Getting really cross

“Sell everything you own and buy yellow precious metal, fashioned in the form of one vertical long stick crossed with a horizontal shorter stick. And wear it publicly at all times, as a sign of your devotion to me. Blessed are the jewellery wearers for they shall inherit media attention” Book of Ratner ch19.v4

(As Jesus directed his followers in a previously little-known apocryphal bible book covering the Jewellery Company Years)

Determined cross wearers Shirley Chaplin and Nadia Eweida (a former nurse and a former British Airways worker) have taken their case to the European Court of Human Rights

Shirley Chaplin and Nadia Eweida take cross fight to Europe.
Shirley Chaplin said “hiding” her cross was akin to denying her faith
(headlines on the BBC report)

I can’t see that it matters what styles of jewellery people wear. I think that their employers have behaved insanely (although I bet they were a real trial to employ). Although, if you know that a job has a uniform and you refuse to stick to the uniform rules, you shouldn’t really take that job.

The problem is that the cross ladies picked this fight on purpose. To bolster the picture of the UK’s imaginary condition of “discrimination against Christians”.

Christian Concern website (find it yourself, if you want, I’m not keen to post a link) is always willing to place itself at the centre of any case that it can use to promote the fantasy that we live in a parallel universe in which European Christians are beingpersecuted.

Increasing numbers of Christians have been penalised for their faith in the public sphere, often due to equalities legislation and the promotion of homosexual rights. Some Christians have been threatened with disciplinary action, suspended, and even sacked for refusing to act against their consciences. At Christian Concern we vigorously resist any restrictions on freedom of speech and expression for Christians.(from Christian Concern)

What? Equalities legislation and homosexual rights are a threat to Christians?

Passing blithely over the irony that people who feel threatened by human rights legislation are resorting to the European Court of Human Rights for redress, do they claim that they are being compelled to become homosexual in order to get human rights? No, I think I get it, maybe they claim the right to persecute gay people is the human right that they are in danger of losing?

Christians have been sacked for refusing to act against their consciences? I would have much sympathy – nay, admiration – if their consciences were telling them they had to resist the government’s ongoing programme to attack the poor and the NHS or if they were campaigning against wars or using their resources to feed the hungry and house the homeless…

But their Christian consciences aren’t stirred by such insignificant social issues. Their moral sense is roused by rules about wearing jewellery in work.

And their consciences can only be accommodated by following the Book of Ratner and wearing jewellery with malice aforethought.

Oh, and spending vast resources on getting their own way through the courts. What would Jesus Do? Well, the same, obviously. I believe he was working on his latest designer jewellery collection for Argos when he was crucified. He thought the cross shape would be really great for the brand.

Told you so..

Today’s Guardian has a piece looking at the effects of the French burqa ban. In a nutshell:

France’s burqa ban: women are ‘effectively under house arrest’
Since France introduced its burqa ban in April there have been violent attacks on women wearing the niqab and, this week, the first fines could be handed down. But a legal challenge to this hard line may yet expose the French state as a laughing stock.

I have to show off about my predictive skills here, although anyone with at a week’s experience of living on this planet could have predicted the outcome.

But still, in June 2009, I said…

Some members of the public will demand police action against women wearing burqas. At the very least, insulting women as they go about their daily lives will become more, not less, common. Burqa-wearers will be afraid to appear in the street.

…Exactly the consequences that today’s Guardian report talks about…

There’s some shame for atheists in this story

Secular France has a complicated relationship with the veil. In 2004, all religious symbols including the headscarf were banned in schools. Even among Sarkozy’s opponents there are very few feminists or socialist politicians who would defend the right to wear niqab in a country where secularism is one of the few issues that still unites a fragmented left. Barely a handful of people came to Notre Dame cathedral to protest against the law in April. (from the Guardian)

I refuse to see how interfering with women’s chosen modes of dress “for their own good” can be in any way feminist.

It makes me really uncomfortable to see secularism used as a smokescreen for racism.

I thought I was at least in favour of the French banning all religious symbols in schools but I’ve started to even reconsider that, when I look at it logically. I hardly think it’s a battle worth fighting. It’s basically unenforceable without causing religious believers to become even more entrenched in their sense of having a beleaguered cultural identity.

How do you define a religious symbol in order to ban it? What are the boundaries of religion?

What about an innocent wearing a piece of jewelry with a Chinese Buddhist symbol? The English youths tattooed with Maori warrior symbols for gods they’ve never heard of and couldn’t pronounce even for real money?

Does it only count if you know what the symbols mean? In that case, most wearers of religious insignia would be OK.

What if you know what the symbols mean but just don’t believe in them? (I’m looking at you, all you people with silver rings carrying Egyptian ankhs.) You might have bought a tourist T-shirt printed with a scene from the Sistine Chapel. You might be wearing a reversed cross as a fashion item. You might even be wearing a religious item ironically (like the plastic rosaries incomprehensibly fashionable a couple of years ago)

More seriously, what about dreadlocks? They can be read in dozens of different ways. Locks have religious significance for some rastas. They also have several forms of cultural resonance for many people wearing them who wouldn’t subscribe to the religion – from people who see them as symbols of African heritage to eco-warriors. Some people wear them for purely aesthetic and fashion reasons. Are they banned in French schools? Would they be acceptable for people who could prove they didn’t follow the religion?

However you follow through these ideas, they become nonsense.

If secularist are to subscribe to the idea of banning religious artefacts worn on the body, how can we be sure that any given object doesn’t have religious significance?

By the way, this might be the time to mention that I have recently joined a religion which venerates the holy lounge suit. We are a small religion but utterly fanatical. All men in our faith are required to wear a lounge suit, with the tie of the Eternal Cosmos wrapped around the neck in a complicated knot that represents the interconnectedness of all life.

I sincerely trust that this doesn’t cause more than minor inconvenience in the French parliament.

Numbers of the beasts

Quite fascinated to find that every post that I read on on Rapture Forms had 225 recommendations. Strange – nay, almost uncanny – coincidence, maybe? Nothing orchestrated about that, clearly,

More numbers: There are 500 “religious organisations” on Facebook. For the first few pages, these religious organisations don’t even have names, just combinations of dots and dashes. (Must be some esoteric form of morse code that only gods understand).

But blow me down with a celestial feather. They all have lots of Friends.

Even if the group name is a dot-dash combo, the picture is a question mark and their entire content is a spam-for-christ by something called st andrews bookshop* (which is a precise description of a few dozen) they still attract Friends numbered in into double or triple figures. It’s hard to find a named group has less than 150.

For example, a site that announces its name as //, has a description that’s just a cuss word repeated and a couple of posts about mobile phone tariffs being shite has 348 members. (Ok, that one possibly isn’t really a religious organisation.)

I am forced to concede that the one about voting for Motorhead to be Pope isn’t really a religious group either. Though I might have got the “Lemmy for Pope” idea slightly wrong. (Yes, I’ve found out that “popolo” does mean “people”…) A babelfish translation of its intro produced this, which appears to make as much sense as most normal religious announcements:

It tires of the political usual? It tires of politics of moralisti feints and who sermon and marazzola well badly? L’ only alternative is the popo of the Motorhead. you have been always not class? You have always had March or Die? You have always dreammed of aprirti a whorehouse blues?

176 people joined this. Maybe it makes perfect sense in Italian.

Downhearted by the uselessness of babelfish and fearing a door-bursting visit by the security services, I didn’t look at any of the islamic groups. Nor any of the many Indonesian or Eastern European ones. If babelfish makes a worse dog’s breakfast of translating Italian than I could do by guesswork, I don’t want to let it loose on a non-European language.

So I stick mostly to reading the groups written in English, which sort of biases the sample. But it seems that any religious group on Facebook – real or spoof – gets close to 200 friends. I start to feel relatively very unpopular.

I see a group called “All Christians take back America” (You might assume that’s the lead in to “….and demand a refund”) 189 Facefriends. This turns out not to to be full of plans to take over America, so much as requests for prayers for various unfortunates. So it’s depressing rather than funny/frightening.

Momentary diversion in the form of a post link (from the not-at-all-stereotypically-named Lula May something-or-other**) to www.baghdadprayerpatrol.com but that turns out not to exist.

Find this on another post there, made by Cathy J some-surname**:

Satin is really working hard to bring me down. He knows I have God in my heart and he is trying so hard to break me down. …….Please pray that Satin does not win

I am personally praying for Silk to sweep the board. But Cotton is very durable. So, I guess that I also hope that Satin doesn’t win.

It seems that the demonic fabric is making headway in Italy, (but in Italian they misspell it, using an A where the word clearly has an I) so that the 181-member group FACCIAMO CHIUDERE IL GRUPPO “SATANISMO RAZIONALE” has been set up to counter it (Bloody babelfish translation again:)

WE MAKE TO CLOSE THE GROUP ” SATANISMO RAZIONALE”
we make to close this orribile group that idolatra the evil, therefore is against every religion… participated numerous, makes to close it

Satin may be so unpopular that it only attracts a hate group but several other everyday items have their own worship groups, each with nearly 200 members: Alcohol; Kinder eggs; White milk (Yes, there is such a thing and, no, I don’t know how it differs from regular milk, which was indeed white when I last looked.. Well I do know, now, it’s the colour of the cap. And 189 people joined this group.)

I haven’t found any Atheist “religious organisations” yet. Oh yes, contradiction in terms. D’oh. Face palm even.

*Standrewsbookshop seems to have cornered the market in Face-spamming-for-jesus. The only other spams that appear often enough to be noticeable are for an airline that I’ve never heard of.
** See how I am scrupulously half-protecting their identities. Even though they’ve blithely put their full names and photos on Facebook…..

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.)

Suitable tale for Hallowe’en

According to the BBC

Five women were paraded naked, beaten and forced to eat human excrement by villagers after being branded as witches in India’s Jharkhand state.
Local police said the victims were Muslim widows who had been labelled as witches by a local cleric. (from the BBC)

This poses an interesting question. Does Islam have “witches?” Are they mentioned in the Koran? (I have no idea. I am too idle to googleit even)

The BBC has a video but I’m such a wuss that the warning that it contains disturbing footage was enough to stop me playing it. The video has understandably outraged people in India.

According to more links on that BBC page, witch persecution is not uncommon in India today. For instance, the BBC story “Witch family killed” reported the deaths of four people, who were stoned and buried alive in June 2008.

More than 500 people have been killed in Assam – and half as many in neighbouring West Bengal – in the past few years because their neighbours thought they were witches.
A study on these killings by a Bengal police officer, Asit Baran Choudhury, suggests that most of those accused of practising witchcraft and then killed are “isolated families” with some landed property.
He says most of those killed are widows.
“Powerful people in the community target them to acquire the land,” says the study. (from the BBC, 12 June 2008)

These horrific tales don’t need commenting on. It’s blindingly obvious what’s going on here. I could refer you to the mountains of anthropological literature about persecution of “witches”. The European witch trials were so similar in terms of targetting widows and grabbing property. But any mention of “anthropology” or “history” places this sort of madness in a conceptual realm that’s outside our own experience – in the distant past or in some “superstitious” alien society that is nothing like the modern world (Ha.)

In any case, I tend to assume that most readers are halfway sane so I won’t do this to death. Feel free to work up your own outrage. I’m getting a bit tired at expressing outrage at things so WRONG that they defy any sense of innate human decency. And I choose not to go down that road, as a matter of principle.

How monumentally convenient for someone who is jealous of another’s good fortune to make up insane accusations and convince the gullible that they are true.

In heaven, everything is fine

(Temporarily) taking Pascal’s wager at face value, it would be silly to choose to believe a religion that didn’t offer some serious benefits. I.e. don’t pick a religion that doesn’t offer much in the way of tangible rewards.

So, as a public service to anyone wavering about what religion to choose, I think a cost-benefit analysis is in order. I assume that you want a religion that offers less of a penalty for not being too devoted an adherent more than you want one with a really great heaven, so the quality of hells was the main ranking factor.

Heaven and Hell for a few major religions

Heaven and Hell for a few major religions

I’ve put them in order of their desirability. Obviously, the ones with the least burning/freezing or torturing come up top. Equally obviously, non-belief can’t offer any after-death benefits but it definitely has no after-death costs.

Sorry, Pascal, (Loved the programming language by the way :-)), when it comes down to betting on what’s going to benefit the believer the most, I reckon atheism is still ahead.

Early Religion

Religion...

Religion...

[hat tip: A commenter on Pharyngula]