Monday, 29 October 2007

Fw: Clocks change, energy save

Every so often some bright spark over here in Jersey suggests that not having British Summer Time would mean we would be a more interesting tourist destination!
I seem to remember one year we did without it, as did the UK.
Moving the clocks forward (remember the default position is the October to March one) saves electricity. As a California website notes (remember Daylight Saving Time there is our British Summer Time here):
One of the biggest reasons we change our clocks to Daylight Saving Time (DST) is that it saves energy. Energy use and the demand for electricity for lighting our homes is directly connected to when we go to bed and when we get up. Bedtime for most of us is late evening through the year. When we go to bed, we turn off the lights and TV.
In the average home, 25 percent of all the electricity we use is for lighting and small appliances, such as TVs, VCRs and stereos. A good percentage of energy consumed by lighting and appliances occurs in the evening when families are home. By moving the clock ahead one hour, we can cut the amount of electricity we consume each day.
Studies done in the 1970s by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that we trim the entire country's electricity usage by about one percent EACH DAY with Daylight Saving Time.
Daylight Saving Time "makes" the sun "set" one hour later and therefore reduces the period between sunset and bedtime by one hour. This means that less electricity would be used for lighting and appliances late in the day. We also use less electricity because we are home fewer hours during the "longer" days of spring and summer. Most people plan outdoor activities in the extra daylight hours. When we are not at home, we don't turn on the appliances and lights. A poll done by the U.S. Department of Transportation indicated that Americans liked Daylight Saving Time because "there is more light in the evenings / can do more in the evenings." While the amounts of energy saved per household are small...added up they can be very large.
The site also contains a link to an assessment of how other patterns would effect energy use.
So clocks forward and back is actually a very "green" thing to do!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Against the Passive Voice

An interesting quote by Chesterton, taking up the "passive voice" in which events are reported. I don't think he is quite right; I don;t think it is a specially atheistical style, but a more common degredation of language (as Orwell noted in his Politics and the English Language). It is notable, however, that - as Mary Midgeley points out - Richard Dawkins in particular seems to avoid all talk of motivation. But Dawkins is not alone, all kinds of psychological explanations of people's actions have long tried to remove talk of motivation, and replace it with passive voice metaphorical constructs; these are slipped in as "scientific" because of the borrowing of the kind of terminology found in science.

The mark of the atheistic style is that it instinctively chooses the word which suggests that things are dead things; that things have no souls. Thus they will not speak of waging war, which means willing it; they speak of the "outbreak of war," as if all the guns blew up without the men touching them. Instead of saying that employers pay less wages, which might pin the employers to some moral responsibility, they insist on talking about the "rise and fall" of wages. They will not speak of reform, but of development. The atheist style in letters always avoids talking of love or lust, which are things alive, and calls marriage or concubinage "the relations of the sexes"; as if a man and a woman were two wooden objects standing in a certain angle and attitude to each other, like a table and a chair.("The Flying Authority" Eugenics and Other Evils)

The Irony of Atheism

A good post by Patrick Poole on the subject of Dawkin's silence on atheism! A lovely ironic tone! Here are a few of the highlights.
Of course, secular humanism has been such an advancement to humanity over monotheism, hasn't it? What with the Reign of Terror and its goddess of Reason, Napoleonic total war, Prussian militarism, Marxist revolutions, Darwinian eugenics and racism, Bolshevik communism, Stalin's collectivization of the kulaks, Italian fascism, German Nazism and the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Stalin's purges, Third World "liberation" movements, Nasser's Arab socialism, Soviet gulags, the brutal crackdown on the Prague Spring, Pol Pot's killing fields, Mao's Great Leap Forward, the Baathist regimes of Syria and Iraq, Sandinista death squads, Nicolae Ceausescu's Securitate, and those atheistic paradises on earth, Enver Hoxha's Albania and Kim Il-Sung's North Korea, it is amazing that religion exists at all these days and that atheism hasn't been universally embraced for the empowering and humanizing idea that it is.

Then again, the estimated 100 million people murdered in the name of atheism in the 20th Century alone so far surpass the collective abuses and persecutions launched in the name of Christianity over the past two millennia that the two are entirely incomparable – not really a record of the joys of secularism that Dawkins or Weinberg are really interested in revisiting.
Atheists have long ago worn out their welcome to flog the rest of us on the matter of religion, particularly those of the rabidly bigoted variety represented well by Richard Dawkins and Steven Weinberg (among many others). In their malicious handling of Christianity and its history we find that they are not intellectually honest; this should be no surprise to us, however, as they don't have any reason to believe in honesty.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Dawkins sloppy language again

The Huffington Post had a good article re Dawkins' sloppy logic.

Richard Dawkins' Jewish Question by David Berreby

Posted October 16, 2007 12:58 PM (EST)

"A scientist looking at nonscientific problems,'' said the great physicist Richard Feynman, "is just as dumb as the next guy.'' That's not necessarily anyone else's concern -- unless the scientist in question is claiming to speak, with scientific authority, for the rest of us.

A fresh case in point is this analysis by Oxford's Richard Dawkins, from an interview published earlier this month in Britain's Guardian (see the sixth paragraph). As part of his ongoing campaign to get "downtrodden,'' apologetic atheists stand up for themselves, Dawkins suggests that we secular humanists emulate other minorities. For instance, the Jews:

"When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told -- religious Jews anyway -- than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolize American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place."

The historian David H. Fischer identified this kind of rhetoric as "the fallacy of equivocation.'' That's where, he wrote, "a term is used in two or more senses within a single argument, so that a conclusion appears to follow when in fact it does not.'' Dawkins starts with the "Jewish lobby'' (by which one presumes he means the pro-Israel lobby, from his later reference to foreign policy). Then he says "they'' are less numerous than atheists (so now the referent is not an office-full of people, but rather, American Jews). Then he qualifies the term to mean "religious Jews.'' We've gone from (1) AIPAC to (2) "the Jews'' to (3) Jews who believe in God and (4) Jews who follow traditional practice. (The term "religious Jews'' could describe both types of person, and there is no reason to think that everyone in category 4 is also in category 3.)

In short, quite a muddle. I cannot tell who we secularists should be trying to copy -- lobbyists, ethnically Jewish Americans, believers in a deity or people who hold to traditional practice without reflecting on ultimate questions. Only one thing is clear: By casually echoing the rhetoric of anti-Semites, Dawkins has made a fool of himself and, by extension, those of us for whom he claims to speak.

The interesting question is: Why? How could Dawkins, the holder of Oxford's Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science, miss the differences among the kinds of people he lumps together, both in the Guardian interview and on the website? Those distinctions are well-documented. Pro-Israel lobbyists get plenty of support in the US from non-Jews (importantly including conservative evangelical Christians). Meanwhile, plenty of Jews, in Israel and throughout the world, do not support the goals of this lobby. Take a look here for an example. Then too, there are religious Jews who most emphatically do not support the State of Israel or its goals. Have a look here (, for instance.

As it happens, the potency of pro-Israel lobbyists has been much in the news lately, since John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt just published a long-germinating book that analyzes the effect of the lobby in the U.S. (You can read a shorter version of their arguments here. Briefly, they say lobbyists for Israel have been highly successful in influencing government policy -- as have the National Rifle Association or the AARP. Perhaps the controversy over their book inspired Dawkins' remark.

But they don't say what Dawkins is saying. In fact, Mearsheimer, offered a chance to say precisely what Dawkins claimed, instead explained that this picture is not supported by his and Walt's study. You can see him saying it here (

Anyone can get his facts wrong and later correct himself. But Dawkins' confusion suggests a deeper problem -- a conceptual misunderstanding about identity. That mistake may stem from his casting himself as a leader of downtrodden atheists. In any event, it explains why his movement is doomed.

The problem, briefly, is just this: Identity-based behavior is not a unitary phenomenon. It comes in many forms. And what people do in one mode does not predict what they will do in another. The forms overlap (you can be at the same time a Dawkinsian secular humanist and a Jewish person and an activist for Palestinian rights). We often use the same language for the different types. All that makes the fallacy of equivocation easy to commit. But it's still an error.

Dawkins' statement, for example, invokes at least three different modes of identity. First, there is identity based on a consciously chosen belief. (You've thought about U.S. policy in the Middle East and come to a conclusion about what you want the Government to do.) Second, there is identity based on habit and upbringing. Maybe you don't believe in God or approve of West Bank settlements, but you go to seder at your grandparents (it's family, it's childhood, it's what "we'' do). Third is identity based on a trait that is perceived to be involuntary, and often thought to be inherited. You can decide to support Palestinian rights or choose to go to the movies on Yom Kippur, but somehow, you feel, you can't change where you come from.

Identities of the second type, like knowing yourself to be Irish or Catholic or a Yankees fan or a hunter, come to you through early experiences, where you're taken through the rites and patterns of life that teach you "what we do'' and "who we are.'' Such identities are learned by the body, in sights, smells, sounds and movements that arrive before reason. The mode was well described by the philosopher Michael Oakeshott, when he wrote:

We acquire habits of conduct, not by constructing a way of living upon rules or precepts learned by heart and subsequently practiced, but by living with people who habitually behave in a certain manner: we acquire habits of conduct in the same way as we acquire our native language.

This sort of identity is rather impervious to rational thought and official declarations, and a good thing too. I, for one, am glad that my sense of being American -- my sense that home is home -- does not depend on the policies of the federal government.

Identities of the third type are imposed. They arise out of the encounters you have with the rest of the world; encounters you cannot refuse to see and cannot wish away. You can decide how to deal with such an identity -- whether, for example, you want to be an out and proud member of the GLBT community or a total closet case. But you cannot decide to leave such an identity behind you. The rest of the world won't allow it.

Now, atheism is an identity of the first type, the conscious, thought- out sort. That is the point Dawkins makes when he says we should not refer to a "Catholic child'' or a "Muslim child,'' because a child can't decide what s/he thinks about the existence of God.
The problem, though, is that identities based on opinions feel ephemeral, because opinions change all the time. With an identity based only on opinion, you have two unattractive choices: (1) Admit that tomorrow you could no longer belong to the tribe, because you might change your mind; or (2) admit that in order to preserve tribal feeling, you will have to behave as if your opinion is much more certain and consistent than a normal thought.

This second choice is what Dawkins advocated, I think, when he wrote this on his web site:

I admit, I sympathize with those skeptics on this site who fear that we are engendering a quasi-religious conformity of our own. Whether we like it or not, I'm afraid we have to swallow this small amount of pride if we are to have an influence on the real world, otherwise we'll never overcome the 'herding cats' problem.

But the problem with atheist solidarity (and the reason atheist groups are comically riven by orthodoxies, inquisitions, purges and schisms) is not that all members are nuanced, independent thinkers. It is that atheism, unlike sexual orientation or religious upbringing or beloved cultural tradition, is an easily-changed conviction, and everyone knows it. Dawkins can't admit this because he wants to lead his people into the Promised Land, and to do that he needs to have a people. He thinks atheists just need to go slumming, and pretend for a bit to believe the same thing. But identities that matter are not based on belief at all.

Most everyone knows this, and so very few people can take atheism seriously as a basis for understanding "what kind of person I am.'' Instead, the identities that make people glad, mad, and weepy are those about which people feel they have no choice: The identities they learn at their parents' knees, the experiences imposed on them by the beliefs of the neighbors. Not coincidentally, it is those identities that make people cough up money to support effective lobbyists in Washington. Identities like "hunter'' (National Rifle Association) and "gay person'' (Human Rights Campaign) and "old person'' (American Association of Retired Persons).
Could atheism be made then into such an identity? For example, by atheist parents who raise atheist children with explicitly atheist annual rituals and beloved cultural icons? (The standard American Christmas is fairly secular but it pretends not to be, so it wouldn't count.) Well, sure. You can make a convincing identity out of anything, if you put generations of effort into it. And perhaps, with his t-shirts, buttons, instructions for holding meetings, this is what Richard Dawkins is aiming at. In the meantime, though, he is fooling himself and making the rest of us secularists look like idiots.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Romani in England and Wales

'Anglo-Romani' is a term used to describe usage of words of Romani origin within English conversation. Romani was spoken in England until the late 19th century; perhaps a generation longer in Wales. It was replaced by English as the everyday and family language of British Romanies but this does not mean the language disappeared entirely. Words of Romani origin were still used as part of a family-language. Words which are occasionally inserted into English conversation are referred to in linguistic literature on Romani as 'Para-Romani': the selective retention of some Romani-derived vocabulary following the disappearance of Romani as an everyday language of conversation.

Anglo-Romani is thus more a vocabulary, than a 'language' in the strict sense. It is used within the framework of English conversation, English sentences, and English grammar and pronunciation, thus: The mush was jalling down the drom with his gry. means 'The man was walking down the road with his horse.
There is a good linguistic analysis by Ian Hancock at
Anglo-Romani is peculiar in that it shares some traits with Romani, but not enough to be a separate language, hence its often characterised as a "creolized language". In fact, some native users call it "Rumnis" or "Broken Romani"; Hancock thinks the correct term is probably that of an "ethnolect of the community". He notes its linguistic history:
"In summary, there are sufficient references from the 16th and early 17th centuries to a contact language used between Romanies and non-Romanies for it to be possible that Angloromani became distinct from Romani during that period. That there are no texts from that time is not remarkable in view of the secret nature of the language; in fact only one verified text in inflected Romani itself is known to us from that date.   It is clear that English—and hence Angloromani—had already become the dominant language of much of the Romani population in Britain at this early date, since the phonological changes accompanying the shift from Early Modern to Late Modern English) also affected the Romani words it contained."
"Angloromani cannot be regarded as a pidginized language in the light of e.g. Taylor's 15 criteria (1971:295); it retains a fair degree of productive morphology, albeit deriving almost entirely from English, and it lacks many of the linguistic features generally associated with pidgins. It did, however, originate from a contact situation, and does conform to Hymes' requirements, quoted above. And in particular, it exhibits very extensive internally generated innovative lexicon, perhaps far more extensive than that found in actual pidgins and creoles; and to a lesser degree, morphological devices originating in the source language (Romani) have been readapted, and continue to be productive in ways not paralleled in either English or Romani. "
Some of the ways in which it has lost or "broken" apart from Romani in favour of English forms are as follows:
  • All distinctions of gender and case have been lost in Angloromani
  • Inflected Romani has both prepositions and postpositions. The former e.g, əprey "up", təley "down", pâwdəl "across", &c.), have been retained in Angloromani, while the latter have been replaced by English prepositions, with the possible exception of -sa "with", which may, according to Smart & Crofton (1875:133) and Borrow (1874:58) function prenominally.
  • As well as losing postpositions, Angloromani has also lost the reflexive possessive third person singular and plural pronouns which in inflected British (i.e. Welsh) Romani are pesk- "his/her own' and peŋ- "their own", as opposed to lesk- "his", lak- "her", leŋ- "their".
  • Romani verbs belong to four classes, and are inflected for person, tense and number. In Angloromani the morphology is English, the native stem often corresponding to the third person singular present indicative in the inflected language.  There is historically no infinitive in Romani, but in the Central and Northern dialects the third person singular has come to assume this function, cf. Czech Romani kamav te džal "I want to go", kamav jov te džal "I want him to go."

Welsh Romani

Welsh Romani is a variety of the Romani language which was spoken fluently in Wales until at least the 1950s. It was spoken by the Kale group of the Roma people who arrived in Britain during the 15th century. The first record of Gypsies in Wales comes from the 16th century.
The majority of the vocabulary is of Indo-Aryan origin but there are a number of loanwords from Welsh such as melanō ("yellow", from melyn), grīga ("heather", from grug) and kraŋka ("crab", from cranc). There are also English loanwords such as vlija ("village"), spīdra ("spider") and bråmla ("bramble").
The book in the Jersey library is the major study of it: John Sampson (1926) The dialect of the Gypsies of Wales, being the older form of British Romani preserved in the speech of the clan of Abram Wood, Oxford University Press, London
Wesh Romani retained all the features of Romani as a language in its own right that are lacking in Anglo-Romani. Unfortunately there are no longer any speakers of this language still alive:

"Nowadays no English Romany that I know of can still speak or even understand the old Romany language that I described earlier in the book. The last three Welsh Romanies to speak the language perfectly without mixing any English or Welsh into it were Manfri, Howell and Jim Wood of Bala, Merioneth. They are all dead now. There are still a number of quite good Welsh Romany speakers around even today, but they all mix a certain amount of English and Welsh into their Romany, and their grammar is not as pure any more as that of the three people I have mentioned. To get an idea of what Romany was like at the time when it was still a language in its own right in this country, one has to study John Sampson's book, The Dialect of the Gypsies of Wales; and to get an idea of the right intonation of the language on can listen to a recording of a Welsh Romany conversation between Manfri and Howell Wood at Bala - recorded by Peter Kennedy, and available for students at the Sound Library, Cecil Sharp House, Regent's Park Road, London NW1. "


Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Inside a Sharia Court

Just watched this program, which I recorded and just caught up with seeing. A rare glimpse of what is going on in Nigeria, which has a dual legal system. I was reminded of CS Lewis words on theocracy:
"A metaphysic, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the very ordinary human passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt"
Sharia admits no doubt, no questioning, as was very clear in the program. Whatever its benefits - and the program fairly showed that it had a number of benefits - the cost of losing freedom is I think too great, and the dangers - seen by Lewis, and clearly visible in other countries with Sharia (like Iran) - are all too apparent. 
Inside a Sharia Court
This World's Ruhi Hamid gains a rare glimpse inside a Sharia court in the state of Zamfara in northern Nigeria.

"You say you are a Muslim - so why aren't you wearing a veil?"

Wait a minute, I thought, I am the one who is supposed to be asking the questions.

My interrogator was Judge Isah, a compelling, wiry, figure at the centre of a hive of activity.

He works in the New Market Upper Sharia Court - a grand name for a somewhat careworn, faded avocado municipal building in Gusau, the capital of northern Nigeria's Zamfara province.

New breed

Sharia law - which is an Islamic system of law based on the ancient verses of the Koran - was introduced to the mainly Muslim state of Zamfara by Governor Ahmed Sani, after the defeat of the military dictatorship in 1999.

It was the first state in Nigeria to introduce Sharia. Ferocious fighting broke out and previously integrated communities were split along religious lines, leaving many dead and thousands displaced.

Initially hundreds of clerics had to be fast-tracked into presiding over these new Sharia courts as judges. However Isah Hamza Ismaillah Moriki is one of a new breed of judges in northern Nigeria who have completed a university law degree in both the Common law and Sharia law.

A devout Muslim, Judge Isah explains that Sharia is "a path which leads to Almighty Allah, so you cannot separate Sharia from Islam and Islam from Sharia".

Over the weeks I spent at his court, I witnessed the man's passion, his conviction, his wry humour, and the speed with which he administered his justice. And I was astonished by the extraordinary variety of cases he sees each week.

Land and matrimonial disputes

The occasional prison van brings prisoners to court on criminal offences such as mobile phone theft, burglaries or violence. But 90% of cases the Sharia court deals with are land, matrimonial or inheritance disputes. They are often argued with great intensity.

In one case, Sa'adiyya Ibrahim claimed that since her separation from her husband, he had refused to perform his Islamic duty of providing for her. He insisted he had.

In the end, the judge decided in her favour because she swore it was true on a copy of the Koran. Judge Isah - which literally means Jesus - was convinced the plaintiff would not risk divine condemnation by making a false oath. He ordered the husband to pay up, which he did without protest.

Westerners often assume that Islamic justice always discriminates against women. But many women in Nigeria turn to Sharia courts for help.

Judge Isah seems to be respected by all who visit the court.

His court works more like a community centre, where every morning he sees people in his chambers. His aim is to mediate and avoid unnecessary expensive court cases that clog up the system.

This plays an important role in more way than one. Sharia is attractive to local people because anyone can bring a case to court and represent themselves.

"In our Sharia law, we can summon anyone to appear provided there is an allegation to defend. No exceptions," explained Judge Isah.

Public floggings

Sharia is often perceived as oppressive and brutal by Westerners, because of punishments like stoning to death for adultery and amputations for theft.

One hot, dusty afternoon, I followed three young men being taken from the courtroom to the market square. They were convicted of alcoholism - strictly frowned upon in Muslim society - and received 80 lashes in front of a gathered crowd.

Judge Isah explained that public humiliation was part of the punishment. It also served to deter others who were tempted to indulge in vice.

"By stopping people from drinking alcohol, society will be in harmony and sanity," he said. "More over the sentence of 80 lashes is in the Koran so no one can question it".

Floggings may still be fairly common in Sharia law, but amputations are rare. According to the governor of Zamfara, they are meant to act as a deterrent.

"The objective of the law was clearly stated, the objective is not to punish but to deter people from committing offences," he said.

In Zamfara, there are only two recorded cases of people who have had their hands amputated for stealing. According to official records both of them refused their right of appeal and insisted the punishment be carried out.

I found one amputee, Lawalli Isah, still languishing in the local prison, but when questioned about the severity of the punishment, he simply said: "It is in my religion, I accept it".


Today a thief in Judge Isah's court is more likely to be punished by imprisonment or lashings.

One defendant, Kabiru Bello, was accused of stealing a bag of biscuits. He insisted that it had fallen off the back of a lorry. He says he was attacked by a mob for stealing and taken to the police station who arrested him and allegedly beat him until he admitted guilt.

When it came to court, the prosecution failed to provide evidence, witnesses or a complainant to the crime. But what was most surprising was that Judge Isah didn't question what Kabiru said was a forced statement or the alleged physical beatings by the police. He took the statement as fact and was not perturbed by the possible mishandling of the case by the police.

The judge found the defendant only guilty of keeping the property for his own needs. The punishment for theft is amputation, but because there was no break and entry, Judge Isah gave Kabiru the lesser sentence of 10 lashes or a year in jail. Not surprisingly he chose the 10 lashes, which were immediately carried out in the court's courtyard.

Treatment of women

It is Sharia's treatment of sexual offences that has caused the greatest international controversy. In Islamic law, both adultery and rape require four witnesses to be present at the "act". A woman's evidence is still only worth half of a man's, and in adultery cases she cannot be a witness at all.

Soon after the introduction of Sharia to the northern states of Nigeria, two women were condemned to death by stoning for adultery. But, with the help of human rights activists their convictions were overturned on appeal to the federal Nigerian courts.

Most of the people that I met in Zamfara said they welcomed Sharia. It has cut down drinking and violence, and the court is no longer an intimidating place of wigs and gowns, doing business in a language that they do not understand.

After six weeks in Zamfara, I can see how Judge Isah's court functions well as a small claims court for this rural Islamic society. But my reservations about Sharia remain the same. For me, the sticking points are still the floggings and the amputations, and the undeniably unfair treatment of women in rape and adultery cases.

This World: Inside a Sharia Court was broadcast on Monday 1 October 2007 at 2100 BST on BBC Two.


Friday, 5 October 2007

The Tea Bag at Wycliffe Hall

Wonderfully phrased!

I think this is one of the times that the solution will not come from within. The cup has been emptied of all but those who like the tea bag.

The tea bag needs to be thrown out by a bigger hand...


Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Authoritarian Groups?

Came across this snippet re authoritarian tendencies in RC.

As formulated at the World Conference of the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities, November l989, Orlando, Florida USA.

  1. Attacks on any member, leader, or policy are not attempts at correcting mistakes, but rather dramatizations of distress. These are not acceptable behaviors within the RC Community.

    These are dramatizations of distress patterns, and while an underlying motivation may be to attract attention and ask for counseling help with the distress, this is not a workable procedure and is not acceptable behavior.

  2. It is the job of all members of the RC Community to interrupt such attacks: this includes the interruption of gossip. In preparation, it is every member's job to counsel on whatever fears obstruct his or her ability to do so.
  3. Counseling resource should be offered to those participating in such attacks only on the condition of first ceasing the attacks and apologizing for having participated in the attacks.
Consider this with:
Doctrine Over Person: If one questions the beliefs of the group or the leaders of the group, one is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them to even question -- it is always "turned around" on them and the questioner/criticizer is questioned rather than the questions answered directly the underlying assumption is that doctrine/ideology is ultimately more valid, true and real than any aspect of actual human character or human experience and one must subject one's experience to that "truth" the experience of contradiction can be immediately associated with guilt; one is made to feel that doubts are reflections of one's own evil when doubt arises, conflicts become intense.


Monday, 1 October 2007

The Absense of Atheists

Came across this on a blog. Interesting!
The role of the Salvation Army as lead provider of disaster relief in the hurricane-hit USA has led a former deputy leader of the Labour party to admit the crucial place of faith in works of charity. Writing in The Guardian, Roy Hattersley notes that a general appeal for 40,000 volunteers by the Red Cross was "virtually ignored" but "almost all" the groups who responded to the disaster "have a religious origin". "Free thinkers' clubs and atheists' associations" who often regard faith "as a positive force for evil" were "notable by their absence", he writes. Although liberals and atheists like himself have no disapproval for the likes of drug addicts and prostitutes, whose lives lead them into distress, he notes examples of Christians who actually respond to their anguish. Free-thinking "has not made us as admirable as the average captain in the Salvation Army"

Dating Halloween

Dating Halloween
As we are in October, a few notes on Halloween.
We date Halloween as at 31st October, but a moments thought will show that (as one of Noel Porter's characters says in "Anything Goes") "somethings wrong 'ere".
What is wrong?
Part of the problem is that 31st October is a calendar date, and one from the revised Roman calendar (usually called the Gregorian) at that. Yet Samhain is a Celtic day which predates the Romans historically, and therefore the Celts would not have had use of a Roman calendar to set the date. What is more, our calendar has been revised in 1752 in England, with eleven days removed from September, so that if anyone had been using 31 October before that, Samhain would then fall on 20 October, or alternatively, in order to fall on 31 October, it would have to have been previously celebrated on 10 November. No records indicate that is the case.
So what is going on? As usual, it is a bit of a fudge. The ancient Celtic calendar was, of course, based on the stars, rather than - like the Roman one - on a count of days in the year, so we have the well know astronomical dates:
Winter Solstice: Christmas, Yuletide, Saturnalia
Vernal Equinox: Easter, Passover, Eoestre (Saxon)
Summer Solstice: Midsummer (viz. A Midsummer Night's Dream), St. John's Eve
Autumnal Equinox: Mabon (Celtic/Welsh), Michaelmas (Feast of St. Michael the Archangel
Besides these are what are known as cross-quarter days. These occur at the mid-way points between the Solstices and Equinoxes (they are sometimes called the "Mid-Quarter Days"). These are again astronomical in derivation:
First Cross-Quarter Day (Feb 2-6): Imbolc (Celtic: "in milk"), St. Brigit's Day,
Candelmas, Groundhog Day, Setsubun (Japan)
Second Cross-Quarter Day (May 4-7): Beltane (Celtic: "fire of Bel", coming of summer), May Day, Walpurgisnacht, Feast of the Conception of Mary
Third Cross-Quarter Day (Aug 5-8): Lughnasa (Celtic: "games of Lugh"), Lammas (loaf mass), Lughnasadh (Celtic: "games of Lugh"), Feasts of St. Oswald and St. Justus of Lyon.
Fourth Cross-Quarter Day (Nov 5-8): Samhain (Celtic: "summer's end"), Halloween, Feast of All Saints, Feast of All Souls.
(Note: Halloween preceeds All Saints in the same way Walpurgis Night preceeds May Day in the Spring).
What has happened, as with May day being the 1st of May, is that in the Medieval period these celebrations latched onto a notable monthly transition, and that is why they became fixed rather than movable days, and why Samhain/Halloween is celebrated on the 31 October, and not between November 5 to 8, as would have been the case with the ancient Celts.
So when you read in newspapers, the usual run of stories saying that Halloween has "from pre-Christian" times, been celebrated on 31 October, it is not in fact true. It is interesting that Bonfire night, traditionally the 5th of November, is actually closer to this date than our Halloween, which would in Celtic practice may well have been a fire festival.
All Souls day, also held around this time, also has a chequered history. By the mid-fourth century Christians in the Mediterranean world were keeping a feast in honour of all those who had been martyred under the pagan emperors. This was the feast of All Saints, and was held on 13 May, and was kept on that date. In Ireland, however, following the Orthodox traditions, or in alignment with them, the feast of All Saints fell upon 20 April instead. The situation in England and Germany was different, and by 800 churches in both countries, which were in touch with each other, were celebrating a festival dedicated to All Saints upon 1 November instead. The Orthodox church still holds All Saints on the Saturday after Pentecost. All Souls came later, originally in February, but was moved to 2nd November simply to link it to the previous festival.

What can we conclude from this?

First, the idea that the Christians "stole" Halloween (often quoted by newspapers again!) is historically incorrect. The different feast days (13th May, 20th April) demonstrate that.

Second, the idea that the move to November was to do with appropriating halloween from the Celtic calendar is also incorrect. The move to change came from Germany and England. In Ireland, where the Celtic influence would have been in place, and there would have been a feast day, it was 20th April.

So why did the Germans have November as the days for All Saints and All Souls?  The move to November 1st took place under pressure from the Church in Germany, to create a festival for the gloomy days of autumn and early winter. The autumn Christian festival was invented and popularised by Einhard, Charlemagne's archbishop. Whether the new date coincided at the time with an established Pagan feast, later known to the Vikings as Winter Nights, is unclear. But the new German date shows, I think, the very human need for some kind of "light into darkness" celebration as the days draw in, get colder and bleaker, to remind us that darkness is not, after all, the final word.


Telling Time at:
The Gregorian Calendar at
The Astronomy of Halloween