Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Tony Benn on Religion - Some Quotes

These come from a fuller interview (see link at end) which Tony Benn gave to ABC Television. One of the things I find most interesting is the second commandment - "thou shalt have no other gods but me", the one against idolatry. Time and again, in secular and idological as well as religious ways, when god - a god who stands against all human attempts to tame him - is displaced, in comes idolatry, in this case, as Benn sees well, a worship of money, of the economy.

My roots come from the dissenting tradition in religion, that's to say what my Mother used to call 'the priesthood of all
believers'; you do not need a Bishop to help you. Everybody has a hotline to the Almighty and that of course was a tremendously revolutionary idea because out of that sort of Methodist, Congregationalist tradition, came the idea that we had the right to build our own world, to meet our own needs and not just wait to be patted on the head by a Bishop and told by the Bishop, 'If you do what I tell you to do, you'll go to heaven; if you don't you'll go to hell'.

You know, it's a very, very different and very important and very radical idea. My Great-grandfather was a Congregational Minister and my Mother was a Bible scholar, and I was brought up on the Bible, that the story of the Bible was conflict between the kings who had power, and the prophets who preached righteousness. And I was taught to believe in the prophets, got me into a lot of trouble. And my Dad said to me when I was young, 'Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone, Dare to have a purpose firm, Dare to let it (be) known.' Now these are very, very powerful influences. It wasn't mixing with the Webbs and Wells, and Lloyd George and all that, they were very much of a different sort of intellectual tradition which is not really me at all.

Well you see if you go right back, and I'm not a proper historian, but if you go back to the old texts in 1381, there was a man called the Reverend John Ball, and he was preaching in support of the peasants and their revolt. And he said 'This will not go well in England till all property is held in common.' And he was hanged, drawn and quartered, which was the punishment they had in the old days for dissenters. And there's been a tremendously strong radical tradition linked to belief in God, but not exclusively linked.

I mean there were humanists who said that in the English Revolution in the 17th century there were people who said that we were created by reason, and we therefore had a capacity to think things out for ourselves. But these ideas go back a very, very long way, and intellectual socialists who did play some role in the early part of the last century, they were not necessarily a part of that tradition. They sort of thought it all out in a rather academic way and the passion of the dissenting tradition is something which escaped them and which fortunately keeps a fire alive in my belly.

The worship of religion you see, is the most powerful religion in the world. The worship of religion is more powerful than Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and the Business News we hear on the hour on the television, I'm sure you hear it in Australia, is the worship of money. We're told what's happened to the FTSI and the Dow Jones and the dollar and the pound, as if it was a sort of guide to the success of our society, and the management consultants come in, and lay people off. And I find this new religion is the one that's gripped us.
We should either choose to worship God or Mammon. We quite obviously worship Mammon. And this for example on the News every hour, instead of telling you what's happened to the FTSI and the Dow Jones, they told you the up-to-date figures for unemployment, how many people have died of asbestosis, how many people unemployed, how many people homeless and so on, people would say, Oh Gosh, well now we know what we ought to be doing. But I do think we worship money, and if I had any musical talent I would compose a hymn in which the words of the Business News would be incorporated. 'And the Dow Jones has fallen 3 points tonight', you know what I mean, because this is a total Capitalist control of our mind, and yet it doesn't conform to what it is we want. After all, people don't want much, they want a decent home, education, good health care, dignity when they're old, and peace. I mean it's not an awful lot to ask in a world where the technology available is in such a scale, you could solve, not all, but many of the problems of poverty if you diverted it from Stealth bombers and Star Wars and bunker-busting nuclear weapons, and moved it into the issues raised by the Johannesburg Summit.

Wycliffe Transcript

in the ongoing information gradually coming out regarding the departure of Elaine, Andrew and Lis from Wycliffe Hall, one of the previous departing staff has given an interview last Sunday on Radio 4, it can be listened to here (move forward to about 30minutes), but there has also been much debate here regarding what it is Eeva has actually said, so just for complete clarity, I have transcribed the interview:
Presenter: 'I asked her why she had left....

Eeva: 'well, I think it was really a culmination of events over the past two years and their consequences that very sadly forced me to the conclusion that I could no longer have confidence in, or respect for, the leadership of the Principal or the whole council of Wycliffe Hall.'

Presenter: 'and why couldn't you have that confidence?'

Eeva: 'I guess I feel that there was an unacceptable mismatch between the way that change was managed and the Christian values of the Hall. I perfectly accept that a new leader inevitably brings change to an organisation, and that's to be welcomed as part of the dynamic of a healthy growing community or institution like Wycliffe, but I would expect such change to build on the strengths of the past and to harness the experience, skills and insights of the staff team, but sadly the leadership failed to engage with and respect the views of the staff, leaving staff gradually feeling devalued and disenfranchised and, as ultimately the turnover figures show....'

Presenter: 'can I ask you about some of those people who're also leaving for one reason or another, do you wonder...what is your understanding of the circumstances in which Elaine Storkey is leaving? Is it your understanding that she has been dismissed?'

Eeva: 'Yes it is, I know that she had absolutely no intention of leaving, she had in fact been preparing teaching material for the coming academic year.'

Presenter: 'and so she knew she was in some sort of dispute, but she didn't think that the process had finished?'

Eeva: 'that's correct, she had had…there was a….she was under a disciplinary process and she herself had filed a grievance procedure against the Principal and that was ongoing.'

Presenter: 'now do you know what she's planning, presumably in these situations, the usual thing is your offered some money if you don't say anything...the alternative is to go to an industrial tribunal. Do you know what she's planning to do?'

Eeva: 'I wouldn't want to discuss that.'

Presenter: 'but you would agree that's the choice?'

Eeva: 'I would agree that that's the choice.'

Presenter: 'but you see the trouble is we also hear from other sources that there's been an extensive listening process in the college which took some admissions from, I think 18 members of staff, so that sounds as if there is widespread consultation.'

Eeva: 'what actually happened was that over a period of 6 to 8 months, a group of staff appealed repeatedly to the Hall council to help us resolve our issues, possibly with the help of outside mediation, with face to face meetings with the Hall council. These pleas were ignored, and there was indeed a listening process but it involved individuals having access for 30 minutes with two members of council, not a meeting of staff and council. And indeed the council did respond but very briefly and didn't actually respond to any of the substantive issues that had been raised by members of staff.'

Presenter: 'now we understand that bishop James Jones did attend a meeting of the full college to answer some of the concerns, did that not reassure people?'

Eeva: 'James Jones did come to the college, and he gave an address to the whole community, staff and students, the address actually touched…did not touch at all on any of the issues that were, as it were 'live' in the community. When he finished his address a number of…he…we were given 10 minutes or so for questions and I would say 5 or 6 people were able to ask questions which they did about the various conflicts that there were in the community.'

Presenter: 'and finally how damaging do you think this is for the church of England? There are only as I understand it, 6 such colleges like Wycliffe Hall, so if one of them is having this sort of dispute….so do you think it reflects well on the church of England?'

Eeva: 'no, it is extremely sad, I would say that it is tragic that this kind of misunderstanding and lack of communication happens in a Christian institution like Wycliffe, and that it is described….really misrepresented, inevitably, in the press as theological, different management styles and so on. And that's probably one of the reasons that I've decided as it were, to talk to you, because there hasn't been an insiders view so far in the press.'

Presenter: 'and what about you? What's your future?'

Eeva: 'I resigned very much on the grounds of principle and so I didn't have another job to go to and so for the moment I'm actually pursuing some further study until things become clearer for me.

Presenter: 'Eeva John. We invited bishop James Jones, the chairman of Wycliffe's council, and Richard Turnbull, the Principal, to appear on this program, but they declined. However, they did issue the following statement:

Wycliffe Hall has started the new academic year with a full complement of teaching and support staff and with the maximum number of ordinands permitted. The Hall has undergone changes in structure, courses and staffing in the last year, as the recommendations of the inspectors and moderators, together with the agreed vision of the council have been implemented. Not all staff have been content with the process, the Principal and the council have engaged with extensive processes of consultation. The outcomes are incorporated in the Hall's strategic plan being laid before the council this week. We are unable to comment on the circumstances of individuals.'


Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Dawkins' Deflecting Technicques

Some interesting stuff by Andrew Rilstone on Dawkins' deflecting technicques.
Dawkins has elected to treat a criticism of his book as if it had been an ad hominem attack on himself. What Stanford has called into question is the credibility of the arguments which Dawkins puts forward in support of his opinion. Dawkins has responded by defending his right to hold such opinions in the first place.

It's an astonishing maneuver. It's rather as if you had said "I'm not going to give much credence to your critique of the Iraq War, since you appear to think Iraq is in South America" and you had responded "Oh, I suppose you have to have A Level Geography in order to be a pacifist nowadays, do you? " Or if I had said "I'm not sure how much attention we should pay to this debunking of cryptozoology since the author appears to think that Loch Ness is a salt-water lake" and you had said "I don't need to read learned books on marine biology in order to know that there's no such thing as sea-serpents."

A stock response to Dawkins' stock response to what he claims is a stock criticism would be "No: but if you are going to charge people twenty quid for 150,000 word demolition-job on leprechology, you probably ought to get your facts straight first."

If you limit yourself to saying "I refuse to consider any question about What Christians Think because there is no God" then theological ignorance may be quite forgivable. Once you start to say "One of the reasons for thinking that there is no God is that What Christians Think is absurd / contradictory / hairsplitty / immoral / child-molesty" you need to have quite a good grasp of What Christians Do In Fact Think. Not a degree in the academic study of the History of What Christians Do In Fact Think: not specialist knowledge of every writer who has ever written a technical tome on What Christians Think, but some general grasp of how St. Paul thinks that Old Testament is related to the New; or some appreciation that, even among evangelicals, Penal Substitution is not the only game in town.


Jersey and GST

Part of the problem with the introduction of GST, and why the "protest vote" in petitions etc seems to great is I think because of the attitude of the States.
When GST came up, various amendments were made calling for exceptions to the law. The States members (mostly) voted these all down (apart from medical care). This surely sent out a very firm message to the voters - we are not prepared to make any compromises on the GST model as we perceive it - which came over as very arrogant and Nanny State - we know what is best, and we don't make mistakes.
Had the States considered these exceptions from the point of view of political expedience and shown willing to give some ground, then the protest movement would have been severely hampered; they could not argue that the States had not listened.
To say that politicans who are clearly listening, and raising the matter by drawing public opinion to the matter, is mischievous, just shows how badly the States handled the issue, and continue to do so.
Terry Le Sueur is not particurly clear with his pronouncements as a recent letter in the JEP demonstrated (see below), as he appears to have ignored the issue on overheads with his comments on end user only paying where companies are registered for GST, and ignoring that they cannot claim on indirect costs.
As far as internet and mail order sales go, the whole enterprise is a complete botch, and as I stated years ago when the idea of GST was first mooted, it would have been more sensible to have an Isle of Man model with reciprocal arrangements with the UK so that (a) the same items would be covered (b) because of that, UK retailers - as with the Isle of Man - would not have to do much to allow for GST to apply to goods sold to Jersey (c) internet and mail order could be caught too - by the reciprocal arrangement (which would have legal force for goods sold to Jersey from the UK).
Jersey, as usual, decided to go its own way, and make its own (and probably costly) mistakes, and reinvent what looks more and more like a square wheel.


States should at least be honest with us

From David Rotherham.


IT was kind of Senator Le Sueur to offer us his reassurance about the effects of GST (JEP, 19 September). However, there is an unsatisfactory lack of clarity in his letter, for which I can think of at least three plausible alternative explanations.

The reason that I hope is correct, is that the Treasury have successfully debugged the GST proposal, but, having taken criticism about government spin to heart, no longer have the skilled PR consultants to present their remedies effectively.

Other possibilities, that it would be unkind to dwell on, are that the Senator hopes that we do not understand what he is doing, so that he thinks that he can get away with disingenuous evasions, or even that the poor man does not understand what he is doing himself. Obviously, I would not claim that the last one is the truth, only that it is capable of accounting for his plans and comments.

Anyway, my unanswered anxiety is that the distinction between exemption and zero-rating is very poorly understood in Jersey, by taxmen and businessmen alike.

Firstly, it has not been made clear that all GST will be recoverable on the sale of an untaxed item, or how it could be. Senator Le Sueur's own estimate is that three-quarters of local businesses will be unregistered, so they will not be claiming back any, for a start, but will be having to defend their margins by passing it on. For the other quarter, they will be paying GST not only on costs that can be clearly assigned to specific sales and duly claimed against, but also on overheads, where they are effectively the end consumer, and can only cover them from general revenue, without any direct link to actual transactions.

Secondly, the Treasury Minister lumps exemptions and zero-rated items together as untaxed. The crucial difference is that tax paid on the direct costs of a zero-rated sale can be reclaimed, with only the time and effort of doing so spent. Exempt means out of the system and unable to claim a penny. Trade organisations and the Treasury should both be spelling this out, because at present a lot of people who need to know the difference don't, and at least one who ought to know the difference is disregarding it.

Maybe it won't put 5% on prices, but nor will the effect be as minimal as Senator Le Sueur wishes us to believe. Rescindment remains the best thing to do with GST, but if the States are hell-bent on going through with it, they could at least give us honest warnings of what we shall be facing.


Three more staff to leave Wycliffe

Even more depressing news about Wycliffe. Three of the most highly respected members leaving, who are also members of Fulcrum.
Three more staff to leave Wycliffe
Friday, 21st September 2007. 12:16pm

By: Ed Beavan.

THREE senior members of academic staff are leaving an under-fire Oxford theological College, The Church of England Newspaper learned today.

In the latest blow to Wycliffe College, which has come under mounting criticism in recent months for adopting a more conservative evangelical stance, its Principal the Rev Dr Richard Turnbull confirmed that three staff members are to leave, following another five academics who have left the institution in recent months.

The doctrinal change has coincided with the appointment of the new Principal, whose management style also been criticised. In May one anonymous staff member claimed the College had become 'openly homophobic' and 'hostile to women priests' since his appointment.

The three staff members are Dr Elaine Storkey, formerly senior research fellow in social philosophy, the Rev Dr Andrew Goddard, tutor in Christian Ethics, and his wife, the Rev Lis Goddard, who was tutor in Ministerial Formation. Dr Turnbull told The Church of England Newspaper the changes had been agreed by the College Council, which concluded they were 'in the best interests of the college'. He said: "Andrew and Lis Goddard are still employees at the College but we are negotiating severance terms with them.

"Elaine Storkey is no longer employed here and we are also seeking agreement on terms of severance with her. "We've just started the new year and we're fully staffed. "We have already filled a quarter of our places for next year and the number of women students has increased this year." Dr Storkey confirmed to The Church of England Newspaper she had parted company with Wycliffe but was unable to comment further.

Meanwhile Eeva John, the former director of the Diploma of Biblical and Theological Studies at Wycliffe, who resigned last term because she no longer had 'respect or confidence' in the leadership of the new Principal and the College Council, said she was saddened to hear of the news. She said: "I can't see any reason for losing these staff and they represent a huge loss. "What's happened is a symptom of the kind of leadership there that I couldn't respect, that saw the unnecessary loss of highly qualified and valuable members of staff which seems inexplicable. "I would never deny that in any institution change has to occur and I'm sure the time was right for change, but the way it has been managed is not compatible with the Christian values at Wycliffe Hall."

She added that the recent high turnover of staff had led to very low staff morale, but she hoped the college might be able to return to its open evangelical ethos.

Earlier this week Wycliffe, a permanent private hall of the University of Oxford, was criticised in an independent report into the seven permanent halls which said they did not offer a rounded-enough education experience in line with the University's liberal ethos.


Monday, 24 September 2007

Dawkins and Thor

Richard Dawkins makes great play and fun about people no longer believing in fairies, or Thor, or the Greek gods. He really should do a little research on Neopaganism before spouting out that kind of dribble, or he would see that there has been a revival in belief in all three!
I'm not saying that the people who believe it are right. I'm just saying that Dawkins doesn;t seem to bother to get his facts right, and even a cursory google would have put him right. Don't academics research anymore?

RC again

I was discussing re-evaluation co-counseling again, and came up with a number of points which I thought were weaknesses.
1) Close-doors
There is no way of telling how successful it is apart from its own internally generated publicity. This is something I have also found with the Son-Rise programme for autism, and I think the comparison is a pertinent one. The efficacy of the Son-rise programme has no outside and checkable benchmarks, so that while the publicity says that it will help - or even cure - autism. But as the National Autistic Society points out:
Apart from the costs of the Program, a major criticism of Son-Rise is that the Options Institute has never allowed or carried out any formal research on the effectiveness of it. It argues that it does not have the resources to carry out any large scale evaluation of the success rate (Kaufman, R. 2002), but it is said to have also turned down external researchers' requests as well. Jordan (1993) points out that the informal, successful reports there have been of the Program have been with young children and there are no reports on older children (Jordan 1993). It is possible that the Program works better for some children than others, with Jordan suggesting that it may depend on a 'certain level of intellectual potential' (Jordan 1993 and Williams and Wishart 1999).
Co-counseling (from their website) also comments on autism:
In August of l996, Patty Wipfler told me the following about my son, O- , who is autistic: "His autism and retardation are patterns, and he will be able to discharge lots about them in order to fully recover his humanness."
(The parent involved then became involved with the Son-Rise Option Insitute)
How successful is co-counseling in dealing with, for instance, clinical depression (rather than just everyday depression), schizophenia, and other kinds of major problems? Indeed, the above anecdote ends on a positive note ("He seems older, and I see glimpses of his intelligence. Maybe he is not "retarded" at all! All this is such a unique happening, such a dream, a miracle!")  but how successful is co-counseling with autism?
As with the Son-Rise programme, the lack of engagement with the public domain means that there is no way of telling, which makes it hard to recommend to anyone who has a serious problem and who might perhaps be better with another approach.
2. Lack of engagement with outsiders
I am aware that co-counselling can look critically at some of its own concepts, but its decision to avoid engagement with the public domain - by which I do not mean "Sun" readers, but serious thinkers, may well mean that it can be to inward looking. I have been told that it must not be over "intellectualised", but surely if that is a way to block out all critical reflection, then it has issues with serious philosophical analysis.
For instance, consider this:
In August of l996, Patty Wipfler told me the following about my son, O- , who is autistic: "His autism and retardation are patterns, and he will be able to discharge lots about them in order to fully recover his humanness."
This seems to me that autism is being treated as a matter of learned behaviour ("patterns") rather than something innate. Is that correct? I don't think so, and there is a large body of evidence that autism has a strong genetic component.
But consider this - in the early days of RC, homosexuality was seen as a "distress pattern" to be overcome, but now it is seen as an acceptable way in which some human beings happen to be. In other words, it was treated as a learned (and faulty behavious) before being seen as something innate. But what if autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder (clinical depression) are also - as would seem to be the case - largely innate? In that case, treating people with autism etc as having "patterns" will be wholly inappropriate.
There seems to be a failure to step back, and look at this kind of matter, which is problematic even within the framework of RC, and I will return to that in a later blog.

Once upon a time...

Came across this. I would suggest getting the full book, which is a brilliant re-thinking of what it means to say that the Bible is "authoritative". It is a new and fresh way which goes beyond fundamentalism, and yet remains true to the Reformation insights on scripture.
N.T. Wright on the Bible & Narrative theology
"It's not, for a start, a list of rules, thought it contains many commandments of various sorts and in various contexts. Nor is it a compendium of true doctrines, though of course many parts of the Bible declare great truths about God, Jesus, the world and ourselves in no uncertain terms. Most of its constituent parts, and all of it when put together (whether in the Jewish canonical form or the Christian one), can best be described as story. This is a complicated and much-discussed theme, but there is nothing to be gained by ignoring it.
"The question is, How can a story be authoritative? If the commanding officer walks into the barrack-room and begins 'Once upon a time,' the soldiers are likely to be puzzled. If the secretary of the cycling club pins up a notice which, instead of listing times for outings, offers a short story, the members will not know when to turn up. At first sight, what we think of as 'authority' and what we know as 'story' do not readily fit together.
"But a moment's thought suggests that, at deeper levels, there is more to it than that. For a start, the commanding officer might well need to brief the soldiers about what has been going on over the past few weeks, so that they will understand the sensitivities and internal dynamics of the peace-keeping task they are now to undertake. The narrative will bring them up to date; now it will be their task to act out the next chapter in the ongoing saga. Or supposing the secretary of the club, having attempted unsuccessfully to make the members more conscious of safety procedures, decides to try a different tack, and puts up a notice consisting simply of a tragic story, without further comment, of a cyclist who ignored the rules and came to grief. In both cases we would understand that some kind of 'authority' was being exercised, and probably all the more effectively than through a simple list of commands.
"There are other ways, too, in which stories can wield the power to change the way people think and behave - in other words, can exercise power and/or authority...A familiar story told with a new twist in the tail jolts people into thinking differently about themselves and the world. A story told with pathos, humor or drama opens the imagination and invites readers and hearers to imagine themselves in similar situations, offering new insights about God an human beings which enable them then to order their own lives more wisely.
"All of these examples, and many more besides which one might easily think of, are ways in which the Bible does in fact work, does in fact exercise authority. This strongly suggests that for the Bible to have the effect it seems to be designed to have it will be necessary for the church to hear it as it is, not to chop it up in an effort to make it something else..."

- Bishop N.T. Wright, from The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (Harper San Francisco, 2005), pp.25-27.

Friday, 21 September 2007

The Atheism Publishing Bandwagon

The Wall Street Journal notes that "promulgating atheism has become a lucrative business. According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, in less than 12 months atheism's newest champions have sold close to a million books. Some 500,000 hardcover copies are in print of Richard Dawkins's "The God Delusion" (2006); 296,000 copies of Christopher Hitchens's "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" (2007); 185,000 copies of Sam Harris's "Letter to a Christian Nation" (2006); 64,100 copies of Daniel C. Dennett's "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon"; and 60,000 copies of Victor J. Stenger's "God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does not Exist" (2007). "
But do people read these books? Or is it like Tom Wright said about the God Delusion that it was a book that when you put it down, it was very hard to pick up again!
I've not heard of the last one by Stenger. By even Dawkins standards it is over the top. Even though Dawkins suggests that God is highly improbable, he does not say that his case can be "proven".
Sam Harris is even more of a Ranter than Dawkins:
''We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common, we call them 'religious'; otherwise, they are likely to be called 'mad,' 'psychotic' or 'delusional.' '' To cite but one example: ''Jesus Christ -- who, as it turns out, was born of a virgin, cheated death and rose bodily into the heavens -- can now be eaten in the form of a cracker. A few Latin words spoken over your favorite Burgundy, and you can drink his blood as well. Is there any doubt that a lone subscriber to these beliefs would be considered mad?'' The danger of religious faith, he continues, ''is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy.''
Dawkins, writing in the Times, says Harris is not being over cynical! Dawkins himself has this argument:
"You say you have experienced God directly? Well, some people have experienced a pink elephant, but that probably doesn't impress you. Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, distinctly heard the voice of Jesus telling him to kill women, and he was locked up for life. George W. Bush says that God told him to invade Iraq (a pity God didn't vouchsafe him a revelation that there were no weapons of mass destruction). Individuals in asylums think they are Napoleon or Charlie Chaplin, or that the entire world is conspiring against them, or that they can broadcast their thoughts into other people's heads. We humour them but don't take their internally revealed beliefs seriously, mostly because not many people share them."
Dawkin's then goes on about the brain's power to create illusions, concluding: "I say all this just to demonstrate the formidable power of the brain's simulation software. It is well capable of constructing "visions" and "visitations" of the utmost veridical power. To simulate a ghost or an angel or a Virgin Mary would be child's play to software of this sophistication"
This shows just how close Terry Tommyrot was!


Tommyrot: Of course, there's no shortage of liars in the world, and undoubtedly some people who claim to have had these 'Richard Dawkins experiences' are deliberately telling fairy stories, but, you know, the human brain is a very, very complicated thing… and conjuring up an imaginary Dawkins would be child's play for it. Christopher Robin had Binker. I had the slimy custard man. I suspect that something very similar is happening with people who claim to have seen a Richard Dawkins, or heard his voice, or felt his touch.

Tommyrot: I didn't say that. Of course, there's no shortage of liars in the world, and undoubtedly
some people who claim to have had these 'Richard Dawkins experiences' are deliberately telling fairy
stories, but, you know, the human brain is a very, very complicated thing… and conjuring up an
imaginary Dawkins would be child's play for it. Christopher Robin had Binker. I had the slimy custard
man. I suspect that something very similar is happening with people who claim to have seen a Richard
Dawkins, or heard his voice, or felt his touch.
Richard: But the books aren't evidence for the existence of Richard Dawkins either?
Tommyrot: No, of course not! As a scientist, it is no answer to the problem of 'where did these inane
volumes come from?' to stick a label on them that says, "Richard Dawkins".
Each book is a simple re-arrangement of only 26 letters. Even a child should be able to see that, with a
little random shuffling of vowels and consonants on a computer, one can arrive at all sorts of patterns
like that. Working out how each letter got into the place that it did is the business of science. Claiming
that Dawkins-did-it puts an end to an inquiry that promises to give us a full and satisfying explanation
of how these books came to be, without the need for invoking a discredited Dawkins-of-the-gaps-type
Richard: But some people might point to the fact that the letters are arranged in definite patterns,
spelling out sophisticated chains of arguments, and that this is a clear mark of intelligence, not random
Tommyrot: If there were some kind of intelligence behind these books, then, judging by their contents,
it is obviously a pretty poor one; we would hardly have lost much worth having by not believing in
Richard Dawkins or in what his books have to say.
The scientific view of the matter is beautifully simple and invigorating: the works of Richard Dawkins
are nothing but a collection of fortuitously ordered a's, b's and c's, recombined from previous patterns.
There is the Latin alphabet, there are the nonsense poems of Edward Lear, and there are the works of
Richard Dawkins, and the one developed from the other, through a series of random typing errors…
though admittedly we haven't got all of the details just now.
Richard: You admit that science hasn't got the answers to where they came from, then?
Tommyrot: I haven't got all the answers, science is working on it.
Richard: But can you be sure that science will get all the answers?
Tommyrot: If science doesn't have the answers to where they came from, then, sure as hell, Richard
Dawkins Religion doesn't. If a Dawkins designed the books, then who designed the Dawkins? Just tell
me that.
Richard: Moving on now, Dr. Tommyrot. In your book, you have described the Dawkins revealed in
the literature as a "an ostentatious, acrimonious, supercilious, pusillanimous, calumnious, censorious,
vituperative, querulous, embittered, obsessive and bombastic bully'.
Tommyrot: Yes. That seems fair enough to me.
Richard: Now some people might say that's going a bit over the top.
Tommyrot: Read your Richard Dawkins, if you think that. Just read it. Read 'A Devil's Advocate'.
Apart from finding no evidence whatsoever for an intelligence hiding somewhere beneath the
paragraphs in the mystical realm of blind faith, you will discover, on the other hand, plenty of
intolerance and bigotry in every chapter; all of these very good reasons to have nothing whatsoever to
do with this Richard Dawkins' religion.
Richard: Doctor Tommyrot, you have described this wide-spread belief in Richard Dawkins as a
dangerous delusion – but what's especially dangerous about people believing in the existence of
Richard Dawkins, if it makes them happy?
Tommyrot: Well, for one fairly obvious reason: these people believe any book which has Dawkins'
name on the cover, and these books say a lot of very silly things. Belief in Dawkins has been
responsible for filling the internet with non-sequiturs, caricatures, strawmen and vitriol. Those of us
who walk the heights and dare to doubt the assertions of this "smarter than thou" religion find
themselves subjected to a modern inquisition – consisting mostly of journalists and spotty teenagers
who believe.
Dawkins' disciples are militant, they are organised, and they're out to convert you and me. Yes, I
would certainly call this a dangerous delusion. If there is a Richard Dawkins, he has a lot to answer for.
Richard: In summary then, Dr. Tommyrot, what would you say is your main objection to the Richard
Dawkins belief?
Tommyrot: My main objection is simply this: people are following a delusional Dawkins who is
telling them what to think and believe, when they should be following me.
Richard: Well, our time's up. Thank you very much, Dr. Tommyrot, for joining us this morning to talk
about your latest book, 'The Dawkins-Delusion', published by Banter & Twaddle and available from
our website for £19.99.
Ok. Our next item for today is…

Gardening Tips

Gardening Tips
Our local radio station has a Thought for the Day (like Radio 4, but a local person giving it). This week it has been the turn of a elderly lady who belongs to the Bahai faith, whom I once met at a Mind Body and Spirit Fair and chatted too. I remember being most impressed by the fact that while the other stalls were all selling things - fortune telling, crystals, head massage, angel cards etc, she was the only one just giving away leaflets (if people wanted them) and taking time to talk to people (a rare commodity), and not selling anything at all (apart from her faith, and her hopes for world peace).
Today's thought for today she got from the Amish (where I managed to track it down); it has also been used by scouts and many other people.
Some useful advice from an Amish publication concerning planting your garden...

First, plant 5 rows of peas: preparedness, promptness, perseverance, politeness, and prayer. Next to them, plant 3 rows of squash: squash gossip, squash criticism, squash indifference. No garden is complete without some turnips: Turn up with a smile. Turn up with determination. Finally, how about 5 rows of lettuce? Let us be faithful. Let us be unselfish. Let us be loyal. Let us be truthful. Let us love one another.


Thursday, 20 September 2007

Wiccan Bigotry

Having come across Wiccans who cannot put any posting on Catholicism without suggesting that all priests are child abusers and paedophiles, and who are generally people who "speak their own mind", i.e. have a very fascist approach to everyone who does not agree with them, it was refreshing to come across this site. It also deals with the commercialisation which plagues the Mind Body Health fairs, bookshops etc. I always cause problems at the fairs by asking if their products are ethical, i.e. are crystals obtained by strip mining (which is usually, but very damaging to the environment), and invariably they just could not care less! The sloppy scholarship is another commonplace - "the burning times" ignores where - such as in England - hanging was the procedure, not burning, and the figures are usually grossly inflated.
"It is not Wicca that I condemn, but those who bastardize Wicca. It is the person who picks up a book and claims to be a High Priestess without going through the years of study, devotion, and discipline which make one worthy of such a title. It is the person who espouses the values of tolerance and acceptance with one breath, and then spews the worst sort of invective against Christians with the next, holding all of them responsible for the crimes and atrocities of a misguided and hateful few. It is the people who show disdain to the Gods they claim to reverence, dismissing them as mere archetypes or masks, and pretending that they would be pleased with sloppy, ineffectual, hastily cobbled together rituals. It is the people passing off their delusional fantasies and poor grasp of history as unquestionable fact. It is the people who believe that all Pagans believe the same things, do the same things, act the same way - and anyone who does it differently from them is wrong. It is the people who would prostitute their religion for a fast buck by producing poorly written InstaWitch books, spell kits, and charging exorbitant fees for classes whose content they swiped off the internet. It is the intellectual stagnation and philosophical shallowness represented by countless interchangeable Wicca 101 websites, but never anything touching on the deeper mysteries of faith. It is the ego-tripping, grandstanding, histrionic outbursts, and martyr complexes which I cannot stand. "

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Leaving your religion

Leaving your religion

Sarfraz Manzoor

September 17, 2007 2:30 PM

My friend Saiqa is a successful, self-confident professional woman in her mid-thirties who was raised in a Muslim household but who would readily admit that religion did not play a hugely significant role in her everyday life. She enjoys a drink and would not dream of fasting for Ramadan but her religion still forms part of her identity: if you asked her to describe herself she would reply that she was a British Muslim.

For the past two years Saiqa has been dating a British Egyptian man and he is, she believes, the one: the person she wants to marry, have children with and with whom she wants to spend the rest of her life. The only stumbling block to this glorious and idyllic future is the fact that her boyfriend is Christian and she is Muslim and while her family are relaxed about him, his family are threatening to disown him unless she converts to Christianity. "If I was 25 or even 30 there is no way I would even think about doing that", Saiqa told me when I met her for lunch last week "but I'm 37 and if converting is what is needed to make this relationship work then I am willing to do it."

Now in purely practical terms, becoming a Christian would not greatly change my friend's life. She accepts she will have to be baptised but does not envisage any huge changes to her everyday life. But while on a practical level conversion may seem mundane, in other ways it represents an uprooting and reappraisal of one's personal identity. When such a conversion is done for the sake of convenience rather than conviction it seems to me to be pointless to the point of absurdity. Whenever I read of celebrities who have chosen to convert for the sake of their spouses - whether it was Isla Fisher for Sasha Baron Cohen or more recently Blake Fielder-Civil who has said he will convert to Judaism as a mark of love for his wife Amy Winehouse (some might suggest he could show his love in other ways which don't involve hard drugs) it does prompt me to wonder what the point of converting actually is.

Saiqa confessed she found the idea of telling anyone she had converted to be utterly embarrassing and she hoped to keep a secret. Although she was adamant that it was only the absurdity of the idea of being a British Asian Muslim turned Christian that prevented her from wanting to publicise the conversion it is fair to say that Islam does not tend to look too favourably on those who want to leave their religion.

It's always seemed rather ironic to me that those relationships which are outside of our control seem to exert the greatest influence in our lives: we do not choose our family, the religion we are raised with or the country we are born and yet it are those pushes and pulls - family, faith, nation - which often have the greatest force in shaping our lives. In the case of Islam converting to another religion is particularly controversial, with some Muslim scholars claiming that converts - also known as apostates - should be punished by death for deserting their faith.

This is not universally accepted and recently the grand mufti of Egypt suggested that in some circumstances Muslims were free to convert. Separating between the notion of choice and punishment, the mufti explained that while abandoning one's religion was a sin it was one that was only punishable by God; the only circumstances where converting demanded worldly punishment was when in addition to their apostasy they actively engaged in the subversion of society. That might be the official position but the experience of Egyptian Muslims who have converted is depressing. Last month a 24-year-old Egyptian man and his wife made history by becoming the first Muslims to file a lawsuit against the Egyptian government for refusing to legally recognise their conversion. The country's supreme court has also been hearing the final appeals for 45 others who were denied their attempt to legally reclaim their Christian identities after officially converting to Islam.

Egyptian Christians can easily change to become Muslims and should they decide to do so they can benefit from incentives covering everything from employment and marriage options to custody of their children in divorce cases. But while Christians are enticed to convert, Muslims and former Christians who wish to reclaim their faith are harassed, arrested, tortured or imprisoned.

According to this week's Dispatches on Channel 4, British former Muslims have also suffered examples of violence and intimidation. It is estimated there are as many as 3,000 Muslims who have converted to Christianity living in Britain and the programme features former Muslims who are now living under the threat of reprisals from their former communities. Among those featured in the programme is a brother driven out of his home and a convert whose brother was beaten close to death. The situation for converts from Islam in Britain is, according to Dispatches, a "tinderbox waiting to explode" but I hope and suspect this is over-sensationalism rather than the reality.

Living a reasonably middle-class London life, my friend did not look like a woman worried about the wrath of the "Muslim community". When I asked her why her boyfriend was so insistent she convert, part of the explanation was the treatment of Christians in his motherland was so poor that the only way his family could be reconciled with the notion of him marrying her was for her to abandon her religion. This seems not only a poor reason for changing faiths but also to insult those who are converting for more genuine reasons. A religion that is sure of itself and confident of its appeal to followers should be less frightened of those who might wish to leave.

Dispatches - Unholy War

I have long thought that - as it is intepreted in a large number of Muslim countries - that Islam has an asymmetry with regard to conversion. "Let there be no coercion..." applies to non-Muslims, but once in, other rules seem to take priority. I hope to discuss this with a Sufi next weekend, and may have some interesting comments as a result.


Dispatches investigates the violence and intimidation facing Muslims who convert to Christianity in Britain

Unholy War

Dispatches investigates the violence and intimidation facing Muslims who convert to Christianity in Britain. Dispatches reporter Antony Barnett meets former Muslims who now live under the threat of reprisals from their former communities. Many are still living in fear. He interviews a family who have been driven out of their home and a convert whose brother was beaten close to death.

The investigation uncovers a network of churches supporting converts from Islam who have to worship under a veil of secrecy. It is estimated there are as many as 3,000 Muslims who have converted to Christianity living in Britain.

Converting to another religion for a Muslim is not just considered a taboo act by some believers. Certain Islamic texts demand converts - also known as apostates - be punished severely for deserting their faith. In several Islamic states, the death penalty is imposed. Here in Britain, Dispatches discovers a form of mob justice is taking place on our streets. A concerned Christian bishop tells Dispatches that it may not be long before a British convert is killed, and implores Muslim leaders to take action.

Dispatches discovers the situation for converts from Islam in Britain is a tinderbox waiting to explode. Increasingly asylum seekers from Islamic countries are exploring different faiths in Britain while a new strand of evangelical Christianity is targeting Britain's Muslims for conversion.

With radical British Islamic groups calling for apostates to be executed if they achieved their goal of a worldwide Islamic state, it's a potentially dangerous cocktail that has been exacerbated by the silence of both Muslim and Christian leaders on the subject.

Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta

As a libertarian, I do not really give a toss about people wanting to change religions. I do have a problem with people taking upon themselves to go about shoving religion down people's throats, and more importantly, I think that organized proselytism is very dangerous and should be banned.

I just finished watching Channel 4, Dispatches. The first part talks about how the converts from Islam to Christian are ostracized, robbed, threatened, vandalized and you name it. And this in the middle of England.

There are 7 odd Muslim countries where apostasy is banned and the penalty is death, and in most other OIC countries, you will face worse issues. How the scripture says one thing, and how one can find almost anything to cover your hate. How you need to hide your apostasy and conversion from their ex-congregationists otherwise you will face serious repercussions.

The second part talks about how Christian Evangelicals, mainly from USA, go after the Muslims and try to convert them. The third part rounds it up by talking about how some convert to get asylum and sympathetic immigration facilities in the west, some individual cases on how people reacted when Muslims "came out". How the MCB has been silent on this issue before but now is slowly changing.

36% of young British Muslims polled said that apostasy should be punishable by death and the MCB wants to fix on it. The MCB said that 64% said that it shouldnt be, and I was a bit worried to hear that the chap said that it could be worse, 95% could be thinking that apostasy should be punishable by death!. Umm, this is a very strange way of looking at it.

But courageously, the spokesman publicly said, if somebody want to leave Islam, then British Muslims have no right in Islam to harm them in any shape or form. A bit more of this kind of banging on about this would help.

Supporting Islam's apostates

Ali Eteraz

September 17, 2007 7:30 PM

A recent article in the Times about Muslim apostates - those who renounce Islam - discusses a Dutch organisation called the Committee for Ex-Muslims and speaks of their mission in a supportive manner. Since I once considered myself an atheist, the question of how one leaves Islam - and how one might be punished for it - has long fascinated me.

It is deplorable to me that vast parts of the Islamic legal corpus, and vast numbers of Muslims, actually believe that Islam sanctions killing its apostates. In a pamphlet that I previously wrote, I developed an Islamic legal argument that there is no penalty for leaving Islam.

My argument was not rooted in an appeal to universal human rights, but rather in the Quran. My assumption was that an extremist Muslim is not likely to be swayed by appeals to natural law, but has more chance of reacting favourably to Islamic law. It was written in a conversational style, and I would advise any public figure who is a Muslim but wishes to renounce Islam to put in in his or her rhetorical arsenal. It cites all Quranic verses which unambiguously counter the extremist view about the death penalty for apostasy, while also undermining the various hadith narrations which are used to justify it.

In one respect, the Times article paints too rosy a picture because it discusses only apostates in the west. Here, no one recognises a punishment for apostasy, and therefore, any violence against those who abandon Islam is already illegal. The real battle over the death penalty for apostasy is in the Muslim world. There, apostates aren't winning; they aren't even close to starting to show their faces. The Muslim world suffers from institutionalised violence against apostates. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia and Egypt all have laws on the books that punish apostasy with death.

Reading about a 22-year-old in a western country publicly renouncing Islam - and living to tell about it - is good. But, quite frankly, for every Ehsan Jami in a western country, the Muslim world is replete with hundreds and thousands of closet apostates: people who, but for the violence that the state promises them for leaving Islam, would not be Muslims; people who are therefore forced to live a life of extreme duplicity and mental stress.

I suppose I feel strongly about the social hypocrisy of being an apostate because at the height of my collegiate atheism I took a trip to Pakistan and had to engage in a series of dissimulations that took an immense metal toll. In any event, that the Muslim world needs to do more with respect to the apostasy issue.

But what does doing more even mean? How does one challenge an idea that become so entrenched? My suggestions are two-fold.

First, the primary argument against the death penalty for apostasy needs to be an Islamic one. This makes sense from a pragmatic perspective because prosecutors and jurors are all Muslims. The case of Hussein Ali Qambar, a Muslim who openly converted to Christianity in Kuwait and was condemned even by liberals, demonstrates that until vast numbers of Muslims are educated about apostasy being OK from an Islamic perspective, even liberal Muslims will not be helpful to making headway in this area.

Couching the issue as an Islamic one also makes sense from an ethical perspective, because it has the effect of shaping the future of Islam in a positive manner. One useful effort comes from the Apostasy and Islam website, which is run by Muslims. It lists Muslim authorities from all eras of Islamic history that oppose the death penalty for apostasy (the number is more than 100 now) - and it includes some very impressive Muslim authorities.

While more Muslim jurists are now coming out against the death penalty for apostasy, they are - regrettably - simultaneously allowing the crime of "sedition" to be punishable. Sherman Jackson, a respected Islamic jurist in the US, buys into this position. He says:

What is developing into the going opinion among modern jurists is that apostasy carries no earthly sanction at all, unless it is engaged in as an act of sedition, where the point is not simply to assert one's freedom of conscience but to make a political statement with the aim of undermining the basis of Muslim society.

Muslim jurists ought to realise that a charge of "sedition" is going to be used against anyone who converts away from Islam, whether the intention was actually seditious or not. This is because almost all Muslim societies hold prejudiced views against converts and will punish such individuals at every opportunity. Unequal application of laws is a reality, and jurists have to be sensitive to that fact.

Muslim jurists also have to recognise that a person who wishes to convert should not have to live under the threat of being brought before a court. Conversion should be allowed as a matter of natural right. If "Muslim society" might be up in arms about a conversion, it is the society - not the person converting - that needs to be regulated.

Further, Muslim jurists have to be asked on what Quranic basis they are sanctioning the crime of sedition. There is no Quranic verse related to sedition. Are they basing it on a hadith? In which case they have to demonstrate why the hadith trumps the fact that the Quran has said nothing about sedition. Are jurists simply extracting the crime out of thin air? Are they relying on the "fasad fil ardh" (disorder in the land) verse of the Quran? If that is the case, how do they reply to the fact that under traditional Islamic law the "fasad" verse is supposed to apply to acts such as terrorism? Are they making the ridiculous argument that terrorism and conversion are one and the same? That position is not tenable under any interpretation of Islamic law.

My second suggestion for moving forward on the apostasy issue, is that commentators of all religions and ideologies the world need to become smart enough to recognise when a particular Islamic reform has the effect - somewhere down the road - of assisting in repealing the death penalty for apostasy. This way, these reforms can be celebrated and pushed in the the media for positive reinforcement.

I have written previously about one such reform in an article entitled Islam's organic liberalism: when the Mufti of Egypt came out and said that one's choice of religion was something between man and God. While the Mufti's fatwa did not go as far as I would have liked, I pointed out that it did create the conditions for later advancement in this area.

Another example about a reform that, down the road, will help in repealing the death penalty for apostasy is the Amman Message from the king of Jordan, which I have written about, too. The Amman Message created a massive list of heads of states and religious scholars the world over who said that one Muslim could not declare another Muslim out of the fold of Islam. The Message did not go so far as to say that people who renounce Islam should not be punished. But it did make a very positive push in the area of freedom of thought. Both the fatwa by the Mufti and the Amman Message should be celebrated by western media.

Unfortunately, western media coverage in this area is often very unhelpful. The Times article, for example, tries to show that the death penalty for apostasy is based in the Quran, citing verse 4.89:

Whosoever turns back from his belief, openly or secretly, take him and kill him wheresoever ye find him, like any other infidel. Separate yourself from him altogether. Do not accept intercession in his regard.

That is simply wrong. First of all, the English translation is atrocious, with Pickthall, Shakir and Yusuf Ali all offering much clearer (and more honest) interpretations. Second, and most importantly, the verse refers to a particular set of deserters from Muhammad's army who were effectively engaged in treason.

If the Times' aim is to provide enlightenment on the issue of apostasy, it really should be more careful with its Quranic quotations. The lives of apostates are already under such duress that they do not need the media turning into unwitting promoters of regressive readings of Islam.

From The TimesSeptember 11, 2007

Young Muslims begin dangerous fight for the right to abandon faith

A group of young Muslim apostates launches a campaign today, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America, to make it easier to renounce Islam.

The provocative move reflects a growing rift between traditionalists and a younger generation raised on a diet of Dutch tolerance.

The Committee for Ex-Muslims promises to campaign for freedom of religion but has already upset the Islamic and political Establishments for stirring tensions among the million-strong Muslim community in the Netherlands.

Ehsan Jami, the committee's founder, who rejected Islam after the attack on the twin towers in 2001, has become the most talked-about public figure in the Netherlands. He has been forced into hiding after a series of death threats and a recent attack.

The threats are taken seriously after the murder in 2002 of Pim Fortuyn, an antiimmigration politician, and in 2004 of Theo Van Gogh, an antiIslam film-maker.

Speaking to The Times at a secret location before the committee's launch today, the Labour Party councillor said that the movement would declare war on radical Islam. Similar organisations campaigning for reform of the religion have sprung up across Europe and representatives from Britain and Germany will join the launch in The Hague today.

"Sharia schools say that they will kill the ones who leave Islam. In the West people get threatened, thrown out of their family, beaten up," Mr Jami said. "In Islam you are born Muslim. You do not even choose to be Muslim. We want that to change, so that people are free to choose who they want to be and what they want to believe in."

Mr Jami, 22, who has abandoned his studies as his political career has taken off, denied that the choice of September 11 was deliberately provocative towards the Islamic Establishment. "We chose the date because we want to make a clear statement that we no longer tolerate the intolerence of Islam, the terrorist attacks," he said.

"In 1965 the Church in Holland made a declaration that freedom of conscience is above hanging on to religion, so you can choose whether you are going to be a Christian or not. What we are seeking is the same thing for Islam."

Mr Jami, who has compared the rise of radical Islam to the threat from Nazism in the 1930s, is receiving only lukewarm support from his party which traditionally relies upon Muslim votes. His outspoken attack on radical Islam has led to a prelaunch walk-out from fellow committee founder Loubna Berrada, who herself rejected Islam.

She said: "I don't wish to confront Islam itself. I only want to spread the message that Muslims should be allowed to leave Islam behind without being threatened."

There have been suggestions that Mr Jami might defect to the right-wing Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, the most outspoken politician in the Netherlands, who has called for the Koran to be banned. But Mr Jami said: "I have respect for Wilders but we do not have the same ideology. I am for the freedom of religion.

"Banning something is not going to help. I am the opposite – everyone should read the Koran." Mr Jami is being compared to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali refugee who became a prominent Dutch politician campaigning for the reform of Islam but who left eventually for an academic career in the United States.

Jannie Groen, a writer for De Volksrant newspaper, said: "[Among Muslims] he is getting the same reaction as Ayaan Hirsi Ali that he is too confrontational but you are seeing other former Muslims now coming forward. So he has been able to put this issue of apostasy on the agenda, even though they do not want to be in the same room as him and he has had to pay a price."

By the Book

— 14 passages in the Koran refer to apostasy

— According to Baidhawi's commentary, Sura 4: 88-89 reads: "Whosoever turns back from his belief, openly or secretly, take him and kill him wheresoever ye find him, like any other infidel. Separate yourself from him altogether. Do not accept intercession in his regard."

— The hadith, tradition and legend about Muhammad and his followers used as a basis of Sharia, tells of some atheists who were brought to "'Ali and he burnt them. The news of this reached Ibn Abbas who said: 'If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah's Apostate forbade it . . . I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah's Apostate, 'Whoever changed his [Islamic] religion, then kill him'."

— According to hadith, a special reward in Paradise is reserved for the killer of apostates

Source: Times archives; Barnabas Fund


Monday, 17 September 2007

Paul Routier on Health - Election Manifesto

As Senator Routier plans to contest an election for Minister of Health, this is what he said in his last election manifesto.


In common with most developed countries our island faces the challenge of ensuring that all the population have access to an excellent health service.

I believe we must develop a primary health service, which removes the worry that some families have regarding cost. We are aware that funding difficulties have arisen within Health and it is my belief that it is the duty of the States to ensure that the service is funded at an appropriate level.

We must evaluate all existing services provided within Health and Social Services and establish whether the island is achieving appropriate outcomes and whether our community is receiving what can reasonably be expected for an island our size.

I firmly believe that we will need to invest carefully and wisely in Health and Social Services so that all sections of our community can have access to appropriate care for their lifetime.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Yusuf Islam

In the course of general searches, I came across this today, that Yusuf Islam immediately and vehemently spoke out against the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, saying:

"I wish to express my heartfelt horror at the indiscriminate terrorist attacks committed against innocent people of the United States yesterday. While it is still not clear who carried out the attack, it must be stated that no right thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action: The Qur'an equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity. We pray for the families of all those who lost their lives in this unthinkable act of violence as well as all those injured; I hope to reflect the feelings of all Muslims and people around the world whose sympathies go out to the victims of this sorrowful moment."
Good that such an iconic figure could come out with such an unambigious and forceful statement!

Methodists and Funny Handshakes

I like the bit about "funny handshakes". It would be interesting to know (not required for members interests!) which of the Jersey politicials are members of the freemasons. I remember my next door neighbour years ago was not only a member, but could not resist dropping into conversations that he had a lodge meeting coming up etc!
September 13, 2007

Minister sacked after exposing 'child abuse'

Jersey's Health Minister was sacked after he blew the whistle on a harsh punishment regime in a home where children as young as 11 were kept in solitary confinement.

Stuart Syvret, the island's longest-serving and most popular senator, had accused ministers, civil servants and social workers of failing to protect children but he was forced out this week after losing a vote of confidence in Jersey's parliament, the States.

He claimed to have been defeated by the "one-party oligarchy" of the Jersey establishment. But Frank Walker, the Chief Minister, accused Mr Syvret of bullying and harassing staff and bringing the Channel Island into disrepute.

As to Mr Syvret's abuse claims, the Government said that it had set up an inquiry, to be led by Andrew Williamson, a British childcare expert.

Mr Syvret told The Times yesterday: "There is a climate of fear throughout public administration in Jersey but people will be even more terrified than they were before. The fact that I have become the first health and social services minister in postwar Western Europe sacked for whistle-blowing sends an appalling signal."

The dispute began last year when Simon Bellwood, a British social worker, became manager of the Greenfields home, which cares for runaway children and those facing prosecution. Mr Bellwood was appalled to discover that staff kept children in a form of round-the-clock solitary confinement and threatened them with indefinite isolation if they misbehaved.

The punishment regime was called "Grand Prix" and used motor racing slang. The toughest sanction, known as "the pits", involved children being kept alone in a cell. Bedding and mattresses were removed during the day and only after 24 hours of good behaviour could children rejoin their peers.

Mr Bellwood scrapped the system but he was dismissed at the end of his probationary period. He is challenging the decision and has been backed by the British Association of Social Workers. "He believes he became a target as a result of raising these concerns," said Terry Dadswell, the union's assistant chief executive.

Mr Bellwood raised his concerns with Mr Syvret, who immediately set up childcare reviews. "My initial response is to sack everyone who works [in child mental health services] and close it down," he said. Mr Syvret also blamed protection services for failing to intervene in the case of a 13-year-old boy who was meeting men for sex in public lavatories.

Mr Syvret sacked the chairman of Jersey's child protection committee after it declared no confidence in the minister for damaging the good name of child protection workers. The assistant health minister quit soon after and the Civil Service accused Mr Syvret of bullying.

Mr Syvret blamed the Council of Ministers for being an obstacle to improving child protection but refused to resign from it.In an e-mail to the council, disclosed to the States. Mr Syvret said: "It's 2007 now, and being a good Methodist or knowing a few funny handshakes will not persuade the external world into believing that the probably preventable rape of children is less important than 'creating distress amongst a wide group of staff and undermining their morale and effectiveness'."

The Jersey Government accused him of putting children at greater risk by undermining the morale of people working in a difficult, sensitive field. But Mr Syvret told the States: "I don't care if it upsets staff. People are paid by the taxpayer." He added: "We don't have party politics. That means we are governed by a single de facto undeclared establishment party."

He was ousted by 35 votes to 15. The Chief Minister, who said that by speaking to the media Mr Syvret had damaged Jersey's reputation, added: "If only he had come to me, gone to the Chief Executive, gone to his own chief officer and said, 'I've got real concerns. We need to investigate them'."

Mr Walker said that the States had 53 independent members with diverse views. "To suggest that it's a one-party state is simply not supported by the facts. The only reason we took this proposition to the States was his unacceptable conduct. It was a sad day

Victoria Died in 1901 and is alive today

Watched "Victoria Died in 1901 and is alive today" by Jonathan Meades last night. Basically, this is a visual lecture, with wonderful visuals (some very surreal) and a superb script (often very funny) by Meades (who writes and presents it); his use of the English language, and turns of phrase are quiet extraordinary. His style is not to argue his case, but simply present it, with a masterfully large vocabulary, and no attempt whatsoever to dumb-down to his audience. Watching Meades is something of a guilty (and addictive) pleasure!

Matthew Sweet, writing in The Independent on BBC's Victoria Week, gave this comment:

Jonathan Meades' film, Victoria Died in 1901 and is Still Alive Today, screened tonight, concludes BBC2's Victorian week. It is the most original and unusual offering in the season, and it will appal those who feel more comfy with Fred Dibnah's boneheaded Royston Vaseyisms. It suggests that the widespread recreational drug use in the Victorian era, coupled with the prevalence of venereal disease, engendered its own school of design - one which forswore the restrained neoclassicism of the Regency for a self-consciously crazy, extravagantly hybridised architectural style. Not everything in it is factually accurate, but Meades is disarmingly brazen about his deployment of a number of Victorian myths: "I didn't believe it for a minute," he says, considering the genital piercing that now bears the Prince Consort's name, "but television can be so witless and formulaic, and when it's not being witless and formulaic it's being boring and worthy. It's as much an exercise in making a show as it is in offering a polemic. I don't know much about history, but I know what I like, and most of what I like is what I make up."

In its linking of architecture with narcosis, Meades's film airs one of those conveniently forgotten aspects of nineteenth-century culture - that the Victorians loved their chemical recreations. Meades reads the influence of laudanum - a cocktail of opium and alcohol - in the work of Victorian architects such as William Burges (who painted his Kensington bedroom green so that when the drug took effect he could imagine he was lying at the bottom of the sea), Frederick Thomas Pilkington (author of the Barclay Memorial Church in Edinburgh, described by a baffled contemporary as "a congregation of elephants, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses, with their snouts in a manger and their posteriors turned to golf players on the links"), and Samuel Sanders Teulon (who built St Stephen's church in Belsize Park, a neglected blossom of Gothic weirdness).

Laudanum, which is still manufactured for medical use today, wasn't just the tipple of a clique of artsy dopeheads, as it had been in the time of Coleridge and De Quincey (though Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Gladstone, Jane Carlyle and Florence Nightingale all glugged it back with enthusiasm). It was the People's Intoxicant, more freely available in the nineteenth century than packets of Lambert and Butler are today, and consumed with less of a sense of shame. Agricultural workers popped pills in the fields, noisy babies were dosed with it until they shut up. The entire population of Cambridgeshire was considered by many Victorian commentators to be permanently whacked out of its head: "Went into a chemist's shop," recorded a writer on a trip to Wisbech for an 1871 edition of the Medical Times and Gazette, "laid a penny on the counter. The chemist said - `The best?' I nodded. He gave me a pill- box and took up the penny, and so the purchase was completed without my having uttered a syllable. You offer money, and get opium as a matter of course. This may show how familiar the custom is." Genuinely prohibitive anti- drugs legislation was not passed until the First World War, when politicians became jittery about the number of soldiers who were too high to go over the top.

This isn't however, the kind of Victorian story that you hear as often as the usual roster of myths and wilfull distortions. "One of the great points about the highest Victorian age," argues Meades, "was that it was extremely unregulated, it wasn't until later that there was a reaction against sexual and narcotic licence. Had Wilde sued the Marquess of Queensberry a generation earlier, nothing would have happened." It's to be hoped that this point of view will be shared by a few more of the many attempts to characterise the period that will come your way during the course of this year. If not, we will remain content to wrap up the truth in some rhetorical equivalent of chintz, becase we are too scandalised to gaze upon it.

`Victoria Died in 1901 and is Still Alive Today', presented by Jonathan Meades, BBC2

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Stuart Syvret removed from office

An individual who garnered more votes than any other politician at the last election, coming top of the Island wide Senatorial mandate has been removed from office.  It is perhaps hardly surprising that there is a poor electoral turnout, for as Chesterton noted long ago, representative democracy can easily become a farce, where the representatives take little or no cognisance of those voting them in.
Of course the States can do this, and Frank Walker made his case clear, although the argument that the manner in which Syvret raised child care matters was separate from the matters themselves must surely stand as one of the most specious ever raised by a Jersey politician; it is like saying that I don't care what you are saying, I'm judging you on the way you are saying it. The UK Parliament, used to more robust and forceful politicians and outspoken politics would regard this as genteel and quaint, and certainly not a little disturbing as far as free speech is concerned. Contacting the national media as bringing the Island into disprepute also smacks of a cosy club, where any kind of whistleblowing is frowned on, and is also false - if Walker had bothered to read the UK article which was picked up by other papers, he will see they contacted him, expecting a typical political brush-off.

Health Minister is sacked

Tuesday September 11th - 18:45: Jersey's Health Minister has been sacked by his colleagues.

In a dramatic end to Tuesday's debate - States members voted 35 to 15 in favour of sacking Senator Syvret.

The Island's Chief Minister described it as "the worst day of any of my seventeen years in politics".

It's certainly been the biggest debate of the ministerial era and on the whole it's been well ordered and civil - which is all the more remarkable as one of the biggest hitters in Jersey politics fought for his career.

Health Minister Stuart Syvret has faced up to his accusers today as the States debated a vote of no confidence in his behaviour. The case against Senator Syvret was brought by Senator Frank Walker, who started the debate with a sure footed and clinical speech.

We begin with the arguments for dismissing the Island's health minister...

The Island's Chief Minister stressed it wasn't about child protection as such, but rather how Senator Syvret has gone about expressing his concerns. In Frank Walker's words, "so vigorously and in such a defamatory way". He said it began when Stuart Syvret answered a question in the States on the 16th July in which he made accusations about staff involved in child protection. He said if it had ended there it could have been resolved. But it didn't, not by a long way.

He went on to refer to an email written to a manager at the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service suggesting that a significant number of people employed in the field should be considering their positions, an email Frank Walker said could only be seen as bullying and harassment.

He then went on to berate Syvret for breaking the data protection act twice, for sacking Iris Le Fevre the Chairman of the Jersey Child Protection Committee in a 13 page letter in which Frank Walker said there was no supportable evidence for her dismissal and acting against the advise of his own chief officer.

Attacks on staff in his own department, he said, were driving them away and making it harder to fill their positions. Syvret had contacted the national media bringing the island in to disrepute, and Syvret had said he wanted to sack staff within his own department despite, he claimed, no evidence of any child who was not receiving adequate service from his department. He said he had defended him in the past and closed with this comment.

Now let's take a look at the case for the defence...

Senator Stuart Syvret arrived at the States this morning for one of the biggest showdowns in States history. The first ever minister to face a dismissal vote, his opinion of the whole affair was pretty clear. "This is all a bit OTT," he said. Senator Stuart Syvret's been in politics for 17 years. Now the man who's put children's services at the centre of the States agenda has this afternoon battled to save his ministerial career.

Senator Syvret said: "The reason I got so annoyed about this was based on two things essentially. One was a child protection case which was reported extensively in the media at the time. And it's absolutely clear that the Greenfields grand prix regime was harmful, neglectful and abusive to children."

He played the emotional card: "If members vote to remove me from Health Minister I would be sad to depart from Health. But I would comfort myself greatly with the thought that none of this would be happening unless a real shock to the system had occurred. And the events of the past couple of months have certainly done that."

But he ended in the same tone as he began. Senator Stuart Syvret certainly gave as good as got.