Easter persecution show

“Are Christians Being Persecuted?” on BBC1 tonight posed that ludicrous question. The description on the BBC site started with a contentious intro:

For years now, some town halls have been renaming their Christmas Lights as Winter Lights festivals. More and more Christians are ending up in court, defending themselves against what they see as victimisation for not being allowed to wear a cross to work or to pray for a patient.

It’s doubtful if “Winter Lights Festivals” are anything except an urban myth. But, anything is possible. Rebranding things on a random basis has somehow become compulsory in Britain. (For instance, the Department for Trade and Industry is on its third renaming in as many years. No one suggests that this means that Business is being persecuted.)

Ah ha, the programme has actually found a council that called its Christmas decorations “Winter Lights” one year (not “some town halls” and not “for years” then.) The council has now again rebranded the light switching-on procedure, as “Christmas in Autumn” or something.

Wny is the name given to street lights even remotely newsworthy?

Because of the media that feels no shame in trying to stir up controversy about nothing, maybe.

Or because of the activities of a tiny fringe group of extremists who are being quite successful in rebranding “Christianity” – redefining their religion in terms of items of jewelry and acts of bigotry. (At the same time, bringing into the UK fundy beliefs – like Intelligent Design – that mainstream UK Christians still laugh at.)

This was a truly annoying programme. It gave yet more credibility to the extreme wing of Christians, accepting their self-definition, so confusing the boundaries between them and the mainstream churches.

Although no member of the mainstream churches seems to have got into any dispute over wearing crosses, etc., any act of overzealous-personnel-management-madness directed against these people now gets seen as representing an attack on Christianity as a whole.

If you could bear to sit through the whole dull 60 minutes, the programme finally concluded that UK Christians aren’t actually being persecuted …… well, at least not compared to Christians in the Sudan. That almost defines “damning with faint praise.”

Christians as atheists

The Christians were generally designated as atheoi, as deniers of the gods, and the objection against them was precisely their denial of the Pagan gods, not their religion as such.


oh, the ironing.

(Atheism in pagan antiquity on Archive.org. H/t to Nullifidian’s post: Britain’s First Newe Atheiste for directing me to the delights of archive.org)

Religious Ironies

Excommunication doesn’t seem much of a sanction to non-believers, granted, but it’s a bit rough for Catholics. It seems you can do just about anything and still remain a Catholic, from holocaust denial (you can apparently even be a bishop, in that case) to taking part in mass murder in Rwanda.

However, what you can’t do and remain incommunicated is arrange an abortion for a Brazilian nine-year-old who was pregnant with twins, after being raped by her stepfather.

In fact, having sane social views can also get you suspended as a priest in Brazil, if not completely excommunicated.

It appears that Father Couto landed in trouble with the Church authorities because of an interview that he gave to a local newspaper defending the use of condoms as a matter of public health. (from the BBC)

Unlike the more senior Brazilian Catholic church hierarchy…

…. He has received threats to his life in the past for his opposition to death squads that operate in the north east of Brazil.

So, it appears that being genuinely “pro-life” – in any sense of the word that doesn’t mean “supporting breeding, whatever the human cost” – can get you into trouble in the Catholic Church.

But death squads, AIDS deaths and raped children are just part of god’s unquestionable plan.

The second set of ironies come from yet another church shooting in the US.

A week ago, the Guardian’s Saturday magazine had an seemingly-interminable parade of born-again American christians talking about their firepower. (That “Turn the other cheek” stuff really must be too fragile to survive the rebirthing process.) The piece was clearly just there to make us English people feel smug.

I remembered an old post that I did here about Wingnut daily and its claim that going armed into church would just make worshippers safer.

This referred to a book called “Shooting Back” published by Worldnet Daily itself, the message of which seems to revolve around always having a revolver. Even – or indeed, especially – in church.

What would you do if armed terrorists broke into your church and starting attacking your friends with automatic weapons in the middle of a worship service?

Well. oddly, this seems to be a not-unheard of occurence, now. But, surprise, surprise, they aren’t organised “armed terrorists” but good old traditional yankee “lone gunman” figures. The very people who are claiming that it’s their inalienable human right to bear arms, no less.

It’s been a while since I underwent the reading-wingnut-daily experience. Scanning its ugly intro page, I spotted a link to a piece of nonsense in our old friend, the English Daily Mail.

Which was unsurprising, given that as soon as I looked at the worldnet daily site content, I saw the extreme wing of the Daily Mail’, with its trademark mix of political scare stories and crackpot health stories.

OK, worldnet daily doesn’t have the Mail’s prurient celeb stories with its daily fake concern about starlet x’s love life or singer y’s bulimia problems. But then, the Mail doesn’t have the insane nonsense about Obama’s being a secret muslim or not being a really American. So, on balance, I think this is – for once – a win for the Daily Mail and its acres of celebri-toss. If it didn’t have that, it could easily tip over into worldnettery and then the UK would be in serious trouble.

Evolution of Christianity

(hat tip: FSTDT)

Occams Razor - The Evolution of Christianity

Occams Razor - The Evolution of Christianity

Although the pedants might whine, I found this pretty funny.

Jeremy Whines

Radio presenter Jeremy Vine was given space by the Daily Mail to complain about how unfair the UK is to Christians. The headline says:

Why I won’t discuss my Christianity on air, by Radio 2 and Panorama host Jeremy Vine

Let me stop you, right there Jeremy. You host a lunch-time radio show. Your job probably involves introducing records and refereeing phone-in “debates” about nonsense. If you started discussing your religion in that context, people would be as interested as they would be if the local newsagent explained why she followed the Nicene creed. They would switch off. This applies even more to Panorama, which is supposed to be a serious current affairs programme.

Show a bit of humility, Jeremy. A presenter is the linkman or linkwoman. The clue’s in the name. You are supposed to link items. People don’t watch Panorama to find out what religious beliefs the presenter holds. Just as they don’t care what you had for breakfast or how many stairs you have in your hallway.

He admitted that he avoided discussing the subject on air, saying it is now ‘almost socially unacceptable to say you believe in God’. (from the Mail)

I would like to think that were true. But I suspect it’s only “socially unacceptable” in the way that traditional etiquette regards talking about religion or politics as unacceptable in polite society. Only true for that specific interpretation of “socially.” And discussing religion or politics is considered bad manners (not that that ever stopped me, but my manners are shite) because people start insulting each other and getting angry and “polite” society stops being “polite.”

If you are presenting a Panorama programme on the economy, it would be more than bad manners to say “… and by the way, I’m a Christian…” It would be like saying “Stop talking about boring things. Talk about ME.” Boosting your own sense of self-importance isn’t supposed to be in the job description.

His remarks follow a claim last month by Roman Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor that Britain has become an ‘unfriendly’ place to the religious. (from the Mail)

Yeah, right. See the chart (Ok, it’s a US chart, admittedly. We are a bit more heathen in the UK and the kinds of non-christians are a bit different, but it’s just a graphic…)

A religion pie chart...


“Has become”?… I don’t know whether Britain is any less religion-friendly than it’s ever been. I am pretty confident that shoving your religion in people’s faces, unsolicited, has never brought a friendly response.

The Jeremy Vine piece brought out the reliable harvest of Mail comment-nutters, many of whom seem to be suffering from fatwah-envy. This is one that could have come straight from the twat-o-tron without human intervention.

Mr. Vine’s situation is caused by PC run amok.
The world has a ‘Religion’ that is secular now.
It’s all about: group rights; gray-area standards; adjustable truths; climate change and radical ‘greeness’; and marginalising real faith as anachronistic and childish. (except for Islam ,of course. ) …

*snigger* (If I was playing Bigot-speak Bingo, I think this would give me a full house.)

That’s by someone from Texas, who would never get to suffer the effects if every UK daytime easy-listening radio-show-presenter started using his or her airtime to present his or her philosophy of life.

But 34 other people, who you assume haven’t thought through the consequences, have clicked to vote for this comment. (What am I saying? These are people who, almost by definition, can’t think through the consequences.)

Pretty consistently, the comments that are like that one get lots of pro-votes. The ones with the big-minus votes are the ones like this (minus 17):

I think Jeremy Vine is alone in feeling like this as most of the time it seems like every man and his dog insist on spouting out about their faith. Indeed several BBC radio shows have features dedicated to this.
Religion is reclaiming public ground, not only have the number of faith schools increased in the last few years but creationism is now going to be taught in science lessons!
It is interesting that some people of faith are now finding it uncomfortable to speak about their faith as this is how people of no faith have felt for decades…

Yes, there are well more than enough tv and radio shows that deal with religion. On purpose. People who want to hear about religion can choose to watch or listen to these. How hard is that to accept, Jeremy?

Let me explain. People who watch Top Gear want to watch a show about cars. If Jeremy Clarkson started discussing how to make feather-light shortcrust pastry, the viewers would get pissed off. Even if they really like cooking, they don’t expect cooking in a car show. They would use the remote control or the channel dial or the off switch.

(Ok, even if my radio had a broken off-switch, I wouldn’t listen to the Jeremy Vine show, but I think the point still stands.)

W00t. It seems that you can vote on Daily Mail comments without logging in. I will give it a try. I boost all the big red minus ones. This short and sweet one is still the lowest (at 34 minuses) even after my non-divine intervention :

Good, don’t discuss it as we don’t want to hear it. We hear enough rubbish from your religious leaders.


Wow, I just came up with a new hobby. Anyone can join in. Voting down all the bigotry-central Daily Mail comments and voting up the saner ones. If there were enough people willing to waste ten minutes a day, the Mail might even suspect it had misjudged the zeitgeist and rein in the tone of its more extreme pieces.

When religion really is to blame

As anyone who reads FSTDT will know, Yahoo! Answers provides rich pickings when it comes to bizarre, crazy and downright wierd religious viewpoints. While idly browsing through it, I noticed a question asking “During the middle ages, how many were killed because they questioned the loving and kind Catholic Church?” (See original question thread)

Having a passing hobby interest in medieval history, this question appealed to me, so I read through some of the answers. A lot were standard Yahoo-fare, for example the “best answer” claims 150 million died, which seems a bit odd compared to the population of Europe in the middle-ages.  While sources are a bit made up, Wikipedia claims the population of medieval Europe peaked at about 100 million in the early part of the fourteenth century. This requires some interesting mental arithmetic to make the two sets of numbers add up, even if the 150 million deaths were spread out over 300 years.

However, the one that caught my interest the most was from Misty0408, and it makes quite a few points I would like to address here: [emphasis mine throughout quotes]

Crusades or Inquisition?

It’s easy in hindsight to judge a time and society we no longer experience or understand.

I agree with this to an extent as our ideas of what is “right” and “wrong” do change over time. This is not always a path from a “bad past” to a “good present/future” though, sometimes we take a few steps back. Crucially, there isn’t any real point to judging the past – we cant change it and we cant (for example) punish the Romans for keeping slaves.

I may have misread the question, and know nothing of the person who asked it, but I didn’t really think it was trying to judge the past. This made me think that Misty0408 might have a few axes to grind.

The Crusades were a series of defensive battles against Muslim attacks. They were not organized and run by the Church, but tended to be upstart groups of Catholics who took things into their own hands. Many non-believers joined in to reap the benefits of pillaging. There was no telephone, email, text messaging, etc. to get word out and tell people to stop. It took time for the Pope to know what was going on, and time for word to get back to those who had run amok.

Interesting. This also seems pretty much 180 degrees from the history lessons I remember. So much so that this cant be a simple lack of education, this is someone wilfully taught an incorrect sequence of events.

Pope Urban II instigated the crusades. This is the fairly famous quote he made in the call to arms:

All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested. O what a disgrace if such a despised and base race, which worships demons, should conquer a people which has the faith of omnipotent God and is made glorious with the name of Christ! With what reproaches will the Lord overwhelm us if you do not aid those who, with us, profess the Christian religion!

All the crusades were blessed by the Papacy. This is a far cry from the idea that the pope was busy running around trying to put a stop to the brutality.

It strikes me as a bit dishonest to claim that the church was not the organiser of the Crusades – yes the Crusading nobles will have gone through the actual logistics, but the Pope ordered them to and offered forgiveness for all their sins if they went.

The Inquisitions were also driven, in part, by the society and times in which they happened. Civil law and Church law were linked. If you spoke heresy you were condemned by civil law to die…not by the Church. In fact, in many cases the Church worked to get people to recant their heretical statements to save them from death. Death sentences were carried out by the civil authorities.

Again, some reasonable truth mixed with weirdness. The inquisitions were indeed driven by the time and society – however this society was intrinsically Catholic. Civil and Church law were mixed, yes, but this didn’t mean secular rules got mixed in with the religious ones. It basically meant that the Church set the law. The idea that heretics were condemned to die by secular authorities and not the church is batshit insane. Yes the Church worked to get people to recant, but not to save them from death. If the Church hadn’t declared some statements heretical (and demanded death as the punishment) I would agree they were not complicit in the torture. How on Earth can heresy even be a crime by secular standards?

While death sentences were indeed carried out by the civil authorities, they were given the moral authority to do so by the Church. The Church can not wash its hands of the crimes because the pope did not burn each heretic personally.

Its true, that at that time, the Church thought that a good way to deal with heretics was to torture them, and force them to recant. The Church has since apologized for this.

That makes it OK then.

But again, we see this error in hindsight. The medieval times were violent times for the entire society. Most punishments for breaking the law involved sentences we consider barbaric today. People were hanged in public, drawn and quartered etc. This was the society.

So why did the church apologise? How does this sliding scale of moral values lie with an inerrant word of God being handed down to the heads of the Church?

If the Church felt it was in keeping with Scripture at the time, what has changed?

The Spanish Inquistition was state ministry, not papal organization. Blaming Popes for deeds of Spanish Inquistition is incorrect. However kings of Spain used Dominicans (catholic order) as judges etc. because clergy (especially mentioned monks) were genarally far more educated than ordinal people.

Wow. An even bigger dose of madness wrapped around a kernel of truth. The Spanish inquisition was indeed instituted by the secular Monarchy.

First off, it was based on Papal Inquisitions (which were remarkably similar); secondly its purpose was to ensure people upheld the Catholic Church’s doctrine; Thirdly it was established by a Papal Bull from Pope Sixtus IV. Crucially, the Catholic Church could have stopped it, but chose not to.

Seems like the Catholic Church has to shoulder a fair amount of the blame for this.

The Church, even though the true Church of Christ, is not made of perfect people. She is protected from ever teaching heresy, but this protection does not give those in charge a crystal ball, or the power to know more than the current times in which they live.

Wow. Huge dose of irony there. The Catholic church can never teach heresy, but because there is no crystal ball its teachings may change and even contradict previous ones.

You’ve got to love the logic that belief grants you…

As far as the actual numbers of those killed, no one has a real count. But we do know that over the years the number has increased in direct proportion to the number of anti-Catholics. Those who claim in the “millions” are way off base. Not even close, more likely in the thousands. But just to give you an idea:
The Spanish Inquisition, assuredly the most vigorous and corrupt of the various inquisitorial bodies that existed in Europe, held 49,000 trials between 1560-1700 and executed between 3 and 5,000 people.

Again, it starts off well but then gets all conspiracy theory.

Worryingly, Misty0408 seems to be implying that because the numbers killed were “only” in the thousands this makes it OK. The idea that any people were tortured to death on the orders of a “loving” church is monstrous.

Bit of number crunching: I assume Misty0408 got the figures from Spiritus-Temprois.com, which doesn’t break down by year. If we assume each year was equal, that means there were 350 trials a year. Almost one a day. 350 people tortured each year. Just because these only resulted in between 21 – 35 executions each year doesn’t make it better. For most the period in question, Spain had a population in the region of between 5.4 and 7.5 million (source: The Population of Europe, Table 1.1, p8, by Massimo Livi Bacci, Cynthia De Nardi Ipsen, Carl Ipsen). This means that around 1 in 20,000 people were tortured by the inquistion – that is the equivalent of 3000 people a year in the modern UK, or 15191 people in the US – being put on trial for heresy each year.

This may seem trivial when compared with modern incarceration rates (which may be as high as 1 in 136 people in the US), but these people were in addition to all the “normal” criminals. Their only crime was not following the Catholic Church’s orthodoxy.

Yes, they may have been imprisoned under the orders of the Secular monarch, but it was done for, and with at least some blessing of, the Catholic Church.

Too often religion claims to be cause behind people doing good deeds, but then when bad things happen the nature of “Man” is blamed. This is a massive fallacy. The atrocities of the Crusades and Inqusition may not have been carried out (entirely) by uniformed members of the Catholic Church but it is fully to blame for them. Its doctrine lead to these acts. Its leadership endorsed them. Its priesthood encouraged them.

It really is to blame.

Proof Of God – Christian Voice

Who would have thought Christian Voice would have cracked under the pressure of the No God bus campaigns in London? OK, most people I suppose. Still it is entertaining that they are riled by a simple poster to the extent they are demanding the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency to rule on the proof of God.

From the BBC:

An atheist campaign claiming “There’s probably no God” has been reported to the advertising regulator.
Posters with the slogan appear on 800 buses in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as on the London Underground.
But organisation Christian Voice has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority saying they break rules on substantiation and truthfulness.

Pardon me for a moment while I fall off the chair laughing.

They are saying that the claim there is probably no god is insubstantiated and / or not truthful. How on Thor’s hammer do they intend to convince the ASA of this one wonders…

But Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, said: “There is plenty of evidence for God, from people’s personal experience, to the complexity, interdependence, beauty and design of the natural world.
“But there is scant evidence on the other side, so I think the advertisers are really going to struggle to show their claim is not an exaggeration or inaccurate, as the ASA code puts it.”

More laughter rings out around WhyDontYou Towers. Evidence for God exists in “personal experience” – surely this alone is a self defeating argument because if I do not have that experience the advertisement is accurate as stated. I do not have that personal experience, therefore (should the ASA be reading this) the banner is 100% correct. Thank you Christian Voice.

I assume Christian Voice have lodged similar complaints over any advertising that mentions non-Christian religions, so any posters for Mosques, Temples (etc) will have to come down. I would never suggest people be petty enough to go through Christian advertising with a fine tooth comb – each day on the way to work I see a huge poster telling me that I will die for my sins, where is the proof of that I wonder?

In a wonderful bit of understatement (and acting a lot more adult than Christian Voice…), Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said:

“I am sure that Stephen Green really does think there is a great deal of evidence for a God (though presumably only the one that he believes in), but I pity the ASA if they are going to be expected to rule on the probability of God’s existence.”

Indeed, it will be interesting to see what their decision is…