Great minds thinking alike

This may be a unique event, this blog and the Archbishop of Canterbury (oh, all right then, and millions of other people) speak with one voice. The idea that UK Christians are being persecuted is silly.

Rowan Williams (C of E Archbishop) expressed this so well that it bears repeating:

.. told a congregation at Canterbury Cathedral that “wooden-headed bureaucratic silliness” combined with a “well-meaning and completely misplaced anxiety about giving offence to non-Christians” should not be mistaken for persecution. (in the Guardian)(

Community cohesion

What exactly is “community cohesion”? I’m way too stupid to understand what “community” means in any thing other than general terms. So, it’s lucky that OFSTED inspectors seem to have a robust enough working definition to allow them to rate schools for it

(Lucky for Oftsed, anyway, as they now seem to be legally obliged to do it).

It also seems to be lucky – for the CofE- that a CofE-funded study – doing some statistical analysis of OFSTED’s application of its community cohesion standard – concluded that faith schools are better at promoting it.

I’m not going down the cynical “Well, you get what you pay for” route, here. I am just wondering what “community cohesion” might mean. If “faith” schools are magically better than bog-standard schools at mixing together the communities they are sited in, then someone should have sent the message to Northern Ireland, where the people trying to end decades of internal war are trying to get kids taught together, whatever their family religion…….

I was under the impression that there was a UK map (on the BBC or somewhere) showing that the poorest and most deprived areas were the most socially “cohesive” – people had lots of contact with relatives, lived close to where they were born, shared values, helped each other out, etc.

Strong community ties can serve as a survival strategy for the poor, but there are many complicated good and bad implications. (I believe the East End community was considered quite cohesive in the Kray era, for instance.)

Hence, I googled “community cohesion map”. I haven’t found the map I was looking for, yet. Most of the top results are policy documents related to education or housing. They are pretty close to unreadable (without getting the urge to rip the language area out of your own skull, anyway) but it’s obviously a big current policy topic. So, you’d assume there must be a useful definition in there somewhere.
Here’s the Experian Community Cohesion Factsheet. Factsheet, see. Doesn’t that mean it has the facts?

Hmm, it certainly has sciencey-looking maps, showing you can plot measures of community cohesiveness on a map.

Well, yes, you can plot anything to a map. A map doesn’t care whether you actually define the things you are mapping.

Cohesive and harmonious communities are the bedrock of a civilised and stable society. Enhancing cohesion is fundamental to reducing disorder, increasing public confidence and improving everyone’s quality of life. It is therefore important to understand the factors that underpin cohesion to consider the best ways to deliver services and engage with residents to accomplish longterm sustainable improvements.

Bedrock of a civilised society… Now why does that sound familiar? How many bedrocks does a civilised society need?

The Experian measures seem to be disturbingly related to ethic origin of respondents. It’s not as if this sort of information could ever be misused, is it? (Rhetorical question.)

Is swine flu non-kosher?

Compare the faith-fulness of these Orthodox rabbis with the prosaic Church of England recognition that holy water is not actually holy enough to stop the spread of swine flu.

According to beliefnet, a planeload of rabbis and mystics held an airborne prayer meeting to ask their god to spare Israel from swine flu.

Flying Rabbis Pray to Save Israel from Swine Flu
JERUSALEM – A planeload of Israeli rabbis and Jewish mystics held an airborne prayer meeting in the belief that it could help check the spread of swine flu in Israel, an Israeli newspaper reported Tuesday.
The Yediot Ahronot daily said a plane with 50 people on board circled over Israel on Monday, with the passengers chanting prayers and sounding the ritual ram’s horn. (From beliefnet)

A plane? Why did they have to get in a plane?

I can only assume it’s to get closer to Him Upstairs, in a touchingly childlike belief that their god actually lives in the sky.

In which case, I suggest that it might be easy to get funding for a few manned space missions, if the astronauts promise to pray fervently once they’re out of earth’s atmosphere.

Despite having fallen victim to the dread disease (for which I got free Tamiflu, courtesy of the NHS, :-p to US Republicans) I never realised that swine flu had a religious dimension. But the rabbis are not alone.

Here are a few swine flu magic stories, transmitted to me by the magical powers of Google Loki .

An Imam claimed that swine flu affirms the power of the Koran. He assumed muslims couldn’t get it because they don’t eat pork or work with pigs. 🙂 ( Bit of an epic science fail , there.)

I guess he’s had to reconsider the accuracy of Allah’s smiting strategy by now, given that even pilgrims returning from Mecca have come down with the virus.

The god of conservative Christians was busy smiting to put a stop to idol-worship rather than pig-eating. Republican faith Chat said:

SWINE FLU: GOD’S LATEST PUNISHMENT OF IDOL-WORSHIP
,,,but let’s face it: God doesn’t punish nonbelievers today to the same degree He did in the days of old. ….. And as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson aptly observed, 9/11 reflected God’s fury for our tolerance of abortionists and homos. But lately, the Lord’s slaughter has been limited to the occasional flood, tornado and plane crash which involve just handfuls of nonbelieving sinners. But no more! The Lord is back with a vengeance.
One of God’s favorite conduits for extinguishing evil is swine. Surely, we all remember the time that Jesus cast the devils possessing a nudist into a herd of swine which promptly drowned themselves. This time, the swine are staying alive and killing the devils, a/k/a Mexicans, a/k/a Catholics, a/k/a cultists, a/k/a idol-worshippers.”

(Ok, I admit it, this one must be a spoof site.)

Buddhist normally get off relatively unscathed in this column but this suggests there’s a publicity-hungry lunatic fringe in every religion.

Taiwan Buddhist master says swine flu is warning for mankind
A Taiwan Buddhist master said Thursday that swine flu is “the earth’s warning” to human beings to stop destroying the environment. Master Cheng Yen, 72, nicknamed Taiwan’s Mother Teresa for her charity work, gave the warning in her daily speech to her disciples around the world.
Choked with tears, Cheng Yen said it is not a coincidence that it was exactly this time six years ago that severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, broke out. (from Earth Times)

(I love the idea that “Taiwan’s Mother Teresa” is a nickname. You’d think it was much easier to say “Cheng Yen” )

Anyway, she thinks that everyone becoming vegetarian and looking after the environment would prevent swine flu.

Respect for the dead

Funerals are obviously for the living. John Mortimer wouldn’t have welcomed his church funeral if he was alive to see it, but then – d’oh – he wouldn’t be having a funeral then, would he?

All the same, there seems something deeply disrespectful to the memory of a noted and outspoken atheist to have god-infused funeral. It’s as if – even though he notably failed to come up with a death-bed repentance of his unbelief – his mourners decided to do it on his behalf. Maybe this is how the myths about death-bed conversions get attached to the lives of unbelievers.

Sir John called himself an atheist for Christ,” the vicar said. “He always came to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. But he emphatically did not believe in life after death. My hope,” she added, “is that he has had a wonderful surprise.”
John Mortimer’s atheism was one of his most cherished convictions. He loved to cross-examine an archbishop about God and find his evidence deficient.
Yet it was at the little medieval church of St Mary the Virgin, in Turville, near Henley-on-Thames, where his parents are buried, that Sir John’s family and friends gathered yesterday to sing The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended at his funeral. (from the Times)

He went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve? He probably loved carols. Doesn’t everyone? He may have enjoyed a bit of traditional ritual. I’ve attended any number of rituals for belief systems that I don’t seriously entertain for a moment. I hope they don’t all start scrapping over my bones when I’ve gone.

I can’t see attendance at the odd Christmas service as justification for a metaphorical religious dancing on his grave.

The celebatheists site described Mortimer as

…an unbeliever who is very much sympathetic to the ethical and cultural aspects of Christianity. (From celebatheists.com)

I still don’t think that justifies a church funeral. Even in his 80s, John Mortimer was writing and campaigning about civil liberties.:

The latest novel, Rumpole and the Reign of Terror, concerns a Pakistani doctor accused of terrorist activities, giving Mortimer the chance to lay into what he sees as the erosion of civil liberties. And he is already engaged in formulating the next Rumpole plot, which will be about Asbos.
……. Now he’s on to the subject of identity cards.”One thing my father said was that if you find yourself in a country where you have to carry papers, you know it has a lousy government.” (from a Guardian interview in 2006)

If you were to find out that a Special John Mortimer Memorial Edition ID card had been issued, because Mortimer once complimented the design of a sample ID card, this would be no more startling than to find out that well-known atheist had been given a church funeral.

Muppet disestablishmentarianism

At last an opportunity to work the word antidisestablishmentarianism into everyday conversation. Well, OK, then disestablishmentarianism, but there must be Anglicans who’ll argue against Rowan Williams on this, so the magic longest-word-in-the-English-language should get a few airings over Christmas.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has revealed himself to be pretty much in favour of disestablishing the CofE, according to the Times and the Guardian.

It seems that the Archbishop has been swinging like a pendulum do, being alternately for and against the disestablishment of the church. Now he’s edging to the side of disestablishment. From the CofE’s perspective, establishment seems to come down to whether they have the monarch as their head and whether they have to turn up at state events. I can’t see that they would lose much from a formal separation of church and state. Nor, it seems does the right-wing of the CofE.

Reform, a network of mainstream Anglican evangelicals, at odds with Williams over the divisive issues of gay clergy and women bishops, agreed that disestablishment could be a positive step.
Yesterday its spokesman, Paul Dawson, said: “There are many advantages of being an established church and to lose these would be no small thing. To become disestablished would mean, as Rowan Williams seems to be suggesting, a rethink and sharpening of the prophetic voice of the church to the nation and this would be something welcomed by many.” (from the Guardian)

If these people favour disestablishment, it seems to be because they believe they could take the CofE more easily down their militant “traditionalist” path. In which case, continued establishment looks surprisingly appealing.

Blimey, there may be a reason for liberally-minded non-believers to favour Antidisestablishmentarianism after all.

The archbishop also praises Richard Dawkins’ “panache” and appears to compare himself to Josiah Bartlett, the fictional president played by Martin Sheen in the West Wing.

Oh, and he seems to quite like the Muppets, according to the Guardian.

.. he also discloses that his favourite films are The Muppet Christmas Carol and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev. (from the Guardian)

Oddly unique combination of favourite film choices there. Muppet Christmas Carol? We’ve all heard of it but it would be difficult to squeeze it in to your Top 1000 best films, even if you’d only ever seen 100. The Tarkovsky one? IMDb it and find it’s a 1966 Kruschev-era film about an icon painter. IMDB reviews say it’s brilliantm but even its ardent fans say that it’s not exactly an easy movie to watch. For example:

It is a difficult movie to follow. One might liken it to James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake as a work of genius so monumental and complex, and so disdainful of traditional narrative form, that it requires extensive thought and study to understand it. And even after studying it, watching it repeatedly, and reading Tarkovsky’s own comments about it, one still finds it opaque in many ways. (from IMDB)

Don’t all rush out and get the DVD, then.

Church says “Sorry,” believers furious

(I know it was a week ago, but I missed this first time round)

It seems that the Church of England has decided to apologise to Charles Darwin for heaping abuse and disbelief on him in the mid 1800’s. From the Daily Mail [Online version]:

The Church of England will tomorrow [14 Sep 08] officially apologise to Charles Darwin for misunderstanding his theory of evolution.

Wonderful. I know decisions are slow in large organisations but this is a bit weird. It has taken them almost one and a half centuries to decide to say “sorry, we were wrong.” Still, better late than never I suppose. In this instance, it is no better or worse than people apologising for the slave trade. It is just one of those things organisations need to do so they can feel better about themselves.

The Mail article continues:

In a bizarre step, the Church will address its contrition directly to the Victorian scientist himself, even though he died 126 years ago.

Now, this isn’t actually all that bizarre. Well, if you are a Christian anyway. Look at it from the truly faithful’s point of view. Darwin isn’t dead in the secular sense – he is just no longer on the Earth. He is either in Heaven or Hell so an apology to him personally is actually totally appropriate. If you really believe in an afterlife, why cant big old Charlie be reading the Church of England’s newsletter and watching their cermonies. I mean, the man was a minister after all…

As even the most dense of lifeforms could have predicted, such PR stunts dont always attact postive commentary. Take this bit of ironic waffle:

Former Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe, who left the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic, said: ‘It’s absolutely ludicrous. Why don’t we have the Italians apologising for Pontius Pilate?‘We’ve already apologised for slavery and for the Crusades. When is it all going to stop? It’s insane and makes the Church of England look ridiculous.’

Poor old Ann, it isn’t even a good parallel but then, she is a tory minister so you cant expect too much. The thing that interested me the most, though, was why on Earth should she care? She is no longer CofE – she defected to the evil Catholicism. What makes her opinion on an organisation she spurned remotely valid? (Add to which, that is possibly the LEAST flattering photograph of a living person I have ever seen).

The only good “professional” comment comes from the National Secular Association (no suprise there, then): [Emphasis mine]

‘As well as being much too late, the message strikes me as insincere, as if there is an unspoken “but” behind the text. However, if it means that from now on the Church of England will say “No” to the teaching of creationism in school science lessons, then we would accept the apology on Darwin’s behalf.’

I couldn’t agree more. (continues below the fold) Continue reading

Minor Update

The Church of England’s Darwin site, as predicted in my last post is there now. Do I have uncanny psychic powers or what?

In this context, the BBC discussed the rise of creationism in the UK, reminding me of something I’d taken for granted for so long that I’d even forgotten it. Darwin’s portrait is on our £10 notes. 🙂

But in Britain, where a portrait of Darwin appears on the back of the £10 note, his theory of life evolving from primitive to complex structures by means of natural selection appears to be unchallenged orthodoxy.
Not so, say those on both sides of the creationist divide – a point amply proved by the existence of the Genesis Expo museum, to date Britain’s only creationist museum.

This laughingly-titled “museum” claims

The old National Provincial Bank on Portsmouth Hard is now home to CSM’s Genesis Exhibition, the first of its kind in the UK on this scale.

“On this scale”? The site of a former bank? That’s not a very large scale. It’s bigger than the average living room but nowhere near as big as the average open-plan office. And I suspect that the words “the only UK creation museum on any scale” might have the virtue of being a bit more accurate. (What am I thinking? Accuracy, creation museum? In the same sentence?)

There’s a giant 20 foot model of a dinosaur, called Boris, in a faux-affectionate way that might be taken as an ironic comment on London’s Tory mayor if it had originated from a more progressive source.

Plus there is the Genesis Expo.

This consists of 12 dioramas and a clutch of real fossilised dinosaur eggs.

What? This museum’s exhibits could be outclassed by the average primary school’s Parents’ Evening display. It’s not going to be much competition for the Natural History Museum in the scope of its exhibits. Nor, it seems in the quality of its content:

The topics covered include –
* The impossibility of life forming from chemicals.
* Chinese calligraphy refers back to Genesis.
* The present day forms remain unchanged from their fossil counterparts.
* Geological sediments are laid down rapidly.
* A study of genetics shows that all humanity came from one man and one woman.
* and many other subjects.

I don’t know about the”many other subjects”, but I think that list makes it 100% “made-up stuff.”

And, what a treat, it seems that the Expo is online, saving the tedious trek to Portsmouth Hard to see it. As you might expect, the Expo turns out to be unutterably dull as well as stupid. But there is still an evil joy to be found in the fact that it’s provided by a site called www.genesisexpo.co.uk which sounds a mite seedy.

There are also many books and videos on display for sale. Each has been selected to be of good quality and approved in that the creation information it contains is generally conforming to the views held by the CSM Council

Phew, that’s a relief. I was a bit worried that some of these books and videos might put forward other non-CSM-accredited creationist views. Then what would I have to believe? My brain hurts………