There seems to have been an awful lot of religious broadcasting this Easter. Even allowing for the fact that it is the festival of the pagan goddess Eostre, I sometimes wonder if the Religion & Ethics Department of the BBC is on some kind of desperate mission to rescue the fast-vanishing minority christians sects, especially the Church of England, for which Easter seems to have acquired some significance other than reasons connected with the season.
The BBC claims it is dedicated to providing a balanced output but religious broadcasting is not normal entertainment or documentary programming, it is propaganda, and as such it is not capable of being balanced by non-religious broadcasting, i.e by such as Eastenders, Match of the Day, Holby City, Film 2009, etc, etc. As propaganda it can only be properly balanced by anti-propaganda, i.e. anti-religious programming.
To effect this a sea-change increase is badly needed in the amount of time dedicated to atheist, humanist and rationalist philosophies but the fact that "Religion" & "Ethics" are bracketed together in the same Department might make this very difficult to achieve. It seems to suggest that religion & ethics are somehow equivalent; i.e. two sides of the same coin; when you are doing religion you are also doing ethics. Many of us, viewing the havoc that has been and continues to be wrought in the name of religion would fundamentally disagree with this.
It is long overdue for the BBC to recognise the very significant number of its licence payers who want no truck with organised religion and have every right to expect their own views to be at least equally respected and allotted proportionate air-time. It is evident that the Religion & Ethics Department, as presently constituted, is incapable of providing this and urgently needs reform.
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We seem to be programmed to search for an Answer in our lives. Since the earliest human cultures (that we know of), human beings have sought after an explanation for everything in their environment - the weather, the growth or failure of crops, health and sickness, the sun coming up in the morning.
For pre-scientific societies, this usually means turning to spirits or god(s). We saw that our actions had consequences, and therefore concluded that there must be actions unseen driving the consequences we saw, and god or gods filled that gap. The God Hole was filled, and human curiosity, at least for the majority, was satisfied.
But for some, that answer wasn't enough, and they kept searching. They looked for a better solution than the black box of God did it, immune to further dissection or understanding, and began to truly unravel the mysteries of the universe. Galileo rejected the theologically-derived notion that the universe must revolve around the earth, and created the roots of modern physics. Newton didn't settle for the metaphysical explanations of his time, and found mathematical answers to the movements of bodies in space. Darwin, unhappy with creationism as an answer to the diversity of species, developed the theory of evolution.
We are clearly driven to fill the God Hole by one means or another. If we refuse to accept the theological explanation, we are left with a gap in our understanding that may never be filled in a sense, we may never be truly satisfied. But maybe that hole, and our endless drive to fill it, is what makes the human race great. With that unfulfilled need always in front of us, we will always be driven to learn, to expand, to analyse, and thereby to develop a deeper and broader understanding of the universe.
Mark Hewitt is a writer, techie, foodie and philosopher. You can read more of his work at http://www.silverknife.co.uk
Tip for the day: The missing chapter from Ben Goldacre's book Bad Science has now been published here.
Mark 1:17 (New International Version)
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."
This is an intriguing analogy, isn’t it? Pull a fish from the water and see it writhing and gulping, its life or death entirely at your whim.
John 10:11-18 (English Standard Version)
“I am the good shepherd.”
Another interesting analogy. I was brought up on a farm. Farmers care for their sheep, but they use overwhelming authority (usually a dog) to make the sheep do what they want. Then someone eats them.
Tip from the day: 0xDEADBEEF
It started with George Holliday. He pointed his video camera towards the police officers using unreasonable force against Rodney King, started a riot and handed us a tool that is more useful today than Mr. Holliday could ever have known.
On 1st January 2009, in California, Oscar Grant was shot by a transport police officer that believed he had discharged a taser rather than his firearm. Passengers with mobile phone cameras recorded the entire incident, uploaded the content, and reports suggested that certain sites were getting viewing figures of thousands per hour.
Ian Tomlinson is now a name that is sure to haunt the Metropolitan Police as deeply as Jean Charles De Menezes. Although the case is being investigated as we speak and this writer has no desire to attract legal attention, no one can avoid a shudder when viewing the conduct of those officers. The fact we can view it is thanks, not to CCTV, but to a passing fund manager with a camera and the Guardian website.
In 1991, when the King beating lit the flames beneath Los Angeles, 3 towns in the UK had public area CCTV surveillance systems. Today, estimates are between 350 and 800 such schemes. Strangely, exact figures are somewhat difficult to obtain. The ubiquity of surveillance and the various arguments for and against them have consumed column inches and air time since the first cameras were switched on, and to pull this debate out into the spotlight again would be redundant.
What is now becoming apparent is that our revulsion and indignation at being continually observed and recorded is now being tempered by the technologically-aided swing of power in our direction. We are watching the watchers ourselves.
Tip for the day: Is your neighbourhood hot or not?
Easter is a hugely important time of the year for millions of people.
Throughout the country they will be meeting together to offer praise, give thanks and offer comfort.
I am of course talking about the climax of the football season. At the cathedrals of football, with names like St Andrews and St Marys, thanks will be given to the teams that reach the promised land of the Premiership , while thousands will express despair at their own team’s descent into the hell of League One.
Now some people will think that this is all a bit trite and religious people might even consider it disrespectful. And, of course , spending large sums of money on an unpredictable and often disappointing football team, as I do, is as irrational as praying to an god for which there is no scientific evidence. But to be irrational is to be human and there are many activities which seem strange to much of the population, but which to its enthusiasts can provide a form of leisure and the basis of a community. Humanists will normally draw the line where beliefs and activities are imposed upon others and express justifiable anger where they are harmful.
My thought for the day is that for many people football plays an important and positive part in their lives. Football clubs provide a community of interest that is as strong as any religion. As the back pages of every local newspaper and the regular features on Football Focus amply demonstrate, local clubs and players play an important and positive part in their wider community. Football clubs have led the way in the fight against racism and it is very rare indeed that you hear a racist chant these days. When one of my own club’s supporters complained about such behaviour, the club gave his family free corporate hospitality at the next game and plain clothes Police officers took their seats. The culprits were arrested, cautioned and the activity ceased.
Football grounds now have much more diverse attendees, with women forming a substantial proportion, as well as womens’ football being the biggest growth sport in the United States. Football still has some way to go – homophobic chants recently led to arrests and bans of Spurs fans – but the important point is that the football authorities do not tolerate such acts of hatred, whereas women are still expected to remain second class citizens by the major religions and homosexuality is still portrayed as an evil by senior church members, who should know better.
So as we reach the end of another football season, as humanists we will celebrate the skills that human beings have developed in football, sports, the arts and so many other areas of activity. These skills come as a result of years of evolution, exercise and plain hard work; not as part of some supernatural design.
We should give ourselves more credit.
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“Atheists make life difficult for themselves” is my T-short slogan. The point is that, with the realization that there is no magic helper, I have to be responsible for my (internal) world and the (external) world, for better or for worse. If this is hard to come to terms with, you may be one of those of a nervous disposition in which case you should read no further. You have been warned.
Somewhat like the displacement of the earth from the centre of the universe to an unfashionable arm of a mostly unexceptional galaxy, I am no longer the central feature. Most of what I do is unconsciously motivated.
Unconscious motivation from your brain may be acceptable but I hear some people even think with seemingly unsuitable parts. How about if it was your gut or even your knee that moved you?
If it is possible for a parasite to control the behaviour of an ant to the extent that the ant sacrifices itself, could this happen to humans as well? When I am ill, I behave very differently from normal. Don’t you? There are more cells living in and on me than are traditionally considered part of me. How many of those help me to “make up my mind”?
What you and others are doing and being out there also affects everything this ape-based co-operative decides; identification with a social group, kith and kin, shared interests or beliefs. Do any of these affect you?
Still, at least my life is not run by inanimate molecules; unless I drink, smoke or take any drugs or … eat.
It makes you think, doesn’t it? Whatever it is. The authors wish to apologise if any of this has made you feel uncomfortable. But, in reality, you have only yourself to blame. Whoever you are.
Tip for the day: More contributions required, please :)
I was born simply human, like all of us.
Then I was taught that God existed and watched over me. I went to Catholic schools where I was indoctrinated in the beliefs and learned the rituals of a religion. So I grew up with the variety of doctrines that distinguish Roman Catholicism from other variants of Christianity, but most strongly with belief in a God who was always watching me, who knew my thoughts, and who would, after death, judge me and pass sentence.
Over the decades I travelled the road that has led many to shed their faith. As I look back I can see that I was theist, deist, agnostic and finally atheist. It was a process of slow realisation that God is an invention of man, variously a myth, a crutch and a tool of power.
Catholicism, like most religions, had served morality up on a plate for me. But now I know that my old religion was wrong, weird, and is now irrelevant to my life. Having finally self-identified as an atheist I know beyond reasonable doubt that there is no god to watch me, to listen to my thoughts or to pass sentence.
I feel relief.
I feel freedom.
But I feel also a new burden. I am free to form my own opinions in a way that I have not been before. I am can form my own moral framework. I can turn to philosophers old and new, secular organisations, individuals or–yes–even old religious texts as sources of inspiration. The choice, the reasoning, and the dilemmas, are mine.
There is no divine source of rules for my life now, no words of god to follow without question. It’s up to me.
The responsibility is mine.
Tip for the day: This sentence is false.
Who made the rules? For those among us who want a harm-free, mutually beneficial, socially reciprocal life there is a list of rules; unwritten, mostly reached by tacit, mutual agreement and wholly based on general decency. Rarely are these rules dictated by governments, religious groups or corporate entities. Their rules are top-down, predominantly self-serving, with the occasional cursory nod towards “security” or “health”. They rarely do much to improve anyone’s wellbeing or happiness and in many cases, just make things worse.
The only rules that count are our collective ones; borne of plain common sense and a desire to be treated fairly. To those with a healthy sense of altruism and a strong, unselfish streak it’s redundant to cite examples of the rules, but for anyone who needs a little nudge here are some to get you started:
Don’t swear if there are children within earshot, don’t play music loudly late at night, do say please and thank you, be polite to restaurant/café staff, look after your front garden, return things you borrow, don’t push in when queuing, put things back where you found them.
I firmly believe that most people are generally decent and are well aware of this set of rules encoded in our brains. We don’t need to be told what to do. Left to rely on our own sense of fair-play we rarely transgress and seldom inflict anything above mild irritation on our fellow humans.
Tip for the day: Warrington Cycle Campaign have an excellent series of photographs showing innovative facilities for cyclists. This one from October 2008 is one of my favourites.
© Eric Deschamps. All rights reserved.
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