On this day in the world of far right politics

October  18th seems to be a bit of an issue for Nazis. It’s a day of atrocity and its repercussions. This was the day in 1942 when Hitler commanded the execution of captured allied commandos.

Hitler

It was the day in 1945 when the famous Nuremberg trials began and senior Nazis were called to book for their crimes against humanity committed against combatants and non-combatants alike.

Nuremberg defendents

It’s also the day in 2014 that Britain First returned to Hexthorpe in South Yorkshire – and this time they’ve brought reinforcements.

OK – whilst Britain First’s invasion of South Yorkshire isn’t exactly an ‘atrocity’ it does reveal a fairly atrocious attitude. They’re there for no other reason than to pour fuel on the fire of civil unrest within a diverse community. The hope is that by turning up and pretending actually to care about the residents of Hexthorpe they might gain a bit of publicity and maybe even a few Facebook likes and shares to boost their rather transparent claim to popularity.

Hexthorpe 2

But it seems appropriate to remember what happened the last time these self-appointed ‘defenders of the faith’ visited Hexthorpe. They were beaten back by a small group of pre-pubescent children. The courageous captains of the Christian Patrol turned tail and fled when faced with little more than a small child with stabilisers on her bike.

Hexthorpe 4

The first ‘Battle of Hexthorpe’ (helpfully described here by Exposing Britain First) has gone down in the annals of the British far right as a great adventure, a jolly jape of epic proportions but in fact the truth is somewhat different. As you can see the vicious horde that drove back Britain First’s intrepid expeditionary force wasn’t exactly the most fearsome – not even for South Yorkshire let alone the deserts of the middle East.

Hexthorpe 3 The battle of Hexthorpe

I may be wrong but I don’t think this bunch of neoNazi numpties would be very effective at all when faced with armed (adult) insurgents from ISIS. Then again – they’re hardly likely to find many of those on the streets of a small South Yorkshire town, are they? They’ll find plenty of kids to play soldiers with though.

wpid-15.jpg

Who knows, one day they might even win a game.

 

Methodological naturalism

Let’s be clear…. we’re all scientists. Yes, even the most hardened, dyed in the wool fanatical theist, the ardent supernaturalist and even the creationist. We all rely upon science every day.
image
I don’t just mean that we use the obvious technology that science provides such as computers, wristwatches and washing machines. I’m not even going to witter on about the less obvious benefits of science such as plastics and wallpaper paste. These are valid points but the argument, often put to anti-science proponents using the internet, is a little tired these days. I for one have grown tired of pointing out the obvious irony when conversing with creationists, astrologers and alternative therapists etc over electronic social media. Rather I want to talk about everyday assumptions that everyone makes – the beliefs we all must hold if we are to survive in the real world.

The uniformity of nature

Science is a process, not a belief system. It’s a way of exploring the natural observable world by testing explanations of observable events (hypotheses) to see if they can predict what will happen next. The process is remarkably effective (hence the many advances we all rely upon) but only because of science’s underlying assumption:

Nature is predictable and uniform because it operates according to fixed, natural laws.

So the Christian who sees that it’s raining puts on a coat because the predictability, the uniformity of nature means that they will get wet if they don’t. The faith healer sticks to the path at the clifftop because they understand the phenomenon of gravity – and they understand it not because of spiritual enlightenment but because of prior observation of the natural world. In short they keep themselves safe because they use the scientific method. They rely upon the uniformity of nature and the predictable ’cause and effect’ of observed events to make sense of the world and to stay safe. So far so good. We all ‘do science’ when it suits our purposes. I imagine that there’s nothing particularly controversial about that.

But consider the implications of these natural laws. We know that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. That’s the science of space travel. It’s also the science of swimming and of billiards. The natural law is constant (with a few exceptions in specific, equally predictable, non-Newtonian, non-Euclidian contexts that we don’t need to worry about here). What then of divine intervention? What of miracles?

If nature is predictable then there is no place for divine intervention. There is no point then in prayer – it cannot make a difference anyway. Scientists are more than capable of explaining natural events precisely because the natural world is predictable. They can predict the impact of gravity and the wetness of rain precisely because nature is uniform and predictable (and so can we).

When a light bulb expires the theist doesn’t waste time praying for light – they replace the bulb. When the religious fanatic is frightened and alone in the dark they don’t pray for dawn (that would violate natural laws) – they pray that they’ll make it UNTIL dawn. They understand the scientific concepts of heliocentric theory that makes an early dawn impossible, so they don’t pray for it. The thought never even occurs to ask their God for an impossible miracle. So much for the omnipotence of God. So much for the magic of metaphysics.

Until you stop replacing light bulbs and pray for light instead, you’re a scientist. And once you accept the uniformity of nature in one context you undermine the whole idea of divine intervention. From light bulbs to geology, from medicine to evolution the uniformity of nature is constant. And acceptance of that uniformity leaves no place for miracles or for prayer.
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So what’s it to be? Will you pray for healing or accept the antibiotics? Will you call the mechanic or simply ask your omnipotent God to fix the cylinder head gasket? If the Dr., the mechanic, the builder or even the baker has any place in your life then you really can’t deny scientific method. Nature is uniform and prayer is necessarily meaningless as a result.

But don’t just take my word for it. Ask God to suspend gravity and try a different route down from the clifftop. You never know – it might work.
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Meet the overzealous Mr Selous

Andrew “the overzealous” Selous MP is Ian Duncan Smith’s Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS). He also seems to be a bit confused. Arguably confusion is to be expected since he cherry picks his ideas of right and wrong from an ancient book with a moral compass that points straight back to the bronze age.

Yet with such a public assertion of faith you’d think he’d have read at least parts of the Bible before taking public office.

His confusion over dyed in the wool biblical issues like gay rights seems very odd. He voted strongly against equal rights for gay people and yet vaccilated about gay marriage. Could it be that his 20th century conscience has been pricked a little despite the ‘ancient wisdom’ of a small group of desert nomads?
Andrew Selous MP social issues voting record
Unfortunately he has had no such fit of conscience in relation to homelessness. This is odd in itself considering that his entry for the SW Bedfordshire Conservative Home website reports a keen interest in homelessness and participation in sponsored sleepouts for homelessness charities.

He supports local homeless charities by taking part in annual sponsored sleep-outs.”

Perhaps though his interest is more about keeping homeless numbers up than about helping the homeless themselves. Perhaps his annual sleep out is no more than a form of penance intended to assuage the wrath of God in payment for his other homelessness related activities.
Andrew Selous MP voting record
As if his voting record wasn’t enough to demonstrate his abusive, pathological need to increase poverty and homelessness he recently attacked that other bastion of his Christian faith, the Trussell Trust. And yet even here he seems confused. Speaking about his local foodbank he said:

“I have been a supporter of Foodbank for many years. Working in addition to the welfare system, Foodbanks have been proven to help turn people’s lives around which is why I think so highly of them”

Andrew Selous, Local Constituency MP

And then he goes and does this:
Andrew Selous MP
It seems that the Right Hon. Andrew Selous MP is fine with his own receipt of taxpayer funded nourishment but not too keen on charitable organisations that provide sustenance to people who really are in need. Especially when those organisations, such as The Trussell Trust have the audacity (some might say ‘sense of fairness and social justice’) to question why so many UK citizens are so desperately hungry in the first place.

Apparently asking questions about hunger and trying to do something to change the situation is ‘too political’. I’d have thought that for someone with such a publically professed Christian faith he’d have heard about ‘the sermon on the mount’ and ‘the beatitudes’ with its list of ‘blessed’ individuals. But let me remind the good Mr. Selous of another familiar bible quote:

“Whatsoever you do unto the least of my brethren, do you also unto me.”
Matthew 25:45

It’s going to take more than the occasional night out of doors to make up for this catalogue of oppression Mr. Selous. Not least because, as the good book says….

You shall know them by their deeds.

Fallacies 6: The Transcendental Temptation

In the last post we saw how willing people are to believe that natural events are the results of supernatural agency, intention and consciousness. It’s easy to expose the beliefs of those who claim that weather patterns represent the whims of the Gods or that the universe can impart its wisdom via a swinging pendulum or a pile of bones. #

wpid-1342295979.jpgBut what about the more widespread and socially accepted forms of the Agency fallacy? What about those who claim (as did the previous Bishop of Carlisle) that the devastating floods of 2007 were actually God’s judgement on a sick society?

What about the legions of Christian evangelists who describe HIV & AIDS as God’s judgement on homosexuality or the Catholic bishops who oppose contraception in Africa in spite of the AIDS epidemic sweeping that continent. Then there are the millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses who would rather die than accept a blood transfusion?

If for no other reason than sheer weight of numbers these people are much more difficult to dismiss as misguided cranks than the ‘leyline dowsers’, ‘past life regression therapists’ and ‘energy healers’ of the world. But that doesn’t make them any less damaging. Consider for example the evangelical Christian who wants to bring violent ‘curative’ assault to UK in the name of his (presumably equally violent) God. Or imagine the terrifying plight of the 15 women who were burned at the stake in 2007 by religious believers in Gambia.

And yet these more mainstream ‘agency inventors’ have no more evidence or grounds for their beliefs than any of the rest. They may even have less. After all, at least the astrologist can show you that the stars exist. I’ve yet to find a priest, Rabbi, Pastor, Imam or Scientologist who can do the same for their revered God or alien overlord.

So what drives these otherwise intelligent, rational people to believe so completely in a deified agency without (or even in spite of) real world, empirical evidence? There are, of course many reasons for this. Some are cultural, some developmental and some neurological. But here we shall consider only one.

Welcome to the Transcendental Temptation.

Most people seem uncomfortable with mortality. There are exceptions, of course and throughout my care career I’ve known several people who seemed quite content for life to slip away as the end approached. These people experienced what we know ‘in the trade’ as a good death. But they’re not the only kinds of death that people experience.

Others seem terrified at the prospect of their own demise. Their deaths are distressing, not only for themselves but also for those around them. It’s never pleasant to sit with and try to comfort a dying person who hasn’t managed to come to terms with the inevitable. For many people the prospect of death and eternal non-existance is just too difficult to contemplate.

 If only there was a way to cheat death.
 If only there was a way to live forever.
 If only there was a way to ‘transcend’ the physical body after death and carry on living in another, less tangible form.

Now wouldn’t that be tempting?

That’s the essence of the transcendental temptation. It’s a form of wishful thinking that allows the believer to pretend that they can cheat the reaper. But it comes at a price. This sort of belief can only survive so long as believers refuse to think too deeply about the evidence.

wizardThe fact that not a jot of evidence exists (outside the world of cold-reading charlatans and heavily stage managed seances or TV shows) doesn’t matter at all. That’s why belief that comes from the transcendental temptation is called ‘faith’. That’s what we always call belief without evidence. Another equally descriptive term might be ‘wishful thinking’.

Of course none of this takes away people’s right to believe what they want to and nobody should feel the need to justify their beliefs to anyone else. That’s not the point of this post.

But whenever anyone tries to impose their religious morality upon others, from the ‘donation’ seeking psychic medium to the Archbishop in the House of Lords it’s worth being clear about where their motivation springs from. It’s also worth understanding the extent to which their views and moral standards are based upon wishful thinking and the transcendental temptation.

It seems that for many of our self-appointed ‘moral leaders’ the chief professional qualification is gullibility and the desire to hide from reality. Think carefully before you allow these people to impose their views of right and wrong upon your life. After all these are the same people who brought us & continue to bring to many countries (including in many cases the UK):

Subjugation of women;
Anti birth-control campaigns & legislation;
Variously encouraging and condemning suicide and attempted suicide;
Corrective rape of lesbians;
Witch trials & executions;
Discrimination against (& even execution of) LGBT citizens;
Book burning;
Barbaric ritual slaughter of animals (EG Kosher & Halal);
Genital mutilation of infant girls and boys;
Censorship of science teaching (EG Evolution and the Tennessee Stopes ‘monkey’ trial) in schools;
Holy wars;
State-sanctioned apartheid & slavery;
Loss of sexual freedom;
Religious genocide………….

The list goes on and on.

Don’t let your life, your morality, your sense of self and your way of life be torn asunder by those who are so heavily motivated by the irrational desire to deny their own, inevitable demise. Unless you want to, of course.

We all have the right to believe in whatever transcendental belief system we choose. At least here in UK we have that right. Exercising such freedom of belief in many Islamic states is likely to result in imprisonment or even execution.

But we have that right in UK.
We all have that right.

And because we all have that right, nobody has the right to insist that other people ‘join in’ with their particular, preferred transcendental temptation.

What motivates your morality?

About the ‘Fallacies’ series

The ‘Fallacies’ project was built up from a series of instalments that first appeared online during the summer of 2012. It is republished as part of a larger set of changes intended to rationalise the contents of several different blogs into just 2. The other remaining blog focuses mainly upon social care and mental health related issues. It can be found at http://www.TheCareGuy.com

The Convention 18: The right to freedom from discrimination

ARTICLE 14
The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

As most people are aware many forms of discrimination are unlawful in British society as they are throughout much of the rest of the world. However the nature of discrimination (what it actually means) isn’t always so clearly understood. The confusion about what is and is not discrimination isn’t helped by the way that certain individuals or groups claim ‘discrimination’ when really they are simply failing to get their own way. A recent example of this involves Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Pope Benedict’s personal preacher who likened the current criticism of the Roman Catholic church to anti-semitism. Cantalamessa claimed that the current outrage at the Catholic church’s failure to protect children from paedophile priests is anti-catholic discrimination.

In fact nothing could be further from the truth.

Raniero Cantalamessa

Raniero Cantalamessa

What we see is arguably pro-Catholic discrimination in that the leaders of the church appear to be receiving preferential treatment. If the management of any other organisation had protected paedophiles from the law and knowingly continued to place them in positions of trust with vulnerable children they would be prosecuted. The ‘blind eye’ that the current Pope himself turned in the past would, according to UK law at least, result in prosecution and very probably a lengthy prison sentence. If there is any discrimination at all it is not anti-Catholic. It is pro Catholic.

The desire to protect children from abuse is not discrimination and such claims are merely an attempt to distract attention from the real issue – the repeated abuse of children by paedophile priests in the full knowledge of a hierarchy that was more interested in secrecy than in upholding the law. This would be a problem in any organisation, not just a Catholic one.

Criticising criminals for their abuse is fair comment. The reason for criticism of the church hierarchy is not their Catholicism, it is their criminal behaviour in shielding abusers from justice and continuing, consistently to place paedophiles in positions where they can repeat their abuses of vulnerable children.

We can see then that what does or does not constitute discrimination depends upon relevance.

It would be discriminatory to treat all Catholics, or even all Catholic clergymen as though they were child abusers. This is because Catholicism is not relevant to paedophilia per se. Not all Catholics are paedophiles and not all paedophiles are Catholic.
It is when we make unreasonable distinctions between people that we are guilty of discrimination. For example when we make assumptions about someone based upon characteristics that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. This sort of discrimination, based upon irrelevancies, is what happens when people make judgements based upon skin colour, religious affiliation, nationality, ethnicity, disability, profession or sexual preference.

Skin colour for example has nothing to do with trustworthiness and disability does not invalidate a person’s right to be treated with respect. In both cases, colour and disability, the ‘condition’ is irrelevant to the point under consideration.

However the fact that an individual belongs to a group that is regularly discriminated against does not mean that they can do no wrong. A gay man who assaults his neighbour in a dispute about a garden fence will still be prosecuted. But he will be prosecuted because of the assault. His sexuality is irrelevant. He may claim discrimination on the grounds of his sexuality but his claim will not be taken seriously by the courts because his sexuality is not relevant to the case at hand.

On the other hand a gay couple refused accommodation in a hotel or guest house would be supported under anti-discrimination legislation for exactly the same reason. Their sexuality is not relevant to their right to use services.

Similairly if I, when I was manager of a residential drug rehabilitation unit had to evicted an Asian man because of his use of illicit substances on the premises he could not then have claimed racial discrimination. Actually, anyone who knows me would understand how ludicrous such a claim against me would be but that’s not the point. The eviction would be because of the rules of the service which are applied equally to all service-users regardless of skin colour or racial type. Colour is simply irrelevant and therefore the decision to evict is not discriminatory – it is simply an appropriate response.

The basic ‘rule of thumb’ then for front line workers is to ask if the alleged discrimination is relevant. Is your action the result of the individual’s need or behaviour or is it motivated by the fact that they belong to a particular group.

If it’s because of individual circumstances and would be the same whatever subgroup the person belonged to then it’s probably not discrimination. I say probably not because there is the additional aspect of institutional discrimination that we will consider in a later post. If it’s because of the subgroup they belong to (eg Catholic, gay, disabled, Asian etc) then there’s a good chance you really are discriminating.

As ever ‘relevance’ is the key when deciding whether or not you’re being discriminatory.

The Human Rights Council recently expressed grave concern at discrimination & violence based on sexual orientation
Their concerns are mirrored by the Crown Prosecution Service here in UK who reported on prosecution rates for ‘hate crimes’ here.

About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here: http://stuartsorensen.wordpress.com/amj-freebies-downloads-and-services/

The Convention 12: The right to freedom of conscience and religious expression

My first thought on planning this blog post was to focus upon the abuses of the English Defence League (EDL) and the way that its members and affiliates persecute Muslims in modern UK. However to focus only upon this particular form of bigotry would be to miss the much wider point of article 9. So instead I’m going to explore ‘freedom’ of conscience and religious belief from a larger perspective.

Many religions

According to article 9 of the ECHR:

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
    this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

  2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

 

This means that it’s OK for people to follow their own conscience or religion so long as that does not prevent others from exercising their rights. In other words religion is OK so long as it doesn’t abuse other people. Here’s an example:

On October 25th 2007, 22 year old EG gave birth to twins at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. A few hours later she was dead because she refused to accept a blood transfusion. EG was a devout Jehovah’s Witness. She suffered a sudden haemorrhage and bled to death following a natural delivery. EG had already signed a form before the birth refusing blood in such an event.

This is an interesting case and (since it’s already in the public domain) one I often use in training around rights and mental capacity. Participants are asked to consider a number of principles relating to EG’s capacity to decide, the rights of others to overrule her decision and the limits of an individual’s right to follow their religious beliefs in the face of life threatening injury or illness. It always makes for an interesting discussion.                       

Most people begin by arguing that EG’s husband could and should have consented to treatment (blood transfusion) on his wife’s behalf. Others argue that the medical team should have made the decision to treat her whatever her husband said.

However the fact is that EG was a consenting adult who had made her wish to refuse treatment abundantly clear. She understood the consequences (Jehovah’s witnesses do tend to understand the implications of refusing blood). She had made her decision.

To put it another way, EG had decided that the chance of eternity with her God was better than another few decades here on earth followed by the intolerably cruel torture of eternal isolation from that God.

Given that those were her beliefs it’s difficult to say that another few decades in this life would be worth the cost in the next.

So we see then that people have a perfect right to follow their religious beliefs wherever they will take them – even to their death if that is what their faith demands. However they do not have the right to inflict those beliefs upon others.

One excellent example of this involves the way that the law treats Jehovah’s Witness children (or more accurately the children of Jehovah’s Witness parents) when they turn up in hospital. Whilst an adult can refuse ‘life sustaining treatment’ for themselves on purely religious grounds they cannot do so for a minor. The law assumes that young children are too young to have chosen to follow a religion because they are unable to understand it in any meaningful way. So they are not bound by it. There are other considerations around consent and ‘Gillick’ or ‘Frasier’ competence as children grow older but the issue is always around the child’s own ability to decide – not the religion of other people, even their parents.

Typically in cases where the parent refuses consent on religious grounds the child is made a ward of court and treated in their best interests, regardless of the beliefs of their biological parents. This gives us a dramatic illustration of the basic principle that a consenting adult can follow their religion even to their death if they choose but they cannot inflict their views upon others.

As an aside, although I do not intend to focus very much upon the anti-Islamic ‘English Defence League’ (EDL) during this series, it is this article that will prevent the Sharia law that they fear so much from ever becoming law in Europe. It is a religious system and cannot be imposed upon anyone who does not agree to be bound by it. Such is the beauty of the European Convention’s article 9.

There are a number of Sharia ‘courts’ in UK but they do not have legal authority in the same way that other courts do. Instead they are centres of arbitration and rely upon all parties agreeing to their ‘judgements’. This is a far cry from the imposition of Islamic law across the board that some people pretend.

There are some concerns that Shariah ‘law’ discriminates against women and that Shariah based arbitration may well lead to unfair decisions. However that is no different from the way that many Christian churches operate in UK.

I remember many years ago when I was a fundamentalist Christian myself being encouraged to follow the church’s own arbitration system as laid down by the Apostle Paul (Corinthians Chapter 6). But I also know that when it became clear how flawed that system of arbitration was there was nothing to prevent me from contacting a solicitor and solving my problem that way. In fact that is precisely what I did back in 1993.

Nasty Nick Griffin

The same rules apply to matters of conscience. Morality is not always based upon religion and so article 9 protects people who have firmly held beliefs wherever they come from. But again the same rules apply – only in so far as those beliefs don’t interfere with the rights of others.

It’s OK for Nick Griffin and others to believe in some mythical Arian ideal but it’s not OK for them to remove the right of others to join any political party they choose to because of it.

The British National Party (BNP) led by Nick Griffin was forced to change its policy in October 2009. The court ruled that the BNP policy that only white people could join this political party was judged to be discrimination.

We can see then that whatever we believe article 9 both protects our right to act according to our consciences but also protects us from the interference of others who want to impose their beliefs upon us. This is why, for example, Christian B&B owners are not able to discriminate against people using their services – it breaches the potential guests’ equality rights under article 14.

This is why the nursing professional governing body, the Nursing & Midwifery Council forbids nurses from inflicting their own religious opinions upon vulnerable patients. It’s why Gary MacFarlane was sacked by Relate and why the courts did not uphold his ‘right’ to discriminate against gay people.

There is no right to discriminate against others because of your own religious belief. You have the freedom to follow your conscience but so have others.

About ‘The Convention’

This series of posts first appeared on Stuart’s blog in June 2011.  It is not intended to be a comprehensive or even particularly authoritative reference guide to the ECHR. Rather it is a brief introduction to a much larger and infinitely more fascinating subject. You can download the entire series in PDF format here: http://stuartsorensen.wordpress.com/amj-freebies-downloads-and-services/

Professor Bart Ehrman on the bible

This lecture is rather long. But it’s worth it. Whatever your view on Christianity, whether you’re a believer, agnostic or atheist if you’re at all interested in the bible and its contents you’ll find this fascinating. Professor Bart Ehrman on biblical contradictions and the remarkable error-filled process that gave us the modern ‘book’.

Truly remarkable.

With thanks to @woodlandbookshp for drawing my attention to it on twitter. Find the Woodland Bookshop blog here.

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