a warning. If you're planning on making a mockery of Tom Cruise any time soon, be sure to mind what goes in your bin.

Nadine Dorries takes note of her Bad Faith nomination, calls us an extremist cult

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I was out of the online loop over the weekend, so imagine my surprise when I plugged back in this morning to find that Conservative MP Nadine Dorries had blogged about her nomination for our 2011 Bad Faith Award, which she is currently on track for winning. (She was nominated by lots of our readers on account of her attempts to change the law on abortion counselling and introduce abstinence-based sex education for girls.)

It's a short blogpost, simply entitled "Humanists", so I'll reproduce it here:
Humanists

"Posted Friday, 21 October 2011 at 22:59

The Humanist [sic] magazine are running an online 'bad faith' poll and I am apparently in the lead.

I am not sure why anyone would admit to being a humanist and part of an organisation which has such extreme views. A humanist recently commented that, not only did he believe that abortion was acceptable right up to the moment of birth, but that termination of a child's life was acceptable up until the point where the child had the ability to reason, understand and justify life.

The worrying thing is that almost 400 people have voted in this poll, presumably mostly drummed up via Twitter. However, it's scary to think how many people out there hold such extreme views dressed up as acceptable in an online glossy magazine."
Just so we're all following Dorries' logic, I'll recap – someone who identified himself as a humanist apparently told her that he thinks it should be possible to terminate a child's life after birth [citation needed], therefore all humanists hold such extreme views and New Humanist is an extremist organisation. This from someone who has frequently complained of having her own views misrepresented.

And it gets better. The Bad Faith Award was also picked up by the Bedfordshire on Sunday newspaper (Dorries' constituency is Mid Bedfordshire), and they asked her to comment on her nomination. She described New Humanist as "an anti-faith, anti-religious cult" (it will no doubt come as a surprise to our subscribers that reading a 52-page bi-monthly magazine means they have joined a cult, but there it is), and said “You may be aware that more than 28,000 people voted for me during the general election and therefore I would query the relevance of your Twitter poll single numbers story”.

Dorries is currently leading the Bad Faith poll with 44 per cent of the vote, ahead of the US Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry, who has 20 per cent. Voting will remain open until 28 November. You can see the full list and vote via this link, or alternatively just place your vote at the bottom of this page.

In the meantime, if you're new to New Humanist and you're interested in finding out for yourself whether we're an extremist organisation, our November issue is out now.


Friday, 21 October 2011

Is the Rapture coming?

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The Great Day of His Wrath by John Martin (1851-53)
Is today the day when the Christian faithful will be swept up to join Christ in His eternal dominion, leaving the heathen hordes (that's you, and me) to do battle with Satan and his host, condemned to become food for the crows that will scour a godless and forsaken land? 

Seasoned Rapture watchers will know that 21 October 2011 is of special significance, as it's the date supplied by prize US Doom-merchant Harold Camping, who was forced to revise his prediction after the End failed to materialise on 21 May. At the time, he offered a plausible excuse for why there was no widespread destruction on that date, and explained that Armageddon was coming in October:
"On May 21, this last weekend, this is where the spiritual aspect of it really comes through. God again brought judgement on the world. We didn’t see any difference but God brought Judgment Day to bear upon the whole world. The whole world is under Judgement Day and it will continue right up until Oct. 21, 2011 and by that time the whole world will be destroyed."
And now that the Day of Reckoning is finally here, it appears Camping is sticking to his forecast, although he does seem keen to lower our expectations:
"I really am beginning to think as I’ve restudied these matters that there’s going to be no big display of any kind. The end is going to come very, very quietly."
I'm no expert, but I would have thought that a day like today, when most national newspapers are running a photo of a bloodied corpse on their front pages, would be a good one for a Rapture. But if it's going to be a quiet one, as Camping suggests, then I think today may be a case of mis-judgement day (yes, mis-judgement day) for him once again.

So, time for another rethink – don't stake your mortgage on it, but I'm going with Thursday 5 April 2012 instead.

[Since our Sept/Oct issue had a piece on the Tate's exhibition of the work of the Victorian artist John Martin, who painted stunning images of Apocalypse, I thought I'd use one to illustrate this post]

Update: in these tough economic times, it's well worth noting that predicting the Rapture can be a profitable enterprise. According to the Guardian, Harold Camping is worth around $70m. With that in mind, I would like to draw the attention of any rich, Apocalypse-hungry investors to the prediction I make above.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

November/December issue of New Humanist out now

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Our new issue is out today, and the cover is graced by none other than The Pub Landlord himself, providing one of his proofs that God is British (“the Bible’s in English, isn’t it?”). While the guv’nor is something of a believer, the man behind him, comedian Al Murray, is anything but and he tells us why, and what motivated his hugely popular character in our Q&A.

Nor is the Landlord the only man of faith in this issue, which features a prudence of vicars (that’s the correct collective noun, according to the internet anyway): popstar-turned-radio-personality-and-country-priest Richard Coles confesses all to Caspar Melville, Petty Officer Chris Holden tells us about being the only atheist at a memorial for the fallen in Afghanistan, and Natalie Haynes reviews the latest outing of crime-fighting cleric Merrily Watkins in our book reviews.

But it’s not all fun and frocks. Alice Onwordi’s investigation into the international trade in female genital mutilation makes sober reading, as does Mia Bloom’s examination of the rise of the female terrorist. Intellectual heft is provided by Kenan Malik, whose powerful essay "The Last Crusade" puts paid to the myth of the Christian West, and Paul Sims’ interview with ex-Met man Bob Lambert, who has been accused of colluding with extremists in the fight against jihadi terror.

All this plus our nine highlights from three years of Nine Lessons, Marcus Chown on ring galaxies, Jonathan Rée on those who have fought with God and Forward-prize winning poet John Burnside on spirituality without religion. Finally don't miss Laurie Taylor on how he almost got caught in a scam.

To get your copy, why not take the rational option and subscribe for just £21 (£25 non-UK)? Or you will find us in hundreds of stores nationwide, including selected WH Smiths (use the store finder box on our home page to find a stockist).

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Bad Faith Awards 2011: place your vote now

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It’s time once again for New Humanist readers to vote to decide who walks away with our annual Bad Faith Award. Now in its fifth year our award is a means of dishonouring the year's most outspoken enemy of reason. Previous winners include Sarah Palin, the Pope and last year's victor Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed, the head of the UK Islamic Sharia Council, for his assertion that it is not possible for a man to commit rape within marriage. 2011 has been a bumper year for irrationality (aren’t they all), and we’ve been flooded with nominations. We have whittled them down to a field of six arch adversaries of human advancement – take a look, make your choice, then deliver the click of shame using the poll below.

Michele Bachmann

It would have been hard to believe, back when she won the award in 2008, that it was possible for someone to out-Palin Sarah Palin. Step forward Michelle Bachmann, Minnesota congresswoman and prospective Republican presidential nominee, who has lit up the nomination race with a string of bizarre and barmy statements, on everything from slavery to science.

The quote: It’s not easy to pick just one, but her assertion that “there isn't even one study that can be produced that shows carbon dioxide is a harmful gas" takes some beating, and usefully sums up the anti-scientific attitude that plagues the Republican Party. It was actually delivered in 2009, but this year's nomination campaign has shown that she remains one of the United States' most outspoken global warming contrarians.

Anjem Choudary

The leader of the Islamist group Muslims Against Crusades (formerly Islam4UK, which was banned, and before that Al Ghurabaa, which was banned – you get the idea) was previously nominated in 2009, polling a derisory 232 votes, but he’s back and hoping to fare better, having chosen 2011 as the year to establish “Sharia Controlled Zones” in various UK cities.

The quote: The "only option", he told bemused journalists at the launch, is to "bring home here in Britain" the "authority that the Muslims have in Somalia, Southern Iraq and Afghanistan".

Nadine Dorries

Where to begin? Conservative MP Dorries has been fighting a war on two fronts this year against the twin evils of abortion provision and comprehensive sex education. In May she proposed legislation which, in the unlikely event of it becoming law, would introduce abstinence-based sex education for girls, while in September she suffered a heavy defeat over her proposals to prevent abortion providers offering counselling services, which many believed would force vulnerable women into the hands of faith groups.

The quote: Asked by humanist Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert to respond to evidence suggesting the abortion counselling system works just fine, she responded: "That is probably the most fatuous comment that we will hear in this House".

Tom MacMaster

As the Arab uprisings spread to Syria, where activists faced the brutal reprisals of dictator Bashar al-Assad, observers were drawn to the Gay Girl in Damascus blog, where author Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari offered a riveting account of life in the country’s capital. When she was apparently kidnapped in June, worried activists appealed for information, until it emerged that she was in fact the fictional creation of a 40-year-old American living in Edinburgh.

The quote: “I do not believe that I have harmed anyone," protested MacMasters, but few agreed, with many furious that his fantastical sideshow had distracted from the very real plight of activists on the ground in Syria.

Rick Perry

Anyone who serves up a prayer rally for 30,000 people as a prelude to announcing his presidential bid is likely to pose problems for secularists, and Texas governor Perry hasn’t disappointed since entering the Republican race in August. Like Bachmann, he’s an arch sceptic when it comes to pesky scientific issues like evolution and global warming, and his enthusiasm for the death penalty and gun ownership has left many liberal Americans running for cover.

The quote: On evolution – “It's a theory that's out there. It's got some gaps in it.”

Melanie Phillips

Those familiar with Phillips’ weekly missives in the Daily Mail will share our surprise that this is the first year that she's been nominated. She’s been on fine form during 2011, holding forth on all her favourite topics, from BBC bias to the “Islamisation” of Britain.

The quote: Her reaction to the legal victory for a gay couple turned away from a Cornish B&B was typically measured, as she declared that “It seems that just about everything in Britain is now run according to the gay agenda” and railed against the “ruthless campaign by the gay rights lobby to destroy the very concept of normal sexual behaviour”.

The poll is open until 28 November, when it will close in time to get the results into our January issue. Happy voting, and do feel free to tell us how you voted and why in the comments.


Friday, 14 October 2011

Everyday Champions Church free school application rejected due to creationism

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The application by the Nottinghamshire-based Everyday Champions Church to open a free school in Newark, which we've covered previously both in the magazine and on this blog, has been rejected by the Department for Education on account of the organisation's creationism.

The application had previously progressed to the interview stage, but the Everyday Champions Church have this week reproduced the text from the government's rejection letter on their website:
"The Secretary of State carefully considered your application, the views and beliefs of your organisation as set out in your application, your responses at interview and information about your organisation available in the public domain. He was unable to accept that an organisation with creationist beliefs could prevent these views being reflected in the teaching in the school and in its other activities. It is his firm view that the teaching of creationist views as a potentially valid alternative theory is not acceptable in a 21st century state funded school."
While many people, myself included, will welcome the news, Everyday Champions are, unsurprisingly, disappointed, and have vowed to try again next year. On their website, they reiterate their argument that they would not have taught creationism in science lessons at the school:
"We feel very sad that the application has seemingly been rejected solely due to the Schools [sic] perceived association to creationist beliefs.

We are proud to be a Christian School, but would like to make it very clear that Creationism will never be taught within the school other than where the National Curriculum requires it, which is in Religious Studies, this being the case in all mainstream schools.

It is a sad fact that certain sections of the press and some internet bloggers have decided that because the Church itself has creationist beliefs, it therefore follows that the school will teach creationism and try to influence the pupils and staff accordingly."
 There's an interesting angle for debate here – do you think an organisation should be rejected on account of creationist views, even if it argues that it will not teach them as science? One for discussion in the comments.

Footnote: on a related subject, the British Humanist Association, which has welcomed the news about Everyday Champions, is currently raising funds for its campaigning on the issue of faith schools. For a few years now, the BHA has employed a dedicated faith schools campaigner (the only one in the world, apparently!), and they need to raise £40,000 to fund the position for another year. If you can help, you can find out more over on the BHA website.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Abortion is not a human right, says Queen's cousin and anti-choice campaigner Lord Windsor

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Lord Nicholas Windsor
First of all, apologies for the lack of activity on this blog over the past week – we've been busy producing the November/December issue of the magazine, which comes out next Thursday. More on that later. To get things going again here, I thought I'd write about a story that was in the papers at the start of the week – I'm a little late, I know, but I don't want to let this pass without comment.

The Queen cousin, Lord Nicholas Windsor, had an article in Monday's Daily Telegraph in which he argued that access to safe abortions should not be a human right. In the piece Windsor, who runs the Vatican's Dignitatis Humanae Institute (which "promotes the recognition of the infinite value of every single person by recognising each human life as being made in the Image and Likeness of God") and forfeited his right of succession to the British throne when he converted to Catholicism in 2001, describes how, once he started "thinking hard" about abortion, it hit him "in the stomach that terminating a pregnancy equalled none other than the destruction of a human being".

The piece was published to coincide with the British launch of the San Jose Articles, a declaration against moves at the UN to have access to abortion recognised as a human right. In Windsor's words, the Articles, which were launched by the All Party Parliamentary Pro-life Group at the House of Lords on Monday, "aim to show that there is no 'right to abortion' to be found in international law".

In his Telegraph article, Windsor suggests that abortion is a form of "eugenics", and describes as "sophistry" the fact that, in the age of legal terminations, "we need interminable philosophical debates to establish the status of the embryo, or the foetus, or the unborn child, or whatever it is".

The underlying message here, of course, is that countries that do allow legal, safe abortion should draw a line under all those "interminable philosophical debates" and re-criminalise it. And, as so often happens with the abortion debate, that point is being made by someone whose background makes it unlikely that he would ever be affected by the issue. One of the things that puzzles me about the anti-abortion lobby is what they must imagine a world without access to safe and legal abortion would look like.

Clearly, to a Windsor the alternative to abortion would simply be to bring up an unplanned child in an immensely comfortable and privileged environment, but that's hardly the reality for the majority of women in the 75 per cent of countries where abortion is illegal. The intention of the San Jose Articles is to protect the right of those countries to keep abortion illegal, yet the reality of such restrictive legislation is that tens of thousands of women die every year from undergoing unsafe abortions.

Even if we somehow reached the end of the "interminable philosophical debates" and all came to an agreement that an embryo is an unborn child, it wouldn't change the fact that people would still seek abortions. Is it "sophistry" to want them to be able to do so without the risk of dying?

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Westboro Baptist take on the death of Steve Jobs

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As millions mourn the passing of Apple founder Steve Jobs, who died yesterday at the age of 56, I'm sorry to have to bring up the predictable reaction of the hateful, publicity-hungry Westboro Baptist Church, but in this instance it is simply too good to ignore.

They're planning to picket the funeral of Jobs – "He had a huge platform; gave God no glory & taught sin", you see. How they must have hated the man behind the Mac and the iPhone. They may be happy to use Twitter to broadcast that fact, but I bet they would never use one of his products in order to do it...