Please dont label me

As I am sure most of you are aware (I am still catching up from my travels – lots of strange things have happened while I have been away), there is a new poster campaign:

Please dont label me

Please dont label me

The idea behind this comes from Dawkins, writing in The God Delusion (and a zillion places elsewhere):

There is no such thing as a Christian child: only a child of Christian parents. … Catholic child? Flinch. Protestant child? Squirm. Muslim child? Shudder. Everybody’s consciousness should be raised to this level.

This strikes me (obviously) as making complete sense. As the oft-quoted remarks go we wouldnt describe a three year old as a “marxist child” or any other combination of their parents interests, hobbies and beliefs. We find that normal, while ignoring the oddity of treating “Muslim Child” as normal.

Part of this may be to do with the fact parents who have faith in a particular belief system will begin indoctrinating their children at a very early age. So, for example, children from a devout Catholic family will have learned their prayers by the time they can talk. However, this is not the same as making the informed choice to adopt that belief system. It is telling that religious groups put so much effort into catching children when they are young (and more susceptible to crazy stories about invisible people living in the clouds), hoping to force their ideas to such an extent that a minority stray from the fold – notably, most converts from one cult religion to another turn out to hold extreme views as that is what is needed to break the shackles.

So, that said, it is obvious why the BHA (et al) want a campaign like this, and obvious why religious groups are opposed to it (as always). The idea that children are given a free choice is comical at the best of times – atheist parents will try to leave their children to make up their own minds, while religious groups (under state sponsorship in the UK*) will try to convert them; meanwhile religious parents will continue to indoctrinate. What this poster campaign does, however, is educate adults. It brings the double standards we practice in daily life into public view. Painful it maybe, but this is a good thing.

With that background out of the way, there is an interesting post on Ruth Gledhill’s blog, on TimesOnline:

The two children chosen to front Richard Dawkins’ latest assault on God could not look more free of the misery with which he associates religious baggage.
With the slogan “Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself”, the two children, their hair flying and with broad grins, seem to be the perfect advertisement for the new atheism being promoted by Professor Dawkins and the British Humanist Association.
Except that they are about as far from atheism as it is possible to be. The Times can reveal that Charlotte, 8, and Ollie, 7, are from one of Britain’s most devout Christian families.
Their father, Brad Mason, is something of a celebrity within evangelical circles as the drummer for the popular Christian musician Noel Richards.

I am not sure, exactly, what the motivation behind this item was, but it seems to be massively missing the point while proving the whole reason behind the campaign. It is hard, to work out where to begin with this, it all just seems a bit misguided.

First off: The pictures are from a stock photo gallery. When they were chosen there was no “background check” (despite how much we get off on that sort of thing in the UK) carried out and nor should there be. Can you imagine if iStockPhoto (or the like) demanded to know the religious background of any of its models. Rightfully, newspapers like the times would be outraged.

Secondly: Some minor “celeb” (dont make me laugh) drummer for a (ahem) popular Christian musician does not make them “one of Britain’s most devout Christian families.” That is just meaningless words where Ruth has lowered herself to a tabloid standard while trying to mock the post campaign. Its comically pointless.

Thirdly: This underscores the need for the campaign. These children are aged 8 and 7. They are too young to vote, drink alcohol, drive, own a gun, smoke, etc. They are below the age of criminal responsibility so they cant, legally, be held accountable for their actions. They can not, in any way, have made the concious, informed decision to commit to a religion. They are not “Christian Children” but “Children of Christian Parents.” Ruth seems to massively miss this point, but it not her worst blunder here.

Lastly: Where does it say they are, or should be, atheist children? The idea is not that only atheist children are happy, it is not that all children are atheists (although they are born that way), it is that we should stop labelling them. There is nothing wrong with having “children of Christian parents” on the campaign poster. This is a campaign that, should, be equally supported by every religion. It gives a greater chance for Christians to “save” children from Muslim, Hindu or Jewish families – sadly for them the opposite is true.

All Ruth has done with her post is show how quickly we fall into the trap of labelling children based on what ever ideas their parents have. No mention is made of the children being interviewed, just their father who appears to be speaking on their behalf.

Obviously you can be too young to think for yourself, but not too young to believe…….

I have missed this level of irony during my travels.


It seems great minds think alike 🙂 and The Freethinker has taken the times to task over this madness.


* yes, I know you can ask for your child to be excluded from communal prayer and other religious based teachings, but Religious Education is still mandatory and, in reality, who would want their child to be singled out for the dreaded “special treatment” in front of their school mates. It must be torture. On the positive side, mandatory RE / prayer never managed to even come close to convincing me, or anyone I went to school with, that God exists….

Less US religion

Moderately cheering news on Ruth Gledhill’s Times blog of 28th February. Apparently the US population is becoming more sceptical.

However God is defined, fewer Americans are believing. The Pew Forum’s groundbreaking report, which we cover today, shows a surprising decline in religious affiliation in this most God-fearing nation of all. (From Ruth Gledhill’s blog)

I said “moderately cheering” because the Pew report (whatever that is) has only 1.6% of the US population declaring itself atheist, 2.4 % agnostic and a fair number of people who don’t care, making 16.1% of the population who don’t define themselves as religious. OK, it’s not a huge proportion but it’s an impressive show of rationality, all the same.

It still brings home quite clearly why American atheists sometimes seem to feel part of a beleaguered minority. Posts on the trials and tribulations of being an atheist can seem hard to understand if you live on a more godless continent.

Less cheering, Evangelical Protestants are the largest group at 26.3%, (greatly outnumbering traditional Protestants at a mere 18.1%) followed by Catholics at 23.9%. This explains why candidates are falling over themselves to woo the votes of the congregations. Grab the support of fundies and the Catholic Church and you’d be guaranteed a win.

Interesting that there are more Jehovah’s Witnesses than Muslims in the US, according to this report. Although that may be undercounting the “secret” Muslims, of which there might be a fair number, if US levels of fear of any Muslims are anything to go by.

There is a bizarre God-o-meter chart at Beliefnet. It’s hard to work out the logic behind it but, apparently, getting falsely characterised as a Muslim gets you high points. Scoring low on it seems to mean that you are obviously not a presidential front-runner. I’m European, ffs, I am barely familiar with the names of Clinton, Obama and McCain. and could only pick out two of these in a line-up. And my recognition failure is pretty well an exact replica of their lack of religious identification.

(If the Republican at the bottom of the chart wasn’t from Lawn Order and if I wasn’t an avid TV crime drama viewer, I wouldn’t recognise any of the others at all. )

Bearing false witness

Loki forbid that this is something that will happen too often but this blog is forced to at least
emit a low mutter in defence of the religion correspondent of the Times.

(Yes that was the vile Murdoch rag, the Times and the words were indeed “religious correspondent”. I told you that this wouldn’t happen too often.)

Ruth Gledhill’s blog has been getting lambasted by her fellow Christians in the Christian chatroom at Ship of Fools. LA Dave says:

mouthpiece for the Anglican right.
Ruth Gledhill of the Times of London is plainly one of the celebrity religion journalists (probably because she is one of only a handful of reporters at the quality press who bother covering religion). Reading her blog, however, I come away with the opinion that her pieces tend to be sensationalist and forever proclaiming that schism is imminent. Moreover, she tends to get her notion of American opinion on Anglican matters from the right-wing American Anglican blogs, such as Stand Firm and David Virtue, while ignoring liberal or even centrist opinion.
What is Ruth’s reputation in Blighty?

Well, she’s hardly a “celebrity”. She is the writer of the most popular blog on the Times. She is obviously a standard Anglican but she’s pretty fair-minded in her discussion of most things.

(She has spoken well of this blog in the past. Not that that would skew my judgement or anything…… Well, OK, it completely skews my judgement. But do you thing Anne Coulter would recommend any atheist blogs to her readers?)

I very rarely agree with her opinions. I don’t share any of her beliefs. But no one could see her as an illiberal ranting conservative. So this makes me confused.

Just to whet her appetite: One liberal contributor to Titusonenine just described her as the “Anne Coulter” of something or other. To those of you unfamiliar with Ms. Coulter, she is a far-right commentator. Unfair to be sure, but she is not all that popular among TEC liberals.

What? Anne Coulter strikes any Brits who’ve ever read any of her stuff (e.g. moi) as an extreme far-right-wing religious fanatic. There is genuinely no point of comparison here. (Sorry, no idea what TEC liberals are.)

I had a look at Titusonenine to search for what they found so right-wing in her mild bicycling-to-communion style anglicanism. But the only reference I could find was a listing of her blog on their “Anglican / Episcopal News”

I tried to find out what Titusonenine was about as a blog but my boredom threshold is way too low to go into Anglican debates about ordaining gay bishops and so on. But that’s what it seems to be full of. No eccentric characterisations of a mildly traditionalist anglican reporter as a right wing fundy maniac.

I suspect that LA Dave has, oh my Ogum!, been bearing false witness against Ruth Gledhill. In a Christian chatroom? Surely not? I am shocked.

Sponsored by God

A Times post by Carol Sarler entitled “Enough religion. Stop shoving it down our throats” made the point that, although religious belief and practice have all but died out in the UK,
(“At the moment, there are in Britain more practising anglers than practising Anglicans”) religious issues are constantly in the media. In a context that assumes that we should all respect the faiths of anyone who has one.

Good manners today disallow the questioning of a man’s belief as sternly as they disallow jokes about it and to offend by either means may be, at least, a sacking offence or, at most, a matter of law. It has become a sine qua non of courteous interaction that those of us without a religious bone in our bodies must defer to those who have, and even determined antitheists are to hush our mouths lest we “cause offence” (in vain might we cry of the offence that we often feel).

Another Times blog on the same date (well, OK, it was 13 September, but there’s only so much effort you can put into keeping up with religion blogs and the Times correspondents are all too bloody reasonable to inspire rants) by Ruth Gledhill had the title “Save our Soldiers from Religion”. Talking about a North Korean complaint that religion is spreading like a cancer through its forces, Ruth Gledhill says:

Don’t delude yourself that it couldn’t happen here. Carol Sarler…. is by no means a lone voice in bewailing the manifold sins and wickedness of religion in the UK. Sarler and Dawkins should take note of the apparent truth that nothing propels a religion, in particular Christianity, to success like persecution.

(Ruth Gledhill goes on to print out an anti-religious diatribe from a supposed official North Korean military manual, linking it, in an uncharacteristically bizarre aside, to the McCanns. I am going to ignore that, out of politeness, because it doesn’t make logical sense.*)

I had to follow the link to the Open Doors Prayer Campaign for North Korea.

The goal is to have at least 1,008 prayer warriors, who each pray for ten minutes a week.

This Campaign has a website with a calendar applet that actually lets you choose the day of the week on which you will pray for North Korea. You click on a big time slot to open another set of timeslots so you can zero in on the EXACT ten minutes in which you will pray for North Korea. How modern and convenient. Plus you pick the US state you’ll be praying in. I don’t think that Korea is actually in there.

The theology underlying this is gawp-inducing.

I may have had a few snide words to say in the past about a God who will award success in pseudo-athletic events like World’s Strongest Man or such spiritually-demanding awards as the Oscars to his most fervent sycophants. (And contemptuously reject the prayers of the losers, of course.)

But, blimey, this is a God who will only intervene in the affairs of a whole nation if enough people pick out preset geographically-specific praying time-slots.

Is this a new God I haven’t heard of? It’s not the old Testament God. He’d be smiting the unbelievers and have done with it. Surely the North Koreans themselves would have to offer up their first-born sons? It can’t be the New Testament God because he doesn’t seem to do much except sacrifice his own first-born son. I could name dozens of other deities but none of them seem to have behaved like that.

It’s a new God of the Marketplace who drives a really hard bargain for his interventions. (But, it’s not Mammon or any of the gold-loving gods because this one only gets paid in prayers. )

I just don’t have the imagination to be a theist. I could never come up with the concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise etc being who would act like a bastard unless you did silly things to appease him all the time.

(*A good comment on Ruth Gledhill’s Times blog took up the point about the spread of extremist religions in other armed forces.

Speaking of soldiers and religion.
There is an ongoing religious war within all layers of the USA military too.
A war being conducted by fundamentalist Christian “true believers” with their binary “certainties” against quite literally, everyone else. Those who arent religious, those who are religious but not Christian, and those who are Christian but much more liberal and ecumenical in their outlook on things altogether.
This war has its approval, and even backing, from within high levels of the Bush administration–perhaps even the prez himself. It is also very much related to the end-time (armageddon) cultural script that mis-informs USA politics in the Middle East and USA politics altogether. The politics (or rather psychosis) of the coming “rapture”.


Most viewed posts

Just out of interest, I thought I would take a look at the most popular posts on the blog and see if it gave an insight into visitors here.

The top three most viewed articles on WhyDontYou (at the time of writing this post) are:

  1. How to Defend Religion? with 2411 direct views (it even has 14 comments and over 1000 home page views).
  2. One Person’s Take On Christianity has managed a total of 2332 direct views, although it only generated three comments and 14 home page views.
  3. Content Negotiation – Mirrored Post, which despite being a blast from the past still gets 10 – 15 hits a day and has amassed a total of 1979 direct hits but in languishing in the comments stakes.

Alternatively, using Feed views you get this picture:

  1. Rapture with 5197 feed views (a paltry 106 direct views of the URL though)
  2. Faith in its death throes? with 5150 feed views but only 114 direct views
  3. Computers aren’t doctors with 5119 feed views but only 126 visits to it’s URL.

This produces some interesting assumptions about people who come here. It seems (and this correlates for more than just the top three) that a post is either popular with people coming to visit the site (direct URL views) or popular with people reading it on the feeds, but never both. For example, One Person’s Take On Christianity has amassed exactly ZERO feed views.

The most popular category is Bad Shops with almost twice as many views this year as the second most popular which is Television (13598 views vs 7278), which, given the high quality philosophical content here, speaks volumes about what people are really interested in 😀 .

Now, my original aim was to see if I could get an insight into visitors here. I am not sure the stats are really successful.  The preponderance of Religious related posts in the “most popular” lists makes sense, but I have no idea why “Content Negotiation” has become a run away success. How to defend religion has a constant stream of visitors since Ruth Gledhill linked to it in her article for the Times Online but why the others are popular currently escapes me.

From a technological point, I have no idea why the decisions between reading post / viewing feed seems so heavily polarised. There are no posts I can find which have a similar number of both, it seems very much an either/or thing.

Lastly, I wonder if, by highlighting the most popular, will this make them even more popular? I often see blogs with sidebars proclaiming the “most viewed” posts – surely this will have the effect of making those even more viewed and, as such, increasing the distance between them and others to the point at which it can never be crossed.

Comments welcome 😀

[tags]Technology, Feedburner, Feeds, RSS, Content, Blog, Philosophy, Society, Content Negotiation, Religion, Ruth Gledhill, Times, Firestats, Statistics[/tags]