"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Monday, 29 March 2010

Legal Vs. illegal highs

Here’s a subject that keeps coming up. It has nothing to do with atheism, but a lot to do with rationality and the wisdom of relying on scientific evidence instead of gut instinct.
We have got our knickers in a complete twist over drug laws in this country (the same is true for others, particularly the U.S). We have made all the drugs we disapprove of illegal (as opposed to the ones that attract taxes, like tobacco and alcohol) and even gone to the lengths of classifying them in terms of perceived (note perceived) harm done and assign legal penalties accordingly.
The result of all this, one might suppose, would be to curtail the sale and use of these substances. But actually, no! There is no evidence that a drugs illegality has any bearing on whether people choose to take it or not. As for curtailing sales, it has the opposite effect as its very illegality has a direct bearing on the market price of a drug and hence the attractiveness to criminals to import/manufacture and distribute (a trade, which incidentally, directly funds terrorism).
The particular event that has spurred this post is the recent interest in Mephedrone which the government wants to ban following a spate of deaths linked to its use. Mephedrone is a “legal high”, marketed rather cynically as plant food but is in fact synthesised and intended to be used as a drug. It is functionally similar to Methamphetamine and is psychoactive. It has become a recreational drug of choice amongst young people, partly as a direct result of its legality. The government may be temporarily thwarted in its attempt to ban it due to the resignation a member of the Drugs Advisory Panel whose former director Professor David Nutt was sacked last year for briefing against government policy. This may be a good thing, for it will spur a debate about the wisdom of rushing to make new substances illegal.
The first question that has to be asked is, has Mephedrone become popular because it is legal, or because the usual alternatives are illegal? The assumption of many seems to be the former, but I’m not so sure. The second question is, once made illegal will that a) curtail its use, b) make it more attractive to users and sellers alike or c) stimulate the lab to invent something else to market legally? The third question needs to be, what would be the effect of legalising and regulating all drugs rather than trying to ban each new substance as it appears?
One opinion that has been trotted out a lot over the last couple of days is that Mephodrones legality implies to many drug users that it is safe, which maybe true of a na├»ve few. But in my experience most drug users do not equate legality or illegality with the relative safety of drugs. In fact due to the government’s insistence on classifying commonly used drugs like Marihuana in category B “to send signals” and contrary to the advice of its own advisors there is zero confidence in drug classification as a guide to risk.
The effect of criminalising the current users of this drug will be to increase the price, make it attractive to drug traffickers and encourage its trade through an un-regulated black market. Prof Nutt, who has set up his own rival expert body, has warned that banning Mephedrone could be self-defeating and that the evidence supporting a ban was not clear.
On the other hand, taking the radical step of legalising, taxing and regulating all drugs would remove the initiative from the criminal element, ensure that drugs on the market were pure and contained what they purported to contain, give revenue to governments to educate users and treat addictions and disincentivise labs from inventing new recreational highs. The drugs advisory panel could then classify drugs in a politically unbiased way that would gain the public’s confidence and help society to manage the problems that undoubtedly come from the reckless abuse of all substances. We have a good track record with alcohol, a drug that the majority of users treat responsibly. We have the mechanisms and the model in place.
Time to change the dogma? I think so.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Petition to keep Ratzinger out of the U.K

Now here's something worth putting your name to. I've alluded to this before but this petition to the U.K government is to prevent them hosting an official visit from Ratzinger. Given the crimes commited all over the world in his church's name, his inability to take personal responsibility and his promotion of anti-human rights legislation in many countries, this is not a man to be feted by a liberal democracy.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Is this really the best Ratzinger can do?

This weekend, all over Ireland, the Pope’s letter to the Catholics of Ireland on child sex abuse was read out in Catholic churches. What a mealy mouthed excuse for an apology it is!
While it expresses sorrow for the abuse of children and regret that “errors of judgment” were made in dealing with perpetrators, the bulk of the letter is pure hogwash.
Nowhere does Ratzinger acknowledge that it is the corrupt hierachy of the Catholic church that is at the root of this or the absurd enforced sexual abstinency of its priests. No, in fact it’s not Catholicisms fault at all, it’s those nasty secularists what made them do it :
. In recent decades, however, the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularization of Irish society. Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people's traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values.
His only castigation of the cover up is that Bishops did not implement Canon law to the full. Canon law? Who gives a fuck how they police themselves. Child abuse is very serious civil offence, but does Ratzinger say that in future all paedophile priest will turned over to the authorities? No he doesn’t. He’s going to have a nice cosy internal review and keep it all within Church juristiction.
But here is the most laughable paragraph of all:
14. I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address the situation.
At the conclusion of my meeting with the Irish bishops, I asked that Lent this year be set aside as a time to pray for an outpouring of God's mercy and the Holy Spirit's gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church in your country. I now invite all of you to devote your Friday penances, for a period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to this intention. I ask you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland. I encourage you to discover anew the sacrament of Reconciliation and to avail yourselves more frequently of the transforming power of its grace.
Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, and in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted to this purpose. I ask parishes, seminaries, religious houses and monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that all have an opportunity to take part. Through intense prayer before the real presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for the sins of abuse that have done so much harm, at the same time imploring the grace of renewed strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful
I am confident that this programme will lead to a rebirth of the Church in Ireland in the fullness of God's own truth, for it is the truth that sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32). .
So these are concrete initiatives are they? “Let’s all pray this doesn’t do any lasting damage to the churches reputation”?

I think the power of prayer is going to be sorely stretched over the next few weeks and months. Ratzinger’s own former involvment in cover up is starting to be questioned. The abuse scandal is spreading across the world and the Catholic church’s pretense to moral authority is waning daily.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Tai Chi isn't xian enough apparently

This is priceless. A vicar in Sheffield has banned a Tai Chi class from his church hall because
He understands it comes from an eastern spiritual tradition
Of course he's right, it does. But so what? The elderly ladies taking this class are doing Tai Chi in the secular way most of us in the west who have tried martial arts do them. I'm an atheist but it didn't stop me learning Tai Chi, who cares whether it has religious origins.
The Reverend David Rhodes is displaying, did he but know, it an old pagan/shamanistic superstition which is essentially sympathetic magic.In his religion deluded mind, Tai Chi is contaminated by association, regardless of the intent of the participants. But of course what else can you expect of someone whose career has been spent peddling superstitious twaddle; his problem with Tai Chi is that he thinks it's someone elses twaddle.
I wouldn't care about this except that as is the case in a lot of small communities, the church hall is the only community space available to these good ladies and they are now reduced to excercising in a front room; not ideal. You could say that it is very un-christian of Rev. Rhodes to proscribe the use of church facilities in this way. Except of course it is in fact that peculiarly typical christian way of doing the wrong things for the "right" reasons.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Cardinal Brady should resign

There seems to be no end to the depths of denial to which the Catholic Church and its minions will descend over the child sex abuse scandal.
We now have reports that Cardinal Brady, the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland was party to meetings where sex abuse victims were sworn to silence.
However he does not think he should resign over this, unless the Pope asks him too.
As multiple scandals emerge all over the world, from Ireland to the U.S and mainland Europe, the Catholic Church has lost all credibility as a moral force in the world. Not only because of the abuse itself, which any idiot should have foreseen given the absurd celibacy rules. Not only because the Church knew about this for years and kept it out of the public domain. Not only because it shielded and protected paedophile priests from prosecution. All of which would be enough. But because there is still a refusal for anyone, from the Pope down to take personal or collective responsibility for any of it. They still think their corrupt and sick institution is blessed and without stain.
Regardless of the truth or otherwise of Christian doctrine how anyone, in all conscience can be a member of this cowardly sect beats me.

UPDATE:

The church said the boys were asked to sign oaths "to avoid potential collusion" in evidence-gathering for an internal church inquiry.

It added this would ensure that the complaints could "withstand challenge."

The church statement did not explain why either Cardinal Brady or his superiors at the time did not share their information with the police.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Atheist Blogroll

Atheist MC has been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Ed Balls gets one right

After castigating Ed Balls for his mealy-mouthed appeasement of religious critics of his sex education bill, here is something he got right.
He has said that membership of the BNP should not be prohibited for teachers.
Now obviously I’m no fan of the BNP and their blatant racism, but to ban somebody from employment because of their political view, no matter how onerous is anti-democratic in the extreme. As it is BNP membership precludes a person from serving in the police or prison service. This is wrong too IMHO unless membership of any political party is disallowed.
What a person believes cannot be policed in this way. What they actually do however can be and as long as the expected checks and balances are in place to prevent them propagating those beliefs and they behave in a professional manner I don’t see a problem.
Let’s face it I don’t want stupid religious shit taught to my children, but I wouldn’t deny an evangelical Christian a job as a teacher all the time they left their immoral views at home.
There is another aspect to this, if a person is a member of the BNP, we know they are likely to be racist and we can be on our guard against any attempts at indoctrination in the classroom. The ones to watch are the racists who don’t’ advertise.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Charity, religion free. Guaranteed!


Thanks to Ebonmuse at Daylight Atheism who has alerted me and many others to the umbrella charity Foundation Beyond Belief Please take the time to read Ebonmuse’s excellent recommendation, or indeed visit their website direct. But in brief its mission is to act as a central collection point for secularists to make charitable donations, secure in the knowledge that none of the money will be used for the promotion of religion.

Catholic adoption agency high court appeal

The Catholic adoption agency, Catholic Care based in Leeds , U.K is to appeal to the high court this week in an effort to overturn a charities commission ruling that it must not discriminate against gay and lesbian couples.
Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, Bishop John Rawsthorne of Hallam and Bishop Terry Drainey of Middlesbrough who issued a joint letter to be read publicly in hundreds of parishes last weekend defended Catholic Care’s “bid for religious freedom” and are supporting it in this effort, stating:
Despite the fact that Catholic Care has been able to find caring families for a vast number of needy children, we are being invited either to stop our adoption work or stop being a Catholic charity altogether
There is of course another option for them, which is to drop the immoral dogma of their faith that discriminates against same sex couples. The agencies own aims state:
The search is on for people with a generous spirit who will open their hearts and their homes to children in need. We urgently need people to provide our children with loving, safe and caring homes
and their Director, Mark Wiggin even says:
A wider pool of prospective adoptive parents would dramatically increase the chances of matching children to adoptive parents who can offer security, stability and above all love to children who most need this.
This screams out that they should be actively recruiting same sex couples, who provide one of the richest sources of adoptive parents and are also more willing to adopt children less easily placed in “traditional” families.
If they really cared more for the quality of life of the children involved and less about adhering to outdated and now illegal discriminatory attitudes they would be providing a much better service to their community.
I find it unlikely that the high court will rule in their favour, I certainly hope they don’t. So when faced with the stark reality that our modern society is more moral in this respect than their outdated scriptures, what will they do? Continue to operate to the benefit of children or deny them a service in the name of dogma. Watch this space…