Showing posts with label UK. Show all posts
Showing posts with label UK. Show all posts

Sunday, 18 October 2015

UK School Watchdog Forbids Orthodox Jewish School From Asking Parents About Their Sex Lives

I'm seriously considering not blogging over the weekend. Today, I just crashed - literally, I just slept to catch up with life. I did, however, catch this interesting snippet in the news about an Orthodox Jewish high school in the UK.

The Office of the Schools Adjudicator, OSA, has determined that it's probably not okay for Orthodox Jewish high schools to know intimate details about parents' sex lives and base admission on it.
The Hasmonean High School in Barnet, in north London, asks parents on its admission form whether they observe the laws of family purity, under which women abstain from sex during their menstrual period and for seven days after, followed by immersion in a ritual bath.
I guess this sort of cultish micromanagement shouldn't come as any surprise given this other high school I covered where they were not allowing parents to have cell phones, televisions or computers.
London’s Office of the Schools Adjudicator, or OSA, ruled that some parents may find the question “intrusive” and that the answer to the question is impossible for a rabbi to confirm. The watchdog ordered the school to change its policy on asking the question by the end of February, the BBC reported.
I am rather surprised that the OSA did anything though, considering the recent revelation that many Orthodox schools have been given unwarranted passes by certain biased school inspectors.

(Image source)

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

UK Professor Suggests No Microwaving Bacon in Communal Workplace Kitchens

At my office, there are unwritten rules about what can go into the microwaves in our shared kitchen. No microwave popcorn, a minimal amount of bacon and absolutely no smelly fish. These aren't codified anywhere, they're just there so people do not get unnecessarily distracted by the smell.

Well, Professor Adam Dinham of Goldsmith’s University in London runs the Religious Literacy Leadership program and involved with CoExist House. He released some helpful guidelines about how business communal kitchens ought to work so as to not offend religious sensibilities.
Professor Adam Dinham suggests not microwaving sausage rolls in a shared kitchen space. He also advises that you should not keep bacon, or bacon rolls, in the fridge if it is shared with people whose beliefs prohibit them from eating pork.

The guidelines go on to suggest that employers should serve certified Halal and kosher food at corporate events, and consider whether or not alcohol should be served.
It's cuz we've all become really blind by secularism.
Professor Dinham said: ‘We have lost the ability to talk about religious belief because of a century of secular assumptions, and most religious belief is either highly visible and we don’t recognise it, or it’s invisible and we miss it entirely.’
It's interesting that pork is being singled out, isn't it? I'm wondering why there are no suggestions to not allow warming up your beef cottage pie in the microwave so as to not disturb Hindus. Is Dinham suggesting they become less agitated than Jews or Muslims?

What about the Jain in your office? I would expect no meat all all to be allowed so as to not offend them.

This would make the environment tolerable for vegetarians, for sure. What about vegans though? Ought we also suggest there by no dairy products or eggs at the office? Well, I suppose veganism is not a religion and is therefore not at the same level of importance to Mr. Dinham.

Nevermind that there is considerable controversy around Halal and Kosher slaughtering techniques even among meat eaters. What about their sensibilities? Not religious, I guess.

What about gluten in the office? Celiac disease is not a religious sensibility, this is an actual physical reaction to consumption of gluten, found in many foods. Shouldn't this be right up there on top if we're going to be discussing etiquette?

So what about a pork, beef, meat, eggs, dairy, bread, dairy free kitchen?

Understandably, there was a negative reaction to this on the Internet yesterday. People thought it amounted to a ban - which it wasn't. However, I found this VICE Munchies article by Alex Swerdloff that seems to have utterly missed how the original guidelines are troublesome - a point I made above but would have thought to be obvious to anyone.
It was just a few suggestions: Don’t keep bacon in the office fridge if your colleagues don’t eat bacon. Microwaving a sausage roll might be offensive to your Muslim coworker. That kind of thing.
I think he meant to say this one and only thing apparently for these two specific groups.

Commenter hayleyscomet sums things up over at the Independent.
If you are going to go down that route, the only way to avoid offending anyone is to have offices segregated by religion and dietary preference.  
We've seen this sort of thing before on a much larger scale in India - a so-called secular state. Although guidelines are not laws or bans, the line between them in an office environment can be thin.

How about this for a novel approach at inter-faith (or no faith) co-existence at the office? I'll let you cook and eat what you like so long as you do not attempt to control my own diet by appealing to your wounded religious sensibilities?

(Image source)

Saturday, 19 September 2015

UK Ultra-Orthodox School: 'No Internet, Television or Bright Coloured Clothing at Home!'

Hey, what do you think is the most effective way to keep people in the dark about how the outside world works so you can lock them into a religious belief system and not have to worry about them thinking too much for themselves or getting any sorts of pesky questions? Take away their Internet and television of course!

The nice school administrators over at the Yesodey Hatorah school in Hackney, London, UK, completely get where rabbis like Yitzhak Yosef are coming from! He banned anyone who owns a cell phone from his temple! Well, this school has decided that nobody is allowed to be on the Internet - EVIL EVIL INTERNET! Even parents!
Most stringently, it states that "the television is absolutely forbidden" in pupils homes, and that "access to the internet is forbidden". The admissions policy adds that "other unsuitable home entertainment is strictly not allowed."

Parents are required to sign a statement that they will adhere to "the strictest laws" and "moral values" of Charedi beliefs.

The statement explains that "Charedi homes do not have TV or other inappropriate media, and parents will ensure that their children will not have access to the Internet and any other media which do not meet the stringent moral criteria of the Charedi community."
For sure, the Internet is already having an impact on the ultra-Orthodox community - in the shape of a smartphone, but has anyone thought of bright coloured clothing and women showing their knees? Yes, yes they have.
The policy states that mothers' dresses and skirts may not be shorter than four inches below the knees, and stresses that the knees must "remain covered at all times".

It adds that a "slit in a skirt or dress is absolutely forbidden even if it is completely below the knee."

The policy also forbids parents from wearing "flashy or very brightly coloured clothing" and says that "trendy" fabrics "are related to the casual free way of life of the street culture" and are "not permitted".
Oh what must it be like to worry so much about such things? 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

UK Hasidic Schools Getting Unwarranted Passes By Charedi Inspectors

Great work! I mean, maybe not. (source)
Remember when I wrote about that creepy little village just outside of Montreal where they only send their kids to completely unlicensed Hasidic schools where they more or less only study the Torah all day long? Then there was that Oxford study about lousy substandard Orthodox Jewish school educations. You've also got ex-Haredims suing such schools in Israel and the UK because they were completely unprepared for the outside world. It goes on and on.

Now here's a new surprise! It turns out that several schools in the UK have been getting passing grades from the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) when the inspectors happen to be within the Haredi community! Who would ever have suspected such a thing?
A study of Ofsted reports on independent Haredi or ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools during the period 2007-2014 found they were rated as “good” or “outstanding” 71 per cent of the time when inspected by a member of the Jewish community, but only 22 per cent of the time when inspected by a non-Haredi inspector.

The study was carried out by the British Humanist Association (BHA), which is campaigning against faith schools, particularly their “discriminatory admission, employment and curriculum policies” as well as government financial support for such schools.
Go to the story for some reactions to this study by politician types and the head of Ofsted who appears to be covering his butt.

You can read more about this over at the BHA website. This portion of the story struck me the most:
However, Ofsted’s inspection of legally registered Charedi schools has been receiving interest for some time prior to this. For instance, in October 2014 the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School, a state-maintained Charedi Jewish secondary school in Hackney, was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted despite evidence that the school advised its pupils to ignore exam questions on evolution and considered evolution, homosexual relationships and social media to be against its ethos. The BHA complained to Ofsted about the decision at the time, but the inspectorate also received criticism and accusations of bias from the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools (NAJOS) because the school had previously been rated as ‘outstanding’. Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has defended the impartiality of his inspectors on each occasion.

Speaking to the BHA, a former pupil of a Charedi Jewish school said, ‘Charedi inspectors have consistently given Good and Outstanding ratings to schools where its curricula is almost entirely focused on studying religious scriptures. Hundreds of children leave these schools every year barely able to speak a word of English or calculate basic arithmetic. Such schools should not be receiving Good/Outstandings solely on the basis of a biased inspector.’

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

London Film Festival Stops Screening of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Film

Rechy Elias is one of very few women ultra-Orthodox Jewish film directors, as you can probably imagine. Her latest film, Gift of Fire, was to be screened at Seret, a London-Israeli film festival. Just one problem -- it got canceled because a man complained he wasn't allowed to watch it.
Festivalgoer David Lass, who made the original complaint to the equalities and human rights commission, told the Jewish Chronicle he “very much regretted the outcome”, adding: “I would have welcomed a compromise solution allowing two screenings, one for women and one for men, but the organisers would not allow it.”
Oh wait, that's not the problem! It was because the film festival was only allowing women to watch the film -- even gender segregated viewings were not allowed.
Seret organisers, who at one point threatened to stand outside the Odeon to prevent men from seeing the film, have not yet made any public comment on the cancellation of Gift of Fire’s single remaining screening.
So Lass did the reasonable thing when gender discrimination happens and filed a complaint with the human rights commission.

Why would men not be allowed to watch the film? Because the director decided she only wanted women to watch it. I'm pretty sure there's something a little rich about this -- coming from a member of a community which hasn't exactly been known to respect gender equality.
“It’s regrettable that we will no longer be able to screen the film by Rechy Elias, a female film director from the Haredi community,” the statement reads. “Elias made Gift of Fire with the explicit intention of it only being shown to female audiences; without that condition, she would never have made the film.”
No word yet if men will be allowed to purchase the DVD or if they'll be required to fake their identities to get it online.

The motivation here was to create a safe space for women to experience the film. I don't question the intent but wonder how feasible it actually is.
JW3 CEO Raymond Simonson said the centre “had hoped to be able to provide [a] rare platform for a Haredi female film-maker to express herself artistically, as well as a ‘safe’ environment for Jewish women from across the entire spectrum of the community to see this unique film”. He added: “However, following the one and only complaint we received from a gentleman who also contacted the equalities and human rights commission, we took legal advice. Unfortunately, it seems that showing this film only to female-only audiences would indeed be in breach of UK equality laws, which we would of course never intentionally do.”
Based on what I've read about the Haredi community, it seems to me like even many of the men never watch television or film. So I'm uncertain what the odds would be of women being allowed to attend the screenings alone -- especially when it's banned to their husbands.

What about feminist men like me?

Anyway, perhaps another motivation for this is mentioned by another news site.
The film includes scenes of women singing and dancing, which large parts of the ultra-Orthodox community believe should not be shown to men out of fear it would "trigger them to commit sin".
So would orthodox women be scared of men in the theater getting over aroused?

I'm used to this sort of idea coming from cloistered religious groups. What gets me are statements like this coming from the event organizers.
 “However, following the one and only complaint we received from a gentleman who also contacted the equalities and human rights commission, we took legal advice. Unfortunately, it seems that showing this film only to female-only audiences would indeed be in breach of UK equality laws, which we would of course never intentionally do.”
Where have I heard this only one complaint business before? Right, city councils dealing with atheist groups who do not want to see state-church separation mangled. Furthermore, is the idea of equal access to media for both sexes really that foreign in the UK now? I'm shocked they didn't see this as a problem and actually threatened to put guards out front to enforce it.

Then there's the very title of the article with the ironic quotes around illegal: "Centre cancels 'illegal' women-only screening of film by Jewish director"

No listen, it's not a good thing to forbid entire genders from watching a film, driving, voting, etc. When did this become such a controversial topic?

Look, I personally do not have a problem with having all-women and all-men screenings of this film -- even though this is likely against the spirit of equality laws. This could be done at private venues as well. However, this wasn't enough for the director.

It makes me wonder if this action is some sort of statement against female oppression in the community? If so, then the message is lost on me.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

UK Cinema Stops Showing 'Blasphemous' Film After Sikh Groups Protest

Sikh group protesting Nanak Shah Fakir in front of Empire Cinema in Slough, UK.
The movie Nanak Shah Fakir was released this year and is about the life and teachings of the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak Dev. It is my understanding - limited as it is - that there is a prohibition against visual depictions of the guru in Sikhism, like in Islam.
The movie is facing criticism after release of trailers for depicting Guru Nanak which is against the Sikh philosophy.
Protests occurred outside the Indian parliament where the following explanation was given.
Talking to media persons the protesters said that Narendra Modi led government should ban screening of Nanak Shah Fakir film throughout India.

“Government should refrain from hurting Sikh sentiments by allowing screening of blasphemous movie Nanak Shah Fakir, which violates Sikh tenets by making visual representation of Guru Nanak Ji” said Gurcharan Singh Babbar.
So there have been protests against it in India and at least a couple of cities in the UK.
Local sources told Sikh Siyasat News (SSN) that Sikhs from Slough and adjoining areas will be joining in for a peaceful protest against screening of the controversial movie, which violates basic tenets of the Sikh nation.
Quick reminder: This nation they are protesting in is supposedly a secular democracy.

Hundreds of moviegoers were evacuated from a cinema on Sunday in Bentley Bridge, Wednesfield, UK after around 50 protesters loudly broke into the theater and laid down in the isles in protest screaming and shouting.
Police had to be called and the cinema cleared and closed after the protestors surged through the main entrance and headed for the screen showing Bollywood blockbuster, Nanak Shah Fakir.

Once inside, the Sikh campaigners sat down on the floor and began to shout, refusing to move until cinema bosses met their demands and stopped the screening.
It's so considerate of these people for not minding their own business and merely giving a movie which offends them a miss. Rather, they have made an effort to get out and prevent anyone from seeing it. They could be sitting at home boycotting the film in protest -- as I'm sure all good Sikhs would do anyway -- but instead, they are out preventing other people from ever seeing it. Many may not be offended by the film or they who would like to actually see the film before deciding whether or not to be offended.

A special thanks to them for telling the hundreds of people in the theater that they cannot watch the movie, in a so-called secular democracy, because it offends their own religious sensibilities!
It has been banned in many parts of India and attracted mass protests, while some UK cinemas have refused to show it through fear of offending religious sentiments.
One moviegoer, who chose to watch the film himself - compelled by no one, exercising his rights as a citizen of a liberal democracy - pretty much nailed it:
He said: "It was extremely intimidating. For a group of people to be able to get a film stopped and then banned is just ridiculous.

"It's an attack on freedom of speech. The atmosphere was quite aggressive in there and it's not what you expect to face when you go and watch a film."
No worries, though. Just today, the film has been pulled out of all markets. The UK was the only European market to screen it, by the way. Other markets were no doubt too afraid of upsetting the faithful.

If you're curious, here's the preview for the film, which you'll never get to see because some people find it too offensive for you to see.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

1,000 Muslim Protesters at Downing Street Against Charlie Hebdo Cartoons

Protesters believe in freedom of speech... well, unless it makes fun of their Prophet. (source)
So there was a big protest at 10 Downing Street in London today. The protesters were segregated into groups of women, children and men, lest there be any co-mingling.

Were they there to protest the barbarism of ISIL? No, they were not.

Boko Haram slaughtering thousands? Nope.

What about the horrendous situation in Syria or Saudi Arabia's beheading of hundreds? Women's equality in Saudi Arabia? Female genital mutilation? Child brides? No, not that.

All of these issues were trivial compared to this:

For some reason, the Telegraph called it a huge crowd, when in reality it was just around 1,000 people. This is a paltry amount compared to the millions who marched in favour of Charlie Hebdo's freedom of expression. It seems that the protesters' priorities are set up in such a way that a small cartoon magazine being allowed to publish images they disagree with trumps other matters.
The protest was organised by the Muslim Action Forum, which said that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons had helped “sow the seeds of hatred” and had damaged community relations.
I'm not certain how I'm supposed to take this, but it sure sounds like the sort of thing an abusive husband might use as an excuse after hitting his wife. Obviously, she said something which hurt his feelings. How could he have been expected to control himself? She deserved it. Just look what happens when tongues wag freely!
A series of Muslim leaders addressed the crowd from a platform outside the Ministry of Defence, with the message “Be careful with Muhammad”.
Is that a threat? Because it certainly sounds like one to me. A leaflet was handed out:
The leaflet said: “The recent re-publishing of the cartoons, caricatures and depictions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by Charlie Hebdo magazine and other publishers is a stark reminder that freedom of speech if (sic) regularly utilised to insult personalities that others consider sacred.

“Such actions are deliberating (sic) insulting and provoking to Muslims worldwide as British citizens, we believe that these publications will continue to ‘sow the seeds of hatred’ and damage community relations.
You see, you're perfectly welcome to say whatever you like, so long as it's something I'm okay hearing. If you open your gob and say anything which upsets me, well, then people might just get hurt.

Well, the group did express deep regret about the Hebdo attacks. It's such a shame people were hurt -- but I'm sure it's understandable. We all know who sowed the 'seeds of hate', now don't we?
"The peace-loving majority of people must become vociferous in promoting global civility and responsible debate. At this time of heightened tension and emotion, it is crucial that both sides show restraint to prevent further incidents of this nature occurring."

Shaykh Noor Siddiqi, another Forum representative, said "The actions of the UK media in not publishing the cartoons is highly appreciated by British Muslims and we hope that this kind of self-restraint and mutual respect will ultimately lead to a harmonious society."
Why does this feel like some sort of hostage situation? The British Media did wrong. At least my beloved Quebec media did the right thing.

People will publish things you do not agree with it. Please deal with this like adults, as we are not going to make concessions with our liberties for people who cannot behave in a mature manner.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Man Sues Pastor Wife Over Unpaid Flower-Arrangement Fees

Right, the story is a little fuzzy, but here it as far as I can tell!

Birmington UK man, Allan Lavington, 62, self-professed ex-deacon at the Gospel Express Academy has taken his estranged wife -- the church's pastor -- Deborah Harrison before an employment tribunal. Details are confusing, but it appears as if he was running a flower arrangement class at her church, he claims it cost him £1000 per class, he was wrongfully dismissed, and that Harrison owes him £74,000 in back pay!

It's just that Deborah claims he never worked for her! I sense some communication challenges between this couple.
Ms Harrison, who runs the Gospel Express Academy college centre, said the former deacon had only been a volunteer at the Ecclesia Ministries Church in Birmingham and accused him of "trying to pull a fast one".
The adjudicator apparently agrees with Ms Harrison. I'd just like to chip in that what kind of church offers floral arrangement classes costing the administration £1000?

Mr Lavington claims he's not bitter:
"But if I saw her walking down the street, I'd blank her."
Oh yes, he seems to be taking this whole thing really in stride. He claims that he's doing God's will by going to this tribunal. He felt the same way when he flipped out at a party because the cooking pot he bought for thousands of pounds(!) went missing. Where does this guy do his shopping?
The couple separated after just four months of marriage in 2010 following a row over a cooking pot at their wedding reception and remain estranged.

Mr Lavington said he walked out of their wedding reception after a cooking pot which had cost him thousands on went missing.
Ms Harrison concluded that her husband was a volunteer at the church. So he shouldn't have expected to get paid for the flowers.

I will keep you all abreast of any further important developments.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

OUTRAGE IN PAKISTAN!: Former BBC South News Presenter Cooks Sausages on TV!

Two-time national sausage making champion David Bell tempts Reham with an illustrious career in sausage cooking. (source)
Nearly uncontrollable fury in Pakistan lately over a former South BBC presenter of British-Pakistani descent. But what's the link, here? It has to do with pork sausages.
During the film, which, alongside other footage apparently showing Khan wearing “revealing” outfits, has been prolifically viewed in Pakistan over the last week, she is reportedly seen learning how to make and prepare the meat dish by two-time national sausage making champion David Bell.
Indeed, the hat is snappy and the white and red stripes of the sausage-seller uniform are very slimming. Lovely! What could be more seductive than a sausage-cooking television personalities, right? I'm surprised Victoria Secret didn't pick up on a new sausage-seller line of lingerie.

According to Bell, she didn't actually eat any, but this is still unacceptable for many religious conservative wackadoos.
According to The Times, the footage has, none the less, caused outrage among Islamic conservatives
I live in a predominantly Muslim part of Montreal -- near a sizable Pakistani commercial area -- and I've been served my bacon ranch sub at Subway many times by women in hijab. I'm fairly certain they don't eat it, but they prepare and sell it to folks like me. I honestly wonder what these same conservatives in Pakistan would think of these people. How insulated can people possibly be?

Are there no other, perhaps more serious, issues in Pakistan to deal with?

So why not watch this Rare Video of Reham Khan Cooking and Selling Pork Sausages!

Watch Rare Video of Reham Khan Cooking And... by zemtv

Monday, 1 September 2014

Nigerian Child Witch Hunter Threatens British Humanist Association With £500,000,000 Lawsuit

Back in April, I wrote about how the British Humanist Association (BHA) and the Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN) successfully petitioned the British Home Office to revoke child-witch-finder Helen Ukpabio's visa.

Read Leo Igwe's post, Nigerian witch hunter Helen Ukpabio bringing “gospel of hate” to the US, over at IHEU for more background on Ukpabio:
Helen Ukpabio’s gospel of hate — promoted through her publications, films (like the End of the Wicked) and sermons — fuels witchcraft accusations against children in the region. The witch hunts in Nigeria and other parts of Africa in recent years have resulted in discrimination, violence, torture and death.
Well, it seems like now the self-professed Lady Apostle 'witch-finder' has come back swinging with a FIVE HUNDRED MILLION POUND lawsuit against the BHA and WHRIN. This is being described as 'libel tourism.' It's actually a very real thing in the UK and could turn out to be a whole lot less funny than it sounds.

Libel tourist and Nigerian ‘witch hunter’ (the self styled) ‘Lady Apostle’ Helen Ukpabio attempts to stifle critics by suing BHA for half a billion pounds

The utter absurdity of this may make you laugh out loud at first -- I did, but there could be a deadly serious legal side to this as well. Ukpabio is a wealthy woman in charge of a multinational ministry. She has the clout to launch this case and potentially push it high in the courts if they'll let her. I had started this story out as a comedic view of the situation, but a somber BHA infographic over at their Facebook feed brought me back down to Earth.

The BHA press release I linked to above gives more detail. She's suing for libel against these organizations. Here's what she's basing this claim for half a billion pounds on.
Her legal case against the BHA is based on Mrs Ukpabio’s stating that she wrote that a child ‘under the age of two’ who is ‘possessed with black, red and vampire witchcraft spirits’ can be identified by features such as s/he ‘screams at night, cries, is always feverish, suddenly deteriorates in health, puts up an attitude of fear, and may not feed very well.’ Her teachings are to the effect that babies under the age of two who exhibit signs of illness or standard, entirely normal childhood behaviour (such as crying, not feeding well, screaming at night, having a fever) may be possessed by vampire witchcraft spirits. She also teaches that children who stamp their feet may be ‘trying to make signs… to communicate with gnomes, the witchcraft spirit in charge of the earth.’ Ukpabio claims that the BHA misrepresented her by saying that she ascribed these symptoms to Satanic possession and hence has damaged her reputation and livelihood to the sum of half a billion pounds.
This is so ridiculous that I cannot help but say: No, not Satan! That would be ridiculous, of course. It's 'black, red and vampire witchcraft spirits.' It's this distinction that Ukpabio claims smeared her ministry and cost her reputation and visa into the UK. And this is apparently worth half a billion pounds in damages. In reality, this case appears to be the latest in a number of legal actions to silence her critics.
Gary Foxcroft, Executive Director of WHRIN, commented, ‘This court case is the latest in a long line of unsuccessful legal actions that Helen Ukpabio has pursued against me and other human rights activists. Previous cases were thrown out of court in Nigeria but this time she is looking to take action in a UK court. I have no doubt that a judge in the UK will reach the same conclusion as those in Nigeria.
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, commented:
‘Given her baseless identification of features of “possessed children” and her dangerous and irresponsible teachings we feel a strong moral duty to point this out and will not be deflected by libel suits from wealthy “witch-finders”.

‘The fact that she is threatening to launch a legal claim for half a billion pounds over an alleged distinction between being accused of exorcising “Satan” or “Vampires” tells you all you need to know about Mrs Ukpabio. Threats of legal action like this are blatant attempts to silence critics of the harms done by these religious and superstitious beliefs and rituals. Rather than entertaining her vexatious claims in the courts, we believe the UK should be ensuring that Mrs Ukpabio and her ilk are denied entry to our country to protect children from their degrading practices.’
A story over at The Independant, sheds a little more light on the charge against the BHA and reveals the law firm that's willing to take on such an extraordinary suit.
In a letter sent to the BHA’s lawyers last Thursday, solicitors acting for the controversial preacher accused the charity of causing “members of the public to regard our client as an evil woman” with the damage to her reputation resulting in a “huge loss of incomes to her churches”. The letter, from London-based Graceland Solicitors, claims Mrs Ukpadio is “a Christian leader of international repute known and respected in many countries of the world”.
Five hundred million pounds sure does looks like a pretty big case for one tiny solicitor firm in London.

Graceland Solicitors. (source)
It's ridiculous yet there is still potential for her to make a lot of trouble, potentially damaging financial costs and time inconvenience for the BHA and WHRIN with these legal shenanigans. I ask you to spread the word about this and follow the British Humanist Association Facebook page for more ways to help.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Ariane Sherine Shares Her Brave Struggles With Depression

Ariane Sherine and Richard Dawkins at the Atheist Bus Campaign launch - 2009. (source)
There's a long but fascinating piece over at the Guardian by activist Ariane Sherine about her own dark struggles with mental breakdown and depression. The story intersects with the big splash she made in the atheist and Humanist community back in 2009 when she and Richard Dawkins launched the very first atheist bus sign campaign in the UK. It's well written, full of emotion and well worth the read.
A former boyfriend attacked me nine years ago, destroying my mental health – but I am no longer ashamed. I want people to know life can get better
It's incredibly brave and strong of her to be telling this story which might help others see that mental health problems can happen to absolutely anybody and there are ways to deal with them and come back out into the light. The stigma against mental illness is truly disgusting and it only makes things all the more unbearable for people who are trying to deal with depression.

At the start, she recounts that her troubles began with a boyfriend who physically abused her. She was pregnant with his child at the time.
Nine years ago I was newly pregnant when I was violently attacked by my boyfriend at the time. We were having an argument; he hit me in the face causing my ear to bleed, then clamped his hand over my mouth, suffocating me, and told me repeatedly that he would kill me. He said afterwards that the incident only lasted 20 seconds, but those 20 seconds were to change my whole life irrevocably.
She later had an abortion -- over which she agonized because of religion-induced guilt.
I left him and had a termination, which I agonised over for weeks because I had been so happy to be pregnant, and had already named the baby. It was very early on so I could take the abortion pill, RU-486, but when I searched for information on abortion online, thousands of pro-life Christian websites came up with enlarged pictures of foetuses sucking their thumbs, and threats that if I had an abortion, I would be sure to die of breast cancer and go to hell. A Catholic friend gave me the number of a Catholic "helpline" where they tried to dissuade me from going through with the abortion. I was so vulnerable after the termination I was scared to fall asleep in case I died and went to hell.
After a year of utter pain and suffering -- with much failed therapy and counseling -- she no longer believed in God and was pro-choice and anti-religion. A year after this, she started the atheist bus campaign. Here, she gives a fascinating behind the scenes story of the circus that was to become.
Later that year, I started the atheist bus campaign. The campaign was hellish for two reasons: firstly, I had to appear on TV and radio in studios with the doors and windows shut. I had a panic attack nearly every time – one time live on BBC Breakfast in front of six million viewers, though thankfully the segment ended before anyone realised; one time on the Jeremy Vine show, clutching the producer's hand. Any kind of broadcast media opportunities I might have had were curtailed by my claustrophobia.

Secondly, I started to get threats. Not just one or two, but dozens and dozens filling up my inbox. "If you come to America I will shoot you in the head", "I hope you die", "I hope Jesus kills you" etc. I didn't report them because I thought the police would say "What the hell do you expect, running this kind of incendiary campaign?", and besides, none of them were direct enough to warrant police attention – but I received several each day, providing an unpleasantly menacing kind of soundtrack to my life. I thought of taking my email address off my site, but reasoned that I would rather people express their anger in written form than in person, and that I would rather know if people were angry with me. I tried to shrug off the threats by making light of them in public.
I don't know what it's like to be in the limelight. I just run this little blog. I could never imagine the sheer amount of pressure this must have brought her.

She didn't break though. When she fell back into depression and anxiety -- after all this pressure and becoming pregnant with a new boyfriend -- she did the responsible thing. She got psychiatric help and worked her way out all the time realizing that depression is not something to be ashamed of -- that it's okay to rely on the help of others.
I wish there were a more cohesive narrative to this story, and that it were less of a muddle, but life is rarely neat. We are all messy and just muddling through the best way we know how. Lots of people have told me never to tell this story, and for years I refused to tell it, but I am no longer ashamed. What is shameful is not being a victim of violence, or having a termination as a result, or receiving threats, or falling apart, but instead being a complicit part of a society that says that victims should remain silent and hide the crimes of others, as well as their own frailties. It is not a society I want my daughter to grow up in, and if I want to change the way it works, speaking out myself is the first step.
I found this very inspiring. Really, I must stop quoting the whole thing and just send you there to read it yourself. It's worth it.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

UK MP Leads Debate On Saudi Human Rights Record Includes Persecution of Atheists

Yesterday, I posted about how Canada seems to tread rather softly when it comes to human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, including the Raif Badawi case. At the time, I had some self doubts about whether I was being a little too conspiratorial by linking Canada's silence with the gigantic sums of money funneling in from Saudi Arabia. They're buying up light armoured vehicles which can be used for violent crowd dispersion and protest suppression.
So why the silence about Raif Badawi? What with his wife and children here in Canada already? Why doesn't Canada denounce Saudi Arabia officially? I'll don my tinfoil hat here for a moment.
Well, I just got some confirmation from at least three members of the UK Parliament. They met a few days ago to discuss human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and why, specifically, the UK Foreign Office seems so timid in denouncing them. I'll give you a hint, it seems to be precisely the same situation there as it is here in Canada -- the Saudis have enough money for the rules to simply not apply to them.

They are buying weapons systems from the UK which are ideal in suppressing their own population and the British government are all too willing to sell it to them for enormous sums of money.

By the time you're done watching this video you'll get a very good feel for some of the human rights problems in Saudi Arabia. They even bring up the plight of Raif Badawi and atheists in the Kingdom. So, you need to watch this entire video. If you cannot and just want to hear where they mention atheists,  then skip ahead to:

03 mins : Labour MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, Katy Clark brings up Raif Badawi's case:
Similarly, Raif Badawi was imprisioned and sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for setting up a peaceful and Liberal website on the 7th of May of this year. Charges against him include breaking allegiance with the king. New terrorism laws were used against him and have been increasingly been used against human rights activists.
57 mins: Lib Dem for Cheltenham, Martin Horwood:
We have very limited rights not only for women but for political and human rights defenders. For ethnic and religious minorities there is no penal code, so there is a kind of, almost an encouragement, to an arbitrary or at least a very inconsistent dissemination of justice. In the case of religious minorities, we've heard from the honourable member just a moment ago about the issue of Christians in Saudi Arabia, but there are evidences of descrimination against Ismaili and Shia Muslims, against other religious minorities, Hindus, against atheists as well. And although the honourable member from Shrewsbury (Daniel Kawczynski) said the kingdom was in a process of reform, only in April, we had the passing of a law which categorized  those who called for atheist thought in any form -- a thought crime as George Orwell might have called it -- or call into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion in any way.
Even if that's done in an entirely peaceful or in an academic way... 20 years imprisonment and placing them in the same category as violent groups like Al Qaida. I mean, that is not a process of reform in the way I understand it.

If do you watch the whole thing, try not to gouge your eyeballs out when Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski shamefully and disgustingly downplays and trivializes these human rights violations. You'll hear him defend Saudi Arabia's record and completely ignore any suggestions from any NGOs just after Clark's first talk. He goes so far as to completely dismiss all the findings from NGOs like Amnesty International and then later in the talk suggests we should all feel proud that Saudi Arabia has made such amazing progress in human rights since the 1960s. It's unbelievable and revolting.

His whole tone reminds me at some subconscious level of how British MPs must have once sounded during the colonial times when talking about suppressed native populations of these far off foreign lands.

Luckily, he get's a decent slap down from the other members for this. You can see in their faces just how exasperated they are.

If you listen to the whole debate, you'll hear charges that the British Foreign Minister is keeping mum about Saudi human rights offences because of multi-billion pound defense contracts and... of course... oil.

Friday, 20 June 2014

UN Committee Concerned About Child Trafficking For Religious Rituals

Haitian Voodoo ritual. (source)
So, in today's disturbing news...

An article over at Voice of Russia is shedding light on concerns the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has about African children being kidnapped and shipped to the UK for use in Voodoo and other religious rituals. (Originally on AFP)
"We're concerned about reports that hundreds of children have been abducted from their families in Africa and trafficked to the UK, especially London, for religious rituals," said Kristen Sandberg, head of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The article says that British police have reported many cases of child torture and abuse for witchcraft rituals. It then goes on to list off a few such cases in more detail.

I found the report in question after some digging on the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights website. Here's the relevant bit.
Child Trafficking

30. The Committee is strongly concerned that thousands of children continue to be trafficked every year in the State party, particularly for sexual exploitation and labour, and it expresses its deepest concern about reports that hundreds of children have been abducted from their families in Africa and trafficked to the State party for brutal religious rituals, such as the so-called voodoo and juju rituals. The Committee is particularly concerned that:

a) The number of prosecutions and convictions of perpetrators of trafficking and other offences under the Optional Protocol is extremely low across the State party, leading to impunity for perpetrators, and that the prosecutors often choose to charge perpetrators of human trafficking with other offences, such as rape or abduction to secure convictions; and

b) While under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, a non-national who arranges the trafficking of a child outside the jurisdiction of the State party commits a crime in England and Wales, the Act does not extend to Northern Ireland.

31. The Committee urges that the State party strengthen the capacity of law-enforcement authorities and judiciary to detect and prosecute trafficking of children for labour, sexual and other forms of exploitation, including for religious rituals. The Committee further recommends that the State party enact a specific legislation on child trafficking in accordance with the Optional Protocol and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (UN Palermo Protocol) and ensure that the crime of child trafficking is defined consistently and prosecuted throughout the State party.  
It appears that sexual exploitation and labour are the two largest categories, but religious superstition is also a problem. Apparently authorities tend to downplay these events for some reason.
The British government launched a campaign against faith-based child abuse in 2012, saying there was a need to make a stand, working with African migrant associations.

Critics have pointed to what they say is a tendency to view ritual abuse differently from other forms.
Yet another bizarre and tragic double standard around religion.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Keep Nigerian Child Witch Hunter Out: Human Rights Groups Petition UK Home Office

For Helen Ukpabio Spiritual Attacks can come from innocent little babies or mermaids.

I've written about her before and now I'll write about her again. The fact that witch hunter Helen Ukpabio is a menace to her fellow Nigerians is well-known, but now she's travelled to London to spread her vile and harmful superstitions into the United Kingdom.

Nigerian 'witch-hunter' who claims any child who cries is a 'servant of Satan' could be banned from the UK over fears she is a risk to youngsters

Britain has every right to keep out dangerous criminals who incite fear of children which undeniably leads to child abuse.
She uses her sermons to incite hatred, intolerance and persecution of alleged witches and wizards. 
Her supporters, of which there are many in West Africa, believe she is a servant of God who has helped eradicate spiritual ailments from humankind. 
Her beliefs – promoted through her publications (Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft), films (End of the Wicked) and sermons - fuel witchcraft accusations against children in the region.
Leo Igwe has written about her dreadful shenanigans.  She has literally convinced parents that the cause of their earthly misfortunes are their own children - who are witches and working for the devil. This has lead to the horrendous abuse and abandonment portrayed in Channel 4's Saving Africa's Witch Children.
The documentary will feature shocking stories of torture inflicted on children, including a 13-year-old who was tied up with chicken wire and starved and beaten for two weeks, and a 14-year-old girl who was burned with acid before her mother attempted to bury her alive. 
One 17-year-old was left brain-damaged after having a three-inch nail driven into her skull.
Don't think Ukpabio is part of the problem? Here's what Wikipedia has to say.
Ukpabio has published her views in several books. An example is 'Unveiling The Mysteries of Witchcraft', in which she states that: 
'If a child under the age of two screams in the night, cries and is always feverish with deteriorating health he or she is a servant of Satan.' 
A fact not mentioned in the book is that these symptoms are common in young children, especially in areas like Nigeria with poor health and high levels of malaria. 
She also produces a number of films to spread the view that children can become possessed by evil spirits through her film production company, Liberty Films, part of the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries franchise. The most famous of these is End of The Wicked in which child actors are shown to eat human flesh and murder their parents.
Oh, and she also believes mermaids are a real problem as well!

The Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN), which I have written about in the past, is one of the groups demanding that she be banned from ever reentering the country - which I wholeheartedly support. They are petitioning Home Secretary Theresa May to deny entry into the UK based on the very sensible argument that it is not conductive for the common good. You know, because she makes films demonizing little children and claims Satan infects babies with fevers.

They mentioned something rather interesting as well:
In a letter to Ms May, the campaigners warn: ‘Whilst the Government has moved swiftly to block entry to the UK for Islamic preachers whose presence is considered as harmful to the public good, there have been no cases of Christian pastors facing such measures.’
That's interesting, too.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Anglican Church Cannot Accept Gay Marriage Because "Christians Could Get Hurt"

Head of Church of England, Archbishop Justin Welby (source)
The head of the Church of England, Justin Welby, was on a radio program not long ago where he had a very interesting response to the question of his church accepting same-sex marriage.

African Christians will be killed if church accepts gay marriage warns Anglican leader
He was asked by one caller as to whether the Church of England would accept same-sex marriage after it was legalized. 
Welby replied, "The impact of that on Christians in countries far from here, like South Sudan, like Pakistan, Nigeria and other places would be absolutely catastrophic and we have to love them as much as the people who are here."
Basically, he's saying that although it pains him in the middle of the night to see the mistreatment of LGTBI people in Britain, he has to balance that suffering with the kind of persecution Anglicans may receive in African states where being gay is illegal.

This comparison is pretty odd on this front alone, but what's really odd is how he seems to completely ignore the plight of LGBTI people internationally.

I'm sure Welby is a smart man - he was made head of a major international religious organization. So I can only imagine that he must be aware of the dreadful treatment of homosexuals in places like Nigeria or Russia - where they are stone to death and beaten in the streets. Surely that would change his calculus?

I don't really know what to make of him simply leaving these people to suffer and die when regional church leaders often use the positions of organizations like his to justify ongoing persecution.

Savi Hensman on his blog over at Ekklesia asks the same question that hit me.
I do not doubt his sincerity. However in the interview he failed to acknowledge the even greater suffering of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Christians in some non-western countries, and the responsibility of certain church leaders there for stoking up violent hatred, which may have backfired.

Perhaps Welby is more worried about the future of his Church than the future of LGTB people in the UK and all across the world. Perhaps he doesn't want a schism similar to the internal conflict that struck the church regarding women clergy.

One bishop, the head of the Uganda Anglican Church, has already more or less threatened they'd leave if the C. of E. ever endorsed gay marriage.

Priorities. Priorities.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Jesus and Mo Cartoons Should be Removed: UK Muslim Group

Just on the heels of finding the Jaclyn Glenn video, I go stumble on this insanity. How can I not point out the irony?

UK Muslims Denounce Prophet’s Cartoons

They're not talking about ancient cartoons that Mohammed drew -- and I seriously wonder if he had any sense of humour at all -- they mean Jesus and Mo. Well, we know these Muslims don't have a sense of humour.
UK Muslims have waged war against an offensive website that publishes cartoons depicting Prophets Muhammad and Jesus (peace be upon them), demanding discharging Muslim Politician after republishing these cartoons. 
Yes, they've waged war, apparently.
... "potentially inflammatory," read the statement of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB)...
I'm sorry. Is that a threat? We all know what can happen when someone publishes just a dozen cartoons! Quick, quick! Take down the site!

Well, the site has very rightly refused to cower to their demands to take down the images. The mere fact some people are offended by some, frankly, amusing cartoons is not sufficient to censor free speech. And veiled threats like potentially inflammatory should hold no weight. The world should not be in constant fear of violent temper tantrums every time they poke fun at someone's religion.

They are also asking that a British Muslim aspiring politician, Maajid Nawaz, to be sacked. Why? Because rather than getting his panties in a twist when seeing the cartoons, he decided to not find them offensive or harmful to the slightest degree to his Prophet.
Maajid Nawaz, a prospective Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, tweeted a picture of one of the Jesus and Mo T-shirts, after the cartoons came up in a discussion on the BBC's Big Questions. Nawaz, a Muslim and a co-founder of the think tank Quilliam, which is dedicated to combating religious extremism, said that he did not find the innocuous content of the T-shirts offensive. "I'm sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it," he said, reasonably.
So now this group is distributing a petition to pressure the Liberal Democrats to get rid of Nawaaz. All because he didn't explode into a fit of nonsensical rage because some website somewhere made fun of Mohammed.

But here's what I find deliciously ironic about the story. Take a look at the caption under the image associated with the post.
The Islamic organization, an affiliate to Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), asserted its adherence to freedom of expression.
Yeah. Okay, so, why does that seem a little contradictory to the whole point of this story and their motion?

Oh, their freedom of expression! 

Now I get it.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Atheist Columnist Calls British Humanist Association "Intolerant to Religious Schools"

Students in classroom - NARA - 285401
Awhile ago, I wrote about self-proclaimed atheist blogger Brendan O'Neill. If there's one thing he cannot stand is atheists - because they're all so damn smug.

Well it turns out that another group Brendan really cannot stand are those British Humanists.

If you want to see intolerance in action, look no further than the humanists' war on faith schools

You see, it's my understanding that many religious schools in the UK are state funded. That's already bloody annoying, but it gets worse. Several schools, including the London Oratory, have been basing their admission decisions on how Catholic the parents are and what sorts of brown-nosing activities they do in their parishes. You know, like singing in the choir every week, putting a little extra in the collection baskets, telling extra juicy stories in confessional, letting their kids go out on all-night camping trips with the priest, etc. Stuff like that. Okay, I made those last two things up.
Kids whose parents were openly devout in their Catholicism – for example by singing in the church choir or visiting the sick on behalf of the church – were looked upon more favourably by the Oratory than kids whose parents were a quieter kind of Catholic. No longer. Describing the policy as "discriminatory", the OSA has told the Oratory to stop prioritising children on the basis of their parents' faith-based activities.
Good!  This sounds absolutely outrageous. Read about it at British Humanist Association.

And I recall watching a Richard Dawkins documentary about how sometimes these religious schools are the only decent options - resource wise - for parents to send their children to in their religion. This is disgusting and I'm happy to see them getting busted. Hopefully more to come.

If these schools wish to have these cult-like admission requirements, then they should be 100% privately funded - period.

O'Neill frames this as an issue of splitting and segregating religions. Of making disparate religious camps that goes against integration. I'm not sure if this is the case or not, but for goodness sake, the real problem here is the state is tithing to these schools and parents need to jump through hoops to be judged worthy of sending their children to them. I mean, my goodness, who's the intolerant ones here?  The bloody schools are!
The great irony here is that humanists often bang on about how faith schools infect their pupils with intolerant attitudes, yet they themselves exhibit extraordinary intolerance towards schools with a religious ethos. 
And then he goes on to say that punishing these publicly funded religious schools will somehow prevent parents from indoctrinating their children with their religious mumbo jumbo.
A fundamental part of religious freedom, and a key aspect of parental autonomy, is the right of parents to impart their beliefs to their offspring. And this will necessarily involve some form of discrimination – that is, parents being discriminating about whom they allow to teach their children or whom they allow their children to associate with. 
I'm glad Brendan, although an atheist himself, has such concern for the spreading of Bronze Age myths as fact to future generations.  However, nobody is breaking into the homes and churches of these parents. They are free to spend all Sunday brainwashing their kids to their heart's content - but this is not the job of the State. It is the State's task to fund public secular education that promotes no religion over others. I mean, for goodness sake, don't we have enough science, math, biology, social sciences, literature, etc. to fill the days without doing the Sunday work for parents and churches as well?

What an outrageous piece. Surely Brendan O'Neill must be jacking up the rhetoric to garner as many clicks as possible.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Atheist Sunday Assembly Congregation Evicted From Their Church

Sanderson Jones is one of the creators of the Sunday Assembly. His venue
went missing without warning and nobody really knows why. (image source)
Only a couple of weeks ago atheist musician Shelley Segal had to find an alternate venue for her Tacoma show.

The coffee house that had agreed with no sign of discomfort or protest decided at the very last minute that they did not wish to host the show after all and Ask an Atheist host Sam Mulvey was left scrambling. Now there is a new bit of apparent discrimination across the pond. 

It seems that the Sunday Assembly, probably the world's most non-militant group of atheists, have lost the privilege of congregating in the deconsecrated church they have been calling home since the group's inception in January. I've been following this group since the beginning and it's really hard for me to figure out why anyone would have it in for them. I guess it's because they don't believe in the big guy in the sky.

Sunday Assembly pastor claims UK’s first atheist congregation evicted from church by moralistic Christians

I suppose this may be the first ever eviction of an atheist congregation from a church. I suppose it could be considered (non)religious persecution?
As far as I can tell, the Assembly was leasing St Paul’s Church, a deconsecrated Nave, which has a capacity of around 200 from the Steiner School:
St. Paul’s Steiner School is an independent, non-selective and non-denominational school for children aged 3 – 14 years old. 
Housed in a beautiful 19th century church in central London, St. Paul’s is a Steiner-Waldorf School. We provide an education that supports the development of well-rounded human beings who are resourceful, creative, responsible and curious; ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century with the problem-solving skills required for a sustainable future.
You know, it looks like a really nice school. Although non-denominational raises a red flag for me personally. Judging by the article, it may not have wholly been their decision to give the Assembly the boot. It turns out that the trustees of the school were leasing the premises from the good old Church of England.  Is there no fiendishly evil plot they are not behind? Maybe renting the building out to a bunch of atheists -- albeit indirectly -- made them blush too hard.  Perhaps it upset their digestion.

Away from mere conjecture and back to cold, hard, unfriendly facts. One of the school trustees e-mailed Jones on Friday.
“The Sunday Assembly is regularly drawing crowds of up to 500 people, if we go beyond capacity we could be held in breach of health and safety law and we would be in very serious trouble,” he said.
Okay, sure, it's a fairly good argument, but according to the article, the Assembly was already looking for a new venue.  In fact:
Although the Sunday Assembly was searching for larger premises, Mr Jones arranged to use the Steiner School building in Balls Pond Road, which trustees lease from the Church of England, one last time for their monthly meeting in May.
Surely, the school could have kept their promise for this one last time?  They had done it before. And if crowd size was a problem, surely some well placed bouncers at the door could have rectified the problem.  Perhaps the service could have been streamed via web to smartphone carrying congregants outside or a couple of televisions could be set up?

No, this apparently came out of the blue and it seems downright uncool - like someone just pulled the plug out of some kind of spite.

The worst thing is that they waited until the last moment thus screwing over the atheist group in much the same way things came to pass in Tacoma.  You know, when I was a kid my father taught me to let the fish chew on the worm awhile before reeling it in and not to jerk the line as soon as I got a little nibble. Well, we'll never know if this was an intentional thing but it is fishy nonetheless.
But last Friday Mr Jones received an email from Gary Bridgewood, one of the Steiner School trustees, apologising for “messing up” the booking. 
He said he had “failed” to make clear the results of a meeting with Mr Jones, and had “upset a considerable number” of his community.
On an announcement at the Sunday Assembly website, Jones makes a few amusing speculations about exactly what put certain members of the school's board over the edge resulting in their reneging.
Sadly the committee members who took against the godless congregation didn’t spell out the precise reason for their disapproval. Was it novelist Sarah Dunant’s talk on the art of the Resurrection? Vicar Dave Tomlinson’s meditation on the power of metaphor and stories? Or the congregation singing Run Rabbit Run during April’s Easter service?
Exactly, it must have been that rascally rabbit.

But all is not lost! The May 5th meeting has been moved to the British Humanist Association's Conway Hall, which appears to have ample room.

But the fitting character of a crumbling and dilapidated deconsecrated church, that will be missed.  It was so symbolically fitting, like a phoenix rising from ashes.
Pippa wanted to add: “A deconsecrated church with just the right level of shabby chic was perfect. If anyone else can suggest some venues we’d love to hear about them. We’re homeless. Help!”.
 If anyone knows of a nice venue, they should get in touch with the Sunday Assembly here.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Video Report By Nimrod Kamer On Atheist Church

Nimrod Kamer.
Over the last couple of months, I have been covering the rise of a new Atheist Church in the UK called the Sunday Assembly. I think this is generally a good idea and I'd love to attend a service.

The church leaders are now set to make a couple of appearances in Scotland as well.  So, perhaps this good idea is on the spread.  I am beginning to wonder now if there could be a valuable tie-in with the Clergy Project here?  Could this work in the United States?  There are plenty of atheist ex-ministers that may be able to fill the pulpits.

The church’s founders believe that they have tapped into something that has gone unsatisfied for quite some time in the non-theist community: The urge for a sense of togetherness. This is a phenomenon in the atheist community that the TheBlaze has analyzed extensively. Examining past events that activists have organized like the Reason Rally and Rock Beyond Belief, it is clear that many non-believers are seeking community and a cohort of others who, like them, reject belief in a higher power.
The article includes an embedded video report by Nimrod Kamer, who features frequently on VICE website.  It's mildly amusing yet quite informative.  Check it out!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Atheist Church In UK Keeps On Stompin'

The most recent service contained a science lecture. (source: BBC)
Over the last couple of months I've been following the story of a new atheist church, the Sunday Assembly, opening up in Islington, UK.  Well, they've just had their second monthly service and their congregation lined up outside waiting to get in, forty minutes before the service.  In fact, it's so popular they are seriously considering adding a second Sunday service to handle the overflow.

In this BBC coverage, What happens at an atheist church?, which includes a video report at the bottom, the service is said to be packed with mostly young, white, middle class people... or in other words, the typical demographic for atheists.  No surprise there.  But the way they're really connecting with the service is interesting.
The audience - overwhelmingly young, white and middle class - appear excited to be part of something new and speak of the void they felt on a Sunday morning when they decided to abandon their Christian faith. Few actively identify themselves as atheists. 
"It's a nice excuse to get together and have a bit of a community spirit but without the religion aspect," says Jess Bonham, a photographer. 
"It's not a church, it's a congregation of unreligious people."
Yes, this church is not full of die-hard atheists - although there could be a few there.  It's riding a wave of nones - those who choose not to be affiliated with any particular religion and may not believe in any god, necessarily but may not go as far as identify as atheist.

This is completely fine with me.  If anything, I feel that monthly get togethers at a pub eating over-priced food and drinking over-priced beer while talking about random stuff is not exactly the same community building experience as attending a service full of song, awe, and celebration of science.  But that's just me.  This church may not be for everyone - and that's okay - but I do think there is a niche that it may fill.

In a Guardian article about the same thing,  'Not believing in God makes life more precious': meet the atheist 'churchgoers', there are those who are skeptical about this church's lasting power.
Might the early popularity of the Sunday Assembly hint at the start of something that could take off on a large scale? Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, is sceptical, noting that a wave of atheist churches were formed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but petered out because people found other forms of social organisation that suited them better. 
"I think it's an interesting development but it's something that's been tried many times before. What's probably different is that there's a strong entertainment element. It's an entertainment as well as a communal activity. It just happens to be on a Sunday morning."
David Robertson, director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity and a Free Church of Scotland minister in Dundee, basically said it was a phenomenon of the middle-class cultural elite.

Yes, okay this could be a fad.  But who cares?  They're having fun, not hurting anyone and having a deep need fulfilled... all without iron age religious claptrap.

Around 300 attended the Sunday Assembly.  Next door a regular church managed... 30.  Watch the video toward the end.  It's amusing.
The Sunday Assembly certainly did better business than at the evangelical St Jude and St Paul's Church next door, where about 30 believers gathered to sing gospel songs and listen to Bible readings. 
But Bishop Harrison, a Christian preacher for 30 years, says he does not see his new neighbours as a threat, confidently predicting that their spiritual journey will eventually lead them to God.
Sure, sure.

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