Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Scared Johnson Now Reduced to Throwing Coarse Insults at Labour

November 13, 2019

Oo-er, Johnson must be getting scared! I have a rule of thumb that someone is winning an argument when their opponent turns to ad hominem insults or profanity. And by this standard, Johnson is losing, as today he hurled a coarse insult in Labour’s direction. Speaking at a manufacturer of electric vehicles today, our comedy prime minister was expected to make a speech referring to the ‘groundhoggery of Brexit’, the ‘horror show’ of a Corbyn government propped up by Nicola Sturgeon, and described the prospect of second referendums on Brexit and Scottish independence as ‘political onanism’. Onanism is a rather elevated term for masturbation. It comes from Onan, one of the figures in the Old Testament. ‘Groundhoggery’ simply comes from the film Groundhog Day, whose hero is condemned to relive the same day over and over until he finds some way of breaking the cycle.

The I’s Nigel Morris, in his article on the planned speech, ‘PM: I’ll pour cold water on Labhour’s Brexit ‘onanism’, said that Johnson would ‘risk accusations of resorting to crude insults’. Yes, he has. Mike put up a piece about it this morning, titled ‘Boris’ obscene insult with cement the nation’s opinion of him’.  Michael Rosen, the Children’s Poet Laureate, tweeted

Dear Dominic
Are you absolutely sure that I should drop one of these obscure obscenity bombs every few days?
Horatio pro fellatio
Boris

And the Independent commented that this wasn’t the first time Johnson had resorted to off-colour language in public. He described money spent on child abuse inquiries as ‘spaffed up the wall’, gay men as ‘tank-top wearing bum-boys’ and referred to the President of Turkey in a limerick with a word rhyming with ‘Ankara’. How statesmanlike! And I have to say, I find his smear of gay men rather bizarre. They’ve got a reputation for being rather well-turned out, otherwise we wouldn’t have the show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, in which two gay men advise a straight bloke on how to dress better. And from what I remember, the tanktop was never an exclusively gay fashion. It appeared in the ’70s, and all kinds of men and boys wore it without any thought that it had anything to do with homosexuality. I had one. Lenny Henry had a joke about how he had one, and wondered why he couldn’t pick up women at the disco when wearing it. And it’s a bit rich for Johnson, who was educated at Eton, to make sneering remarks about homosexuals with the reputation public schools have for homosexuality.

Johnson was also expected to say that while Britain was admired and respected around the world, foreign countries would be baffled by our failure to get Brexit done. Mike concludes his piece by stating that

the leaders of those other countries that have caused Mr Johnson such concern will be even more “baffled” if he wins an election with language like this.

Boris Johnson’s obscene insult will merely cement the nation’s opinion – of him

Quite. Johnson is increasingly showing himself to be an incompetent buffoon, who can only stave off attacks on his government and conduct in office through coarse insult. And it belies the confidence the Tory press claim they have in a Conservative election victory. Today’s Times had its leading headline on the front page proclaiming that the Tories were 14 points in the lead over Labour. But yesterday’s I reported that there was confusion among politicians over the whether polls could be trusted.

Johnson’s little bit of crudity suggests he and his chief advisor, Dominic Cummins, don’t.

To paraphrase the old movie poster for the David Cronenberg remake of The Fly, they’r afraid. They’re very afraid.

Make them so and vote them out on December 12.

Review of Book on New Atheist Myths Now Up on Magonia Review Blog

November 1, 2019

The Magonia Review of Books blog is one of the online successors to the small press UFO journal, Magonia, published from the 1980s to the early part of this century. The Magonians took the psycho-social view of encounters with alien entities. This holds that they are essentially internal, psychological events which draw on folklore and the imagery of space and Science Fiction. Following the ideas of the French astronomer and computer scientist, Jacques Vallee, and the American journalist, John Keel, they also believed that UFO and other entity encounters were also part of the same phenomenon that had created fairies and other supernatural beings and events in the past. The magazine thus examined other, contemporary forms of vision and belief, such as the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s. It also reviewed books dealing with wide range of religious and paranormal topics. These included not just UFOs, but also the rise of apocalyptic religious faith in America, conspiracy theories, ghosts and vampires, cryptozoology and the Near Death Experience, for example. Although the magazine is no longer in print, the Magonia Review of Books continues reviewing books, and sometimes films, on the paranormal and is part of a group of other blogs, which archive articles from the magazine and its predecessor, the Merseyside UFO Bulletin (MUFOB), as well as news of other books on the subject.

I’ve had a number of articles published in Magonia and reviews on the Review of Books. The blog has just put my review of Nathan Johnstone’s The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion (Palgrave MacMillan 2018).  The book is a critical attack on the abuse of history by New Atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and so on to attack religion. He shows that the retail extremely inaccurate accounts of historical atrocities like the witch hunts and persecution of heretics by the Christian church and the savage anti-religious campaign in the Soviet Union in order to condemn religion on the one hand, and try to show that atheism was not responsible for the atrocities committed in its name on the other. At the same time he is alarmed by the extremely vitriolic language used by Dawkins and co. about the religious. He draws comparisons between it and the language used to justify persecution in the past to warn that it too could have brutal consequences despite its authors’ commitment to humanity and free speech.

The article is at: http://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2019/10/believing-in-not-believing-new-atheists.html if you wish to read it at the Magonia Review site. I’ve also been asked to reblog it below. Here it is.

Nathan Johnstone. The New Atheism, Myth and History: The Black Legends of Contemporary Anti-Religion. Palgrave Macmillan 2018.

The New Atheists is a term coined to described the group of militant atheists that emerged after the shock of 9/11. Comprising the biologist Richard Dawkins, the journalist Christopher Hitchens, the philosophers Daniel C. Dennett and A.C. Grayling, the neuroscientist Sam Harris, the astronomer Victor Stenger, and others, they are known for their particularly bitter invective against all forms of religion. The above claim to stand for reason and science against irrationality and unreason. But while they are especially protective of science, and who gets to speak for it or use its findings, they are cavalier regarding theology and the humanities, including history.
Johnstone is appalled by this attitude. Instead of respecting history and its scholarship, he compares Dawkins, Harris et al to hunter-gatherers. They are not interested in exploring history, but rather using it as a grab-bag of examples of atrocities committed by the religious. In so doing they ignore what historians really say about the events and periods they cite, and retail myth as history. These he regards as a kind of ‘Black Legend’ of theism, using the term invented in the early twentieth century by the Spanish historian Julian Juderas to describe a type of anti-Spanish, anti-Roman Catholic polemic. He states his book is intended to be just a defence of history, and takes no stance on the issue of the existence of God. From his use of ‘we’ in certain points to describe atheists and Humanists, it could be concluded that Johnstone is one of the many of the latter, who are appalled by the New Atheists’ venom.
One such religious doubter was the broadcaster John Humphries,  the author of the defence of agnosticism, In God We Doubt. Humphries stated in the blurb for the book that he considered himself an agnostic before moving to atheism. Then he read one of the New Atheist texts and was so shocked by it he went back to being an agnostic. The group first made its debut several years ago now, and although New Atheism has lost some of its initial interest and support, they’re still around.
Hence Johnstone’s decision to publish this book. While Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published almost a decade ago, the New Atheists are still very much around. They and their followers are still on the internet, and their books on the shelves at Waterstones. Dawkins published his recent work of atheist polemics, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide a few weeks ago at the beginning of October 2019. He accompanied its publication with an appearance at Cheltenham Literary Festival, where he was speaking about why everyone should turn atheist.
The events and the atrocities cited by the New Atheists as demonstrations of the intrinsic evil of religion are many, including the Inquisitions, the witch-hunts, anti-Semitism, the Crusades, the subjugation of women, colonialism, the slave trade and the genocide of the Indians, to which they also add human sacrifice, child abuse, censorship, sexual repression and resistance to science. These are too many to tackle in one book, and it confines itself instead to attacking and refuting New Atheist claims about the witch-hunts, the medieval persecution of heretics, and the question of whether Hitler was ever really Christian and the supposed Christian origins of Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
The book also tackles historical movements and figures, that the New Atheists have claimed as atheist heroes and forerunners – the ancient Greek Atomists and two opponents of the witch-hunts, Dietrich Flade and Friedrich Spee. It then moves on to examine Sam Harris’ endorsement of torture in the case of Islamist terrorists and atheist persecution in the former Soviet Union before considering the similarity of some New Atheist attitudes to that of religious believers. It concludes with an attack on the dangerous rhetoric of the New Atheists which vilifies and demonises religious believers, rhetoric which could easily provoke persecution, even if its authors themselves are humane men who don’t advocate it.
Johnstone traces these atheist myths back to their nineteenth and pre-nineteenth century origins, and some of the books cited by the New Atheists as the sources for their own writings. One of the most influential of these is Charles MacKay’s 1843 Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. In many instances he shows them to be using very dated, and now refuted texts. With some of the modern works they also draw on, examination shows that often they ignore the authors’ own conclusions, which may differ considerably, or even be the complete opposite of their own.
In the case of the witch-hunts, Johnstone traces the oft-quoted figure of over nine million victims to an early nineteenth century German author, Gottfried Christian Voigt, who extrapolated it from the murder of the thirty witches executed in his home town of Quedlinburg from 1569 to 1683. He assumed this was typical of all areas throughout the period of the witch-hunts. The figure was picked up by the radical neo-Pagan and feminist movements of the 1970s. But it’s false. The real figure, he claims, was 50,000. And its intensity varied considerably from place to place and over time. The Portuguese Inquisition, for example, only killed one witch c. 1627. In other places, the inquisitors were conscientious in giving the accused a fair trial. Convictions for witchcraft were overturned and evidence was taken to prove the accused’s innocence as well as guilt. The Roman Inquisition also demanded the accused to provide a list of their enemies, as their testimony would obviously be suspect.
In regions where the discussion of witchcraft had resulted in the mass trial and execution of the innocent, the religious authorities imposed silence about the subject. Johnstone rebuts the statement of some Christian apologists that the Church was only complicit in these atrocities, not responsible for them. But he shows that they were an anomaly. Nearly all societies have believed in the existence of witches throughout history, but the period of witch-hunting was very limited. The problem therefore is not that religion and belief in the supernatural leads inexorably to persecution, but how to explain that it doesn’t.
He shows that the Church moved from a position of initial scepticism towards full scale belief over a period of centuries. The witch-hunts arose when maleficium – black magic – became linked to heresy, and so became a kind of treason. As an example of how secular and political motives were also involved in the denunciations and trials, rather than just pure religious hatred, he cites the case of the priest Urbain Grandier. Grandier’s case was the basis for Aldous Huxley’s novel, The Devils of Loudoun, which was filmed by Ken Russell as The Devils. Here it appears the motives for the trial were political, as Grandier had been an opponent of the French minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Johnstone also considers that as secular societies have also persecuted those they consider to be politically or morally deviant there exists in humanity a need to persecute. This means finding and identifying an anti-group, directly opposed to conventional society, whose existence and opposition demonstrates the value of that society.
KEN RUSSELL’S ‘THE DEVILS’ (1971)
The medieval persecution of heretics may also have been due to a number of causes and not simply due to the malign attitudes of religious believers. There was a period of nearly 700 years between the execution of the Roman heretic, Priscillian, in the fourth century and the revival of persecution the early eleventh. This arose in the context of the emergence and development of states and the expansion of papal and royal power, which involved church and crown extending their power over local communities. At the same time, the papacy attempted reforming the church, at first in response to popular demand. However, it was then faced with the problem of clamping down on some of the popular reform movements when they threatened to run out of its control.
As the case of the Waldensians shows, the line between orthodoxy and heresy could be an extremely fine one. Johnstone also raises the question here of whether one of the most notorious medieval heretical groups, the Cathars, ever existed at all. It is possible that their existence is an illusion created by the categories of heresies the inquisitors had inherited from the Church Fathers. These were forced onto a group of local communities in the Languedoc, where popular piety centred around the Good Men and Women. These were highly respected members of the community, who were believed to live exemplary Christian lives. They were therefore due proper respect, which to the inquisitors looked like heretical veneration.
Hitler’s Christianity is also highly debatable. The little reliable testimony states that he was indeed Roman Catholic, but doesn’t provide any evidence of a deep faith. He certainly at times claimed he was a Christian and was acting in accordance with his religious beliefs. But an examination of some of these quotes shows that they were uttered as a rebuttal to others, who stated that their Christian beliefs meant that they could not support Nazism. This raises the question of whether they were anything more than a rhetorical gesture. There is evidence that Hitler was an atheist with a particular hatred of Christianity. This is mostly drawn from his Table Talk, and specifically the English edition produced by Hugh Trevor-Roper. The atheist polemicist, Richard Carrier, has shown that it is derived from a French language version, whose author significantly altered some of the quotes to insert an atheist meaning where none was present in the original. However, Carrier only identified a handful of such quotes, leaving forty requiring further investigation. Thus the question remains undecided.
Johnstone also examine the Nazi persecution of the Jews from the point of view of the theorists of political religion. These consider that humans are innately religious, but that once secularisation has broken the hold of supernatural religion, the objects of veneration changes to institutions like the state, free market capitalism, the New Man, Communism and so on. Those who follow this line differ in the extent to which they believe that the Nazis were influenced by religion. Some view it as a hydra, whose many heads stood for Christianity, but also Paganism in the case of Himmler and the SS. But underneath, the source of the real religious cult was the race, the nation and Hitler himself. If these theorists are correct, then Nazism may have been the result, not of a continued persecuting Christianity, but of secularisation.
He also considers the controversial view of the German historian, Richard Steigmann-Gall, whose The Holy Reich considered that the Nazis really were sincere in their Christianity. This has been criticised because some of the Nazis it examines as examples of Nazi Christian piety, like Rudolf Hess, were minor figures in the regime, against vehement anti-Christians like Alfred Rosenberg. He also shows how the peculiar views of the German Christians, the Nazi Christian sect demanding a new, Aryan Christianity, where Christ was blond and blue-eyed, and the Old Testament was to be expunged from the canon, were similar to certain trends within early twentieth century liberal Protestantism. But the German historian’s point in writing the book was not simply to put culpability for the Nazis’ horrors on Christianity. He wanted to attack the comfortable distance conventional society places between itself and the Nazis, in order to reassure people that they couldn’t have committed such crimes because the Nazis were different. His point was that they weren’t. They were instead uncomfortably normal.
DEMOCRITUS
The New Atheists celebrate the ancient Greek Atomists because their theories that matter is made up of tiny irreducible particles, first put forward by the philosophers Epicurus and Democritus, seem so similar to modern atomic theory. These ancient philosophers believed that these alone were responsible for the creation of a number of different worlds and the creatures that inhabited them by chance.
Some of these were forms that were incapable of surviving alone, and so died out. Thus, they appear to foreshadow Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. New Atheist writers bitterly attack Aristotle, whose own rival theories of matter and physics gained ascendancy until Atomism was revived in the seventeenth century. The natural philosophers behind its revival are credited with being atheists, even though many of them were Christians and one, Pierre Gassendi, a Roman Catholic priest. Their Christianity is thus seen as nominal. One also takes the extreme view that Galileo’s prosecution was due to his embrace of the atomic theory, rather than his argument that the Earth moved around the Sun.
But scholars have shown that the ancient atomic theory grew out of particular debates in ancient Greece about the fundamental nature of matter, and cannot be removed from that context. They were very different to modern atomic theory. At the same time, they also held beliefs that are to us nonsense as science. For example, they believed that the early creatures produced by atoms were fed by the Earth with a milk-like substance. They also believed in the fixity of species. Even where they did believe in evolution, in the case of humanity, this was more Lamarckian than Darwinian. Aristotle’s views won out over theirs not because of religious narrow-mindedness or ignorance, but because Aristotle’s had great explanatory power.
The scientists, who revived it in the seventeenth century, including Boyle and Newton, were sincere Christians. They believed that atoms created objects through divine agency because the ancient Greek explanation – it was all chance without a theory of momentum – genuinely couldn’t explain how this could occur without God. As for Galileo, the historian who first suggested this extreme and largely discredited view, believed that he was a victim of papal politics, and that there had also been a party within the Vatican and the Church, which supported his theories.
Discussing the two witch-hunters celebrated by the New Atheists as atheist, or at least, Sceptical heroes, the book shows that this was not the case. Dietrich Flade seems to have been accused because he had fallen out with an ecclesiastical rival, Zandt, for being too lenient on the accused witches. But he also appears to have been protected by the church authorities until the accusations of witchcraft by accused witches became too many to ignore.
The other Sceptical hero, Friedrich Spee, was a Jesuit priest, who became convinced of the innocence of those accused of witchcraft through attending so many to the stake. He then wrote a book condemning the trials, the Cautio Crimenalis. But he was no sceptic. He believed wholeheartedly in witchcraft, but considered it rare. The use of torture was wrong, as it was leading to false confessions and false denunciations of others, which could not be retracted for fear of further torture. Thus the souls of the innocent were damned for this sin. But while good Christians were being burned as witches, many of the witch-hunters themselves were in league with Satan. They used the hunts and baseless accusations to destroy decent Christian society and charity.
But if the New Atheists are keen to ascribe a wide number of historical atrocities to religion without recognising the presence of other, social and political factors, they deny any such crimes can be attributed to atheism. Atheism is defined as a lack of belief in God, and so cannot be responsible for inspiring horrific acts. Johnstone states that in one sense, this is true, but it is also a question about the nature of the good life and the good society that must be constructed in the absence of a belief in God. And these become positive ideologies that are responsible for horrific crimes.
Johnstone goes on from this to attack Hector Avelos’ statement that the Soviet persecution of the Church was only a form of anti-clericalism, which all societies must go through. Johnstone rebuts this by describing the process and extent of Soviet persecution, from the separation of church and state in 1917 to the imposition of atheism by force. Churches and monasteries were closed and religious objects seized and desecrated, religious believers arrested, sent to the gulags or massacred. These persecutions occurred in cycles, and there were times, such as during the War, when a rapprochement was made with the Orthodox Church. But these periods of toleration were always temporary and established for entirely pragmatic and utilitarian purposes.
The goal was always the creation of an atheist state, and they were always followed, until the fall of Communism, by renewed persecution. The wartime rapprochement with the Church was purely to gain the support of believers for the campaign against the invading Nazis. It was also to establish state control through the church on Orthodox communities that had survived, or reappeared in border areas under Nazi occupation. Finally, the attack on the clergy, church buildings and religious objects and even collectivisation itself were done with the deliberate intention of undermining religious ritual and practice, which was considered the core of Orthodox life and worship.
Sam Harris has become particularly notorious for his suggestion that atheists should be trusted to torture terrorist suspects because of their superior rationality and morality compared to theists. Harris believed it was justified in the case of al-Qaeda suspects in order to prevent further attacks. But here Johnstone shows his logic was profoundly flawed. Torture was not introduced into medieval judicial practice in the twelfth century through bloodthirsty and sadistic ignorance. Rather it was intended as a reasonable alternative to the ordeal. Human reason, and the acquisition of evidence, was going to be sufficient to prove guilt or innocence without relying on supposed divine intervention. But the standards of evidence required were very high, and in the case of a crime like witchcraft, almost impossible without a confession.
The use of torture was initially strictly limited and highly regulated, but the sense of crisis produced by witchcraft resulted in the inquisitors abandoning these restraints. Similarly, Harris’ fear of terror attacks leads him to move from reasonable suspects, who may well be guilty, to those who are simply members of terrorist organisations. They are fitting subjects for torture because although they may be innocent of a particular offence, through their membership of a terrorist organisation or adherence to Islamist beliefs, they must be guilty of something. Finally, Harris also seems to see Islamism as synonymous with Islam, so that all Muslims everywhere are seen as enemies of the secular Western order. This is exactly the same logic as that which motivated the witch-hunts, in which witches were seen as the implacable enemies of Christian society, and so exempt from the mercy and humane treatment extended to other types of criminal.
From this Johnstone then goes on to consider how the New Atheists’ image of atheism and the process of abandoning belief in God resembles religious attitudes. Their belief that atheism must be guarded against the dangers of falling back into religious belief mirrors Christian fears of the temptation to false belief, such as those of the Protestant reformers towards the persistence of Roman Catholicism. At the same time, their ideas of abandoning God and so attaining the truth resembles the Christian process of conversion and membership of the elect. And the vitriol directed at the religious for continuing to believe in God despite repeated demonstrations of His nonexistence resembles the inquisitors’ attitude to heretics. Heresy differs from error in that the heretic refuses to be corrected, and so must be compelled to recant by force.
The book also shows the dangers inherent in some New Atheist rhetoric about religious believers. This runs in contrast to much New Atheist writing, which is genuinely progressive and expresses real sympathy with the marginalised and oppressed, and which advocates trying to see the world through their eyes. But no such sympathy is granted religious believers. They are described as children, who may not sit at the same table as adults. Or else, following the logic of religion as a virus, proposed by Dawkins, they are described as diseased, who do not realise that they have been infected and even love their condition.
Bringing children up religious is condemned as child abuse. A.C. Grayling is shown to have a utilitarian attitude in his own advocacy of secularisation. He first states that he supports it for creating multiculturalism, but then contradicts himself by stating that he looks forward to it undermining religion. This was the same attitude the Soviets initially adopted towards religion. When it didn’t disappear as they expected, they resorted to force. Peter Boghossian wants atheist ‘street epistemologists’ – the atheist version of religious street preachers – to attack believers’ religious beliefs in public. They are to take every opportunity, including following them into church, in order to initiate ‘Socratic’ discussions that will lead them to questioning their faith.
Johnstone states that this is an implicit denial of theists’ right to conduct their private business in public without atheist interference. It’s in line with the New Atheist demands that religion be driven from the public sphere, into the churches, or better yet, the home. The metaphor of disease and infection suggests that what is needed is for religious believers to be rounded up against their will and forcibly cured. It’s the same metaphor the Nazis used in their persecution of their victims.
He quotes the atheist philosopher Julian Baggini, who is dismayed when he hears atheists describing religion as a mental disease from which believers should be forcibly treated. As for the statement that religious upbringing equals child abuse, the seriousness of this charge raises the question of how seriously the New Atheists actually see it. If Dawkins and co. really believe that it is, then their lack of demand for state intervention to protect children from indoctrination, as they see it, from the parents shows that they don’t treat child abuse seriously.
The New Atheist rhetoric actually breaks with their concrete recommendations for what should be done to disavow believers of their religious views, which are actually quite mild. This is what Johnstone calls the ‘cavalierism of the unfinished thought’. They may not recommend coercion and persecution, but their rhetoric implies it. Johnstone states that he has discussed only one of several competing strands in New Atheist thinking and that there are others available. He concludes with the consideration that there isn’t a single atheism but a multiplicity of atheisms, all with differing responses to religious belief. Some of them will be comparably mild, but most will involve some kind of frustration at religion’s persistence. He recommends that atheists should identify which type of atheist they are, in order to avoid the violent intolerance inherent in New Atheist rhetoric. This agrees with his statement at the beginning of the book, where he hopes it will lead to an atheist response to religion which is properly informed by history and which genuinely respects religious believers.
The book is likely to be widely attacked by the New Atheists and their followers. Some of its conclusions Johnstone admits are controversial, such as the view that the Cathars never existed, or that the persecution of heretics was an integral part of the forging of the medieval state. But historians and sociologists of religion repeatedly show that in the persecutions and atrocities in which religion has been involved, religion is largely not the only, or in some cases even the most important reason. Johnstone’s views on witchcraft is supported by much contemporary popular and academic treatments. His statement that the figure of over nine million victims of the witch-hunt is grossly exaggerated is shared by Lois Martin in her The History of Witchcraft (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials 2002). The Harvard professor, Jeffrey Burton Russell in his Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1972) also shows how Christian attitudes towards witchcraft passed from the scepticism of the Canon Episcopi to belief as the responsibility for its persecution passed from the bishops to the Holy Office.
Early law codes treated maleficium – black or harmful magic – purely as a civil offence against persons or property. It became a religious crime with the development of the belief that witches attended sabbats where they parodied the Christian Eucharist and worshiped Satan. A paper describing the scrupulous legality and legal provisions for the accused’s defence in the Roman Inquisition can be found in the Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic In Europe IV: The Period of the Witch Trials, Bengt Ankerloo and Stuart Clarke eds., (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press 2002). Other writers on religion have noted the similarity between the late medieval and early modern witch-hunts and paranoid fears about Freemasons, Jews and Communists in later centuries, including the Holocaust, Stalin’s purges and McCarthyism. They thus see it as one manifestation of the wider ‘myth of the organised conspiracy’. See Richard Cavendish, ‘Christianity’, in Richard Cavendish, ed., Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (London: Orbis 1980) 156-69 (168-9).
The Soviet persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church is described by Rev. Timothy Ware in his The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin 1963). Ludmilla Alexeyeva also describes the Soviet persecution of the Orthodox Church, along with other religions and national and political groups and movements in her Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious and Human Rights (Middletown, Connecticutt: Wesleyan University Press 1985). R.N. Carew Hunt’s The Theory and Practice of Communism (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1950) shows how leading Communists like Lenin believed atheism was an integral part of Communism and the Soviet state with a series of quotations from them. An example of Lenin’s demand for an aggressive atheism is his speech, ‘On the Significance of Militant Materialism’ in Lenin: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1968). 653-60.
It is also entirely reasonable to talk about religious elements and attitudes within certain forms of atheism and secular ideologies. Peter Rogerson in many of his well-reasoned articles in Magonia pointed out how similar some of the sceptics’ attacks on superstition and the supernatural were to narratives of religious conversion. His attitude is shared with some academic sociologists, historians and political theorists. Peter Yinger’s section on ‘Secular Alternatives to Religion’ in The Religious Quest: A Reader, edited by Whitfield Foy (London: Open University Press 1978) 537-554, has articles on the ‘Religious Aspects of Postivism’, p. 544, ‘Faith in Science’, 546, ‘Religious Aspects of Marxism’, p. 547, ‘Totalitarian Messianism’ 549, and ‘Psychoanalysis as a Modern Faith’, 551. For some scholars, the similarities of some secular ideologies to religion is so strong, that they have termed them quasi-religions.
While some atheists resent atheism being described as religion, this term is meant to avoid such objections. It is not intended to describe them literally as religions, but only as ideologies that have some of the qualities of religion. See John E. Smith’s Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Macmillan 1994). New Atheism also mimics religion in that several of the New Atheists have written statements of the atheist position and edited anthologies of atheist writings. These are A.C. Grayling’s The Good Book and Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist. The title of Grayling’s book is clearly a reference to the Bible. As I recall, it caused some controversy amongst atheists when it was published, as many of them complained that atheism was too individual and sceptical to have a definitive, foundational text. In their view, Grayling’s book showed the type of mindset they wanted to escape when they left religion.
The fears of the terrible potential consequences of New Atheist rhetoric despite the avowed intentions of its authors is well founded and timely. There have been sharp complaints about some of the vitriolic rhetoric used to attack particular politicians in debates about Brexit which has resulted in assault and harassment. At the same it was reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked after the publication of Boris Johnson’s column in which he described women wearing the burqa as looking like letterboxes. Neither religion, nor secularism and atheism should be immune from criticism. But Johnstone is right in that it should be correctly historically informed and careful in the language used. Otherwise the consequences could be terrible, regardless of the authors’ own humane feelings and sympathies.

Dankula and Mates Make Nuisance Call to Black Pastor

October 27, 2019

Well, Halloween is upon us. This is the time of year, according to folklore, when the dead once again return to Earth, and witches and wizards pore over their cauldrons and spell books casting their magic. For most people, it’s simply an opportunity for a party, where people go dressed as witches, ghouls, demons, vampires and so on. Or else they watch a horror film at the flicks or on DVD. Or go and catch The Rocky Horror Show at the theatre, if it’s playing. Many Christians dislike it, as they are afraid it encourages a real interest in the occult with all its dangers. Some churches put on Light Parties instead. I remember as a child going to Halloween parties, where the only magicians were definitely of the stage variety, and everything was at the suitable level of the traditional folktale and children’s fantasy book. This was long before the occult scares and witch panics of the 1980s and ’90s, and the hysteria over ‘Harry Potter’.

Nevertheless some people do try dabbling with the supernatural. Some of it’s just kids legend tripping. This is the term folklorists use to describe teenagers and young people going to reputedly weird or haunted sites hoping to see something paranormal. Or just wanting to take it as an occasion to have an evening out with booze and their girlfriends. This can have unintended sinister consequences, when the wider community takes the evidence of what they’ve been doing too seriously, and concludes that real, Satanic witchcraft has been going on. This can generate rumours and accusations of child abuse and the torture and sacrifice of animals. When this happens, a full-scale witch hunt erupts with the fear and hatred of its medieval and 17th century predecessors. People can be falsely accused and children separated from their parents and taken into care based on nothing but highly dubious testimony and the righteous beliefs of the witch hunters. The witch panic effectively ended over here with the Fontaine Report in the 1990s that concluded that the multi-generational Satanic groups abusing children haunting the lurid imaginations of the witch hunters didn’t exist. But the people, who pushed the Satanism scare are still about, trying to peddle their views to anyone who will listen, and there’s a real threat it could return.

It’s with this in mind that I came across a video on his channel on YouTube by Mark Meechan, the notorious Count Dankula. He’s the bozo, you remember, who thought it would be jolly japes to train his girlfriend’s pug to make the Nazi salute when he shouted ‘Heil Hitler’ and ‘Gas the Jews’. He was therefore prosecuted and convicted of spreading anti-Semitic hate speech. Dankula’s posted a number of videos of himself trying to defend it as a stupid joke, which should have been allowed under freedom of speech. He was also one of the crew of extreme right-wing internet personalities, including Paul Joseph Watson and Carl ‘Sargon of Akkad’ Benjamin, who joined UKIP. This resulted in some of the more liberal members leaving it and the party achieving a mighty 3.3% of the vote at the council elections.

The video I found dated from three years ago, 2016. It was of Dankula’s mates in a forest with a pentagram they had made on the ground out of tree branches. They’d also had some kind of fire, and were scattering the ashes around in order to make their pentagram look even more impressive. One of them also put a candle at one of the figure’s corners. They then phoned up a Black British pastor on a mobile and started swearing at him and trying to trick him with a bogus story about Satanists and human sacrifice.

The pastor was live streaming a Bible study of the Book of Jonah. Dankula’s mates first shouted ‘F**k!’ at him. One of them then put on a fake African accent and pretended to be a man waiting in the forest for Satanists to sacrifice him. The friend then said that there were no Satanists there, and he didn’t think they were going to turn up. But he personally had fought Satan last year on holiday in Spain, when the Devil had taken the form of a lizard. He’d killed the lizard, and roasted it in the ocean. This was accompanied by more swearing and puerile sniggering.

I’m not showing the video here or giving its address because I don’t want to give Dankula the publicity and the views. But it is out there. If you want to see, all you have to do use the search bar on YouTube.

Now Dankula claims not to be racist, and has said that he has Black friends. He may well be right. I also believe that there has been problems with some of the Pentecostal churches, which do promote the belief that witches and a Satanic conspiracy to undermine Christianity and decent society are all too real. It’s perfectly reasonable to criticise the preachers, White or Black, and secular individuals that promote this dangerous nonsense. But there was absolutely none of this here. The video gives no explanation for what they’re doing. It just shows a group of White yobs make a nuisance internet call to a Black pastor and telling a stupid, bogus story about Satanic sacrifice. It just seems to be a case of secular White kids sneering and mocking religious Blacks for their perceived credulity.

This undermines somewhat Dankula’s claim not to be racist. But it’s also an example of some of the pranks others might be making at this time of year. They also might be hoaxing evidence of occult rituals and Satanic practices, simply as a way of winding people up. Be warned, and don’t be taken in.

But whatever your beliefs or lack of them, I hope you have a great time this week. The most horrific thing I can think of is Boris Johnson and Brexit. Don’t have nightmares!

The Babylonian Condemnation of Libel and Slander

October 3, 2019

A few days ago I put up a few verses from the Old Testament, Exodus and Deuteronomy, which condemn telling lies. This was for the benefit of certain individuals, like Rachel Riley, who have been all too happy to make false accusations of anti-Semitism against others. When they themselves are criticised, however, they falsely accuse their critics of libelling them and threaten them with court action. Riley has done this to Mike and 16 others, after they blogged about how she and Tracey-Ann Oberman, in their view had bullied a sixteen year old schoolgirl with anxiety. The girl had put up a post supporting Jeremy Corbyn. This was then criticised by the two, who said they were going to ‘re-educate’ her and demanded that she meet them in London. The girl couldn’t as she had to be in school. They then accused her of anti-Semitism, and encouraged their supporters to pile in. When Mike put up his account of this sordid incident, Oberman appeared and claimed it was libelous. When Mike asked what was libelous about it, he received no reply. He was then informed that Riley was taking him to court.

The Babylonians, like the Hebrews, also condemned libel and slander. Their precept against it is preserved in the Counsels of Wisdom, a collection of short moral adages. These appear to have been copied sometime between 700 and 400 BC, although the texts themselves may date back to the period 1800-1000 BC. It runs

Do not utter libel, speak what is of good report,

Don say evil things, speak well of people.

One who utters libel and speaks evil,

Men will waylay him with the retribution of Shamash.

D. Winton Thomas, ed., Documents from Old Testament Times (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons 1958) 106.

Shamash was the Babylonian sun god.

Similar sentiments are expressed in the Ancient Egyptian The Teaching of Amenemope. The scroll of this held by the British Museum may date back to 1000-600 BC, but there is a fragment written on a potsherd which may date back 1100-946 BC. The precept against libel runs

Injure not a man, with pen upon papyrus-

O abomination of the god!

Bear not witness with lying words,

Nor seek another’s reverse with thy tongue.

(Page 182).

Thus, what Riley and Oberman appear to be doing to silence their critics, who seem to be mostly supporters of the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn, is utterly wrong, even by Babylonian and Ancient Egyptian standards as well as those of Ancient Israel and today.

 

The Biblical Command to Support and Protect Refugees

September 26, 2019

One of the great passages in the Old Testament that speaks directly to today’s world, is the statement in Deuteronomy that God loves and demands justice for widows, orphans and foreigners. Deuteronomy 10: 18-19 runs

He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

(Eyre & Spottiswoode Study Bible, Revised Standard Version).

A similar command is issued in Exodus 23: 9: ‘You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt’.

The commentary on Exodus in The New Bible Commentary Revised, D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer, A. M. Stibbs and D.J. Wiseman, eds (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press 1970) states that the Hebrew word translated as ‘strangers’ is Gerim, which means ”refugees’, folk seeking political asylum.’ (p. 119). The same book’s commentary on the two verses in Deuteronomy states that ‘this demand for Israel to love the alien is without parallel in Ancient Near Eastern legislation. While the Israelites were commanded to honour and fear their parents and to listen to the prophetic message, they were commanded also to enter into a relation of affection with the sojourner as a reminder of God’s love during the Egyptian captivity.’ (pp. 217-18′.

Now imagine the horror amongst the Tories if the archbishop or some other leading member of the clergy quoted those verses in a sermon attacking Conservative attitudes to asylum seekers, using the literal translation of ‘refugee’. They’d go berserk criticising him or her for interfering in politics, just as they attacked Robert Runcie when he was Archbishop of Canterbury for daring to attack Thatcher’s policies towards poverty.

The Biblical Condemnation of Lying

Exodus Chapter 23:1-4 also contains proscriptions against lying and perverting the course of justice. These are

You shall not utter a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man, to be a malicious witness. You shall not follow a multitude to do evil; nor shall you bear witness in a suit, turning aside after a multitude, so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his suit.

The people smearing decent, self-respecting, anti-racist women and men as anti-Semites, and suing them for libel when they dare defend themselves, like the odious Rachel Rily is trying to do to Mike, should not this passage and remember it.

Hell and the Mean and Exploitative Rich in the Non-Canonical Gospels

August 6, 2019

Leafing through the book The Apocryphal Jesus: Legends of the Early Church by J.K. Elliott (Oxford: OUP 1996) yesterday, I got to the chapter on heaven and hell. The book’s a collection of extracts from apocryphal Christian literature, the Gospels and various lives of the Apostles that weren’t included in the Bible because they were not considered historically reliable by the bishops of the Early Church. Despite being outside the accepted canon of scripture, they were nevertheless widely read and have influenced Christian art and literature. These writings include descriptions of the delights of paradise and the torments of the damned. Most of the torments are for moral offences, like fornication, adultery and homosexuality and failure to live according to proper Christian standards or neglect or rejection of Christianity. It’s grim stuff, and is the type of material and doctrines that now puts people off religion. How can a loving God inflict all these torments on people for all eternity, especially since the sexual revolution of the 1960s? Pre-marital sex is now the norm, homosexuality is accepted and opposition to it is seen as bigotry. It’s a good question, and I’m no fan of the hellfire and damnation preaching myself. As for Hell, I tend to follow the Father Duddleswell attitude from the books about the Irish priest by Neil Boyd. God’s justice demands it exists, but his mercy means there’s no-one in it.

But several of the torments described in these apocryphal books are for the rich and the exploitative. Like some of the people in the Tory and Brexit parties. One of the extracts is from the Acts of Thomas, in which the apostle raises up a dead woman, and commands her to tell what she has seen. And amongst the damned were people hung up by various parts of their bodies, including the hands.

Those hung up by the hands are they who took that which did not belong to them and have stolen, and who never gave anything to the poor, nor helped the afflicted; but they did so because they wished to get everything, and cared neither for law nor right. (p. 191).

In the Apocalypse of Peter, it is Christ Himself who describes the torments of hell, including those reserved for the rich.

‘And beside them, in a place near at hand, upon the stone shall be a pillar of fire, and the pillar is sharper than swords. And there shall be men and women clad in rags and filthy garments, and they shall be cast thereon to suffer the judgement of an unceasing torment; these are the ones who trusted to their riches and despised the widows and the women with fatherless children … before God.’ (p. 194).

In the Apocalypse of Paul, it is this apostle, who is taken by an angel and shown the heaven and hell, including this description of what happens to usurers:

And I saw another multitude of pits in the same place, and in the midst of it a river full with a multitude of men and women, and worms consumed them. But I lamented and sighing asked the angel and said, ‘Sir, who are these?’ and he said to me, “These are those who exacted interest on interest and trusted in their riches and did not trust in God that he was their helper.’ (p. 202).

We now have a government that is packed full of rich, highly rapacious individuals, who really don’t have any thought for the poor, the widows and the fatherless. And all too many of them are connected to the financial sector, like Jacob Rees-Mogg. Mogg and several other Tories come from the Christian right. It’s a pity they don’t read these passages, and those in the Bible itself, urging concern for the poor, the sick and marginalised, and do the right thing.

Which is stopping these exploitative, murderous policies of immiseration and exploitation, and resign!

As an old piece of graffiti in Bristol used to say: ‘Repent of your sins, Maggie Thatcher!’

 

Geoffrey Alderman Accuses Tom Watson of Anti-Semitism for Talking about Christ’s Arrest

July 29, 2019

Geoffrey Alderman, a professor of Jewish history and columnist for the Times and the Jewish Telegraph, has made an official complaint to Jennie Formby accusing the deputy leader of the Labour Party of anti-Semitism. Why? In his Easter message, Watson referred to Christ’s arrest by a squad of Roman soldiers under the direction of the servant of the High Priest. Alderman states that

‘the allegation that Jews were Christ-killers, implicated in if not actually responsible for the death of Jesus, is widely regarded as an anti-Semitic trope’.

He then correctly states that it was condemned by the Pope at Vatican II in the 1970s.

While it’s amusingly ironic to find Watson, who has given so much aid and support to those fabricating false claims of anti-Semitism against decent, anti-racist people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, of anti-Semitism himself, the accusation is wrong and should be denied and rebutted.

Firstly, Alderman is absolutely correct that the accusation that Jews are Christ-killers has been responsible for much prejudice and often horrific persecution of Jews down the centuries. However, this does not mean that the description of Christ’s arrest and trial by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea at the time, are fictional and anti-Semitic themselves. Alderman’s accusation is therefore wrong and should be strenuously denied and refuted.

As Mike has said in his piece about the accusation, all the Gospels state that Christ was arrested by the Romans under the direction of the High Priest, tried before the Sanhedrin, before being passed in turn to Pontius Pilate for judgment. I realise that many people do regard the Bible as completely fictitious, and that there have been books written against the inclusion of the Jewish authorities in Christ’s arrest and execution in order to counter what many believe to be a source of anti-Semitism. These attempts are based on descriptions of the power of the Sanhedrin in the Talmud, which claim that the Temple authorities could not hold such trials and had no power to issue the death penalty for blasphemy unless the name of God was explicitly pronounced. However, while some of the Oral Law is ancient, dating back to the time Ezra according to scholars of Judaism, the Talmud itself was compiled over a period of centuries from the Second Century AD onwards. Jewish scholars have said that there is difficulty in assessing the truth of the passages about the Sanhedrin, as it is not clear which are historically accurate, and which an idealised picture of how the Jewish sages at the time of Talmud’s composition felt it should have operated.

Christ’s execution is mentioned by the Syrian Stoic philosopher, Mara bar Serapion, in a letter that may date from 73 AD. The letter discusses the disasters that befell the Athenians after they executed Socrates, and the Samian after they killed Pythagoras. He asks rhetorically

or what did it avail the Jews to kill their wise king, since their kingdom was taken away from them from this time on?

The ‘wise king’ is believed to be a reference to Christ. See Kevin O’Donnell, Introduction to the New Testament (Hodder and Stoughton 1999) 78.

There is also a garbled reference to Christ’s crucifixion on a charge of sorcery and leading Israel astray in the Talmud, see O’Donnell, above, 78.

Similar events are also recorded by Roman historians. There’s a passage in the Jewish historian, Josephus, I believe, which records how the Sanhedrin brought before the Roman governor a man, who had been prophesying the destruction of the Temple. They demanded the man be executed. Instead, the governor simply had the man flogged and then sent away.

This was an extremely dangerous and politically volatile time. The Temple hierarchy was bitterly resented by many Jews both for the corruption of some of its priests and officials, and their collaboration with Israel’s Greek and then Roman overlords. The books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha records the heroic resistance to Greek rule by Judas Maccabaeus. He and the Jewish people were provoked into rebellion by the attempts of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek general, who ruled the province under Alexander the Great, to stamp out their faith. Mothers were forbidden to circumcise their sons, the teaching of the Law was forbidden and copies burnt and the Temple was turned into a temple to Zeus. Although the Temple was restored and the Jews allowed to practise their faith freely once again, the situation remained tense. There were tensions between the Pharisees, the Jewish sect that stressed absolute obedience to the Law, and which believed in spirits and the resurrection of the dead, and the Sadducees, who did not, and who seem to have been largely aristocratic. Josephus records another Jewish uprising just before the time of Christ, which was crushed with the execution of 19,000 Pharisees.

The Talmud also contains passages, which are believed to date from this time, which rail against the corruption of the Temple clergy and High Priest. One is a heartfelt account by the author of how he was beaten by Boethus, a member of the Temple hierarchy, while other priests and leading officials used their office to extort money from ordinary Jews.

Moreover, it needs to be remembered that Christ and His disciples were almost all Jews. St. Matthew’s is the most Jewish of all the Gospels, and its writer frequently assimilates Christ’s teaching with those of the great Jewish sages. He was therefore part of a Jewish Christian community, which continued to observe the Mosaic Law.

It therefore seems very clear to me that the accounts of Christ’s arrest and trial are historically accurate and reflect the very bloody tensions within 1st century Judaism. And while they have been used to foment anti-Semitism, they are not themselves anti-Semitic. It’s clear reading them that the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate were responsible for Christ’s death, not the Jewish people as a whole.

I went to the same Anglican church school as Mike, and as he says, we were very definitely not taught to hate anyone because they were of a different religion. Indeed, the clergy and Christian laypeople, who taught at the school had a horror of religious violence and bigotry. Mike and his year were taken on visits to a synagogue and mosque. This didn’t happen to my year, but we were taught about Judaism in RE lessons. I also remember going down the stairs just as one of the RE teachers was going up them with a bearded gentleman carrying a menorah and other Jewish sacred objects, presumably to show them to one of the other classes. And some of the older pupils I know were taught about the Holocaust and its horrors.

I also believe that the myth that the Jews were responsible for the death of Christ has largely been laid to rest. Many of the Christians I know have very positive attitudes towards Jews and Judaism because of their religion. Where anti-Semitism does exist, I believe it largely comes from other reasons, like all the stupid, murderous conspiracy theories that try to tell you the Jews hate Whites and are importing Blacks to destroy the White race and enslave gentiles. And so, like Mike, I’m left wondering why Professor Alderman has chosen to accuse Tom Watson of anti-Semitism because of this. And so I agree completely with Mike’s conclusion:

Tom Watson is a wrong ‘un, no doubt. But to demonise him by trying to stir up animosity between Jews and Christians is completely unacceptable and I hope everyone of both religions condemns his words.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/07/29/this-anti-semitism-complaint-against-tom-watson-should-not-stand-up/

 

Priti Patel and the Barbarity of the Reintroduction of the Death Penalty

July 27, 2019

Yesterday, Mike put up a piece reporting that Boris Johnson, the raging, incompetent blond beast now in charge of the government, has appointed Priti Patel as his home secretary. And she supports the reintroduction of the death penalty.

I’m not surprised. Johnson is a man of the Tory hard right, and there’s a section of the British public that has been demanding the return of the death penalty for years. I think support for capital punishment is probably spread between both parties, but I’m reasonably sure it’s much stronger in the Conservatives. This is the party that, after all, tries to project itself as the party of law and order and keeps demanding tougher sentencing for criminals. And that includes the death penalty for murder. It’s clear that Bozza is now very much appealing to that constituency with his appointment of Patel, although he himself won’t say whether he favours it himself.

I very well understand why some people want it back. There are unrepentant criminals responsible for the most sickening crimes, who do make you feel that they should pay the ultimate penalty. Like the Nazis at Nuremberg, who planned and presided over the horrific murder and torture of millions of individuals and the proposed extermination of entire races. Before Eichmann was executed he said something about regret and remorse being for the weak and inferior. Himmler in a notorious speech to the SS at the death camps actually boasted about the horrors they were committing, claiming that it was deeply moral and that though it was hard unpleasant, they would come through it with the moral character intact, still pure. With such twisted morality, such deep evil, you feel that death really is too good for them. And the same with serial killers and child murderers, like the Moors Murderers.

But as Mike showed in his piece, there are very, very strong arguments against capital punishment. Not least is the fact that innocent people have been convicted of murder in gross miscarriages of justice. This was Ian Hislop’s argument in a clip from Question Time he put up in his article, in which the editor of Private Eye mopped the floor with Patel. Hislop said that over the years his magazine had uncovered many such cases, and that if we had had the death penalty, then the people wrongfully convicted would be dead. He also pointed out that if we had it, we would also have turned some very unpleasant people into martyrs. By that, he means the various terrorists that have shot and bombed their way across Britain since the return of Irish nationalist terrorism in the 1970s. And some of those convicted of Irish Republican terrorist offences were victims of the miscarriage of justice. Like the Birmingham Six, who were wrongfully jailed for the Birmingham pub bombings. If these men had been executed for the crime, not only would the British state have killed innocent people, but that fact would have been picked up and strenuously broadcast by the IRA as yet more evidence of British oppression. And the Islamist terrorists responsible for 7/7 and other outrages see themselves as shahids – martyrs for Islam. At one level, executing them would be giving them exactly what they want. And their deaths would be used by the other zealots for propaganda, as righteous Muslims going to their eternal reward for killing the kufar.

All Patel could do in the face of this argument was bluster about being absolutely sure of the accused’s guilt before sentencing. That’s right – judges were obliged to point out to juries in murder cases during capital punishment that if they had any doubt whatsoever, they should not convict. But as Hislop then went to argue, innocent people were still convicted even with the weight of the burden of proof. And then Patel fell back on the old canard that it acted as a deterrent. There’s no evidence of that. A friend of mine, who’d actually read Pierrepoint’s memoirs, told me that Britain’s last hangman had said that in his experience, it didn’t act as a deterrent at all. According to Peter Hitchens, who is very much one of the law and order brigade – he’d like to see people jailed for drunkenness, for example – Pierrepoint changed his mind about this just before he died. But I think the evidence is that it doesn’t. In fact, it seems to encourage violence. I can remember reading in article in one of the papers back in the ’90s – the FT perhaps, or the Independent – that there’s actually a rise in violent incidents around the time of executions in the US. The article said that it was almost as though people felt that if the state could inflict violence, so could they.

I’d also argue that there are some murderers, who should be punished, but who also can be rehabilitated. When I was working as a volunteer at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, some of my co-workers were convicts at the end of their sentence. They were working towards being finally paroled and released back into the community. It was quite an experienced working with these people. Although they were murderers, they weren’t monsters. They were articulate, and often creative and highly educated. Some were so inoffensive, you wondered what circumstances led to them committing their crime. I realise that the people I knew may not be entirely representative. The Museum only took those who were genuinely willing to work there, rather than just exploit the system. And I am not suggesting for a single minute that murder should be treated leniently. I am merely arguing that there are some people responsible for this crime, who can be usefully rehabilitated after their punishment. And there may well be mitigating circumstances in individual cases that should rule out the death penalty.

And sometime, letting a murderer live and contemplate his guilt can be more terrible than simply killing them. One of the priests at my local church in south Bristol was a prison chaplain. He told us once how a murderer in one of the prisons in which he ministered told him one day, that he had no idea how difficult it was for the prisoner to live with the knowledge of what he’d done.

Way back in the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the cleric who wrote the constitution for the Knights Templars, once saved a murderer from execution. He had him taken down from the scaffold. When the crowd objected, he told them he was going to take the man to do something far harder than simply being killed, and led him off to become a monk. This was during the great age of monastic reform, when life in some of the new orders being founded was very hard.

Many of the early Christians under the Roman Empire also had very strong views against the judicial system and its punishments. They objected to the death penalty, because Our Lord had been unjustly condemned to death by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christians had no choice but to adopt and become responsible for the trial and punishment of criminals. But some bishops and clergy remained firmly against it to the end. One clergyman stated that he could not see how any Christian could have a man tortured or sentenced to death, and then lie back in ease and luxury on cushions afterwards. The Christians, who object to the death penalty are heirs to this tradition.

The reintroduction of the death penalty cannot be justified, not least because of the very real danger of wrongful conviction. By appointing Patel, one of its supporters, Johnson has shown how amoral he is in pandering to such vindictive populism. He, Patel and the other horrors in his cabinet are an affront to British justice. Get them out!

Hindu Nationalist Persecution of Christians in India under Modi’s Government

July 4, 2019

One of the ladies at our church gave a talk on Wednesday about the growing persecution of Christians in India by Hindu extremists, aided and abetted by President Narendra Modi and his squalid Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. This is an important issue for a number of reasons, and needs to be discussed. It’s naturally important to Christians concerned with the persecution members of their faith face in many other countries, but there are other reasons why it is important. It contradicts the view being pushed by the islamophobic right, that Christians are only, or primarily persecuted by Muslims. This is being particularly promoted by the neocons and Christian Zionists, like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, who, it seems, are using it to work up support for Israel and for further western imperialist wars in the Middle East. Although the article was written for Christians, the laws criminalising Christian conversion and the mob violence they face are also part of a general persecution directed at other non-Hindu religious minorities, such as Muslims and Sikhs. Discussing the resistible rise of the BJP two decades or so ago, Private Eye’s ‘Letter from India’ described how the BJP was connected to the militant RSSS, a militant Indian nationalist organisation which was partly modeled on Mussolini’s Fascists, and which was responsible for attacks on Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.

I am also certainly not blaming all Hindus for the actions of the BJP, or trying to attack Hinduism generally. Hinduism is a religion with a bewildering number of deities and sects, and thus has an impressive reputation for pluralism and tolerance. The extremists encouraged by the BJP also target moderate, liberal or secular Hindus because of their support of Gandhi and Nehru’s vision of India as a religiously tolerant, secular nation in which people of different faiths could live together in harmony and peace. The Hindu extremists not only reject this, they also passionately and vehemently despised its founder. A week or so ago one of the columnists in the I published a piece about how shocked they were when they first met a Hindu, who hated Gandhi. The Hindu extreme right despise and vilify Gandhi because they wanted India to be a Hindu state, and believed he had done too much to appease the Muslims.

I am also very much aware that Christian has also been spread through imperialism and military force, and has persecuted non-Christians. I don’t approve of or justify this. Religious persecution is wrong, no matter which religion is doing it.

Christianity in India is very ancient. Before Europeans arrived, there was already an indigenous Indian, Syriac Christian church. The Mar Thoma Christian church of Kerala believe that Christianity was brought to India in 50 or 52 AD by the apostle Thomas, who was martyred in Chennai in 72 AD. In 883 AD Sighelm, an ambassador to Kerala from the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex, visited his shrine to present thank offering from King Alfred. Another apostle, Nathanael (Bartholomew) also visited India in the first century, who brought with him a copy of Matthew’s Gospel in Hebrew. Documentary evidence suggests that Christianity had reached India by the early third century AD. By 225 there was a bishop in Baith Lapat, now Shahabad in Northern India, caring for the souls of a Christian community that had been converted by missionaries from Persia and what is now Iraq. The following century, Bishop John the Persian signed the Nicene Creed, which had been drawn up as the formal statement of the Christian faith “on behalf of (the churches) in the whole of Persia, and in the great India.”

The Indian Christian population is 65 million., and comprises about 2% of the population of India, 80% of whom are Hindus. In 2016 there were 348 incidents of persecution in India recorded by the Evangelical Fellowship of India. In 2017 this increased to 736, of which 351 were violent. Many incidents probably haven’t been recorded, and so the true number is probably higher.

The BJP has also passed a series of laws, ostensibly against forced conversion, as part of their campaign against Christianity. These forbid the use of force, fraud or allurement in conversion. I’m very much aware of the term ‘rice Christianity’, dating from the 19th century. This came from the supposed tactics of some missionaries, who promised the starving a bowl of rice if they converted. The use of such inducements to get people to convert is clearly immoral. But the laws brought in against them allow Christians to be falsely accused of these tactics. In September 2017 the Jharkhand state government passed a freedom of religion law, which punishes those guilty of using ‘coercion’ to convert Hindus with three years in prison. Anyone, who wishes to change their faith, has to obtain prior permission from a magistrate. Christians have been subjected to violence and arrest, and churches disrupted because of accusations that they are breaking these laws. But the BJP is determined to roll them out nationally. The opposition party has also moved rightward to compete with the BJP, and there is fears that this will also lead to greater intolerance of religious minorities.

The tactics used against Christians not only include social exclusion, but also assault and attacks and sabotage of church buildings and private homes. They are also subject to boycotts, and a campaign, “Ghar Wapsi” (homecoming) to force Indian Christians to renounce their faith. Two years ago, in January 2017, a 50 year-old Christian convert, Bartu Urawn, and his wife were immersed in a pond by a mob for 17 hours by a mob from their village in order to force them to recant their faith. Urawn refused, dying afterwards from his ordeal. The police, however, recorded his death as ‘natural causes’. Rural Christians are especially vulnerable, and all too often the police arrest the victims instead of the perps.

Many Christians are also Dalits, formerly the untouchables, the lowest-rung of the Hindu caste system, and are considered impure and polluting by the higher castes. There is a quota system to give them access to education and employment, but these quotas don’t apply to Christians or Muslims. They’ve also suffered attacks on their homes, churches, and water sources.

See ‘Courageous faith: India’s pressured christians’ in barnabasaid, March/April 2019, pp. 6-7.

I am also very much aware that the Christian right in several American states is trying to pass ‘freedom of religion’ laws with the same intention as the Hindu extremists in the above article: to exclude religious and secular minorities from political involvement. It hasn’t quite reached the level of the Hindu extremists as described in the above article, but the intolerance of parts of the American Christian right is similar in intensity.

The BJP is, if not Fascist, then certainly fascistic in its extreme nationalism. Indeed, a prayer used by one of the BJP’s allies or constituent organisations is included in an academic textbook on Fascism to illustrate Fascism’s mystical component. The BJP is part of the growth of religious and ethnic intolerance throughout the world. And as the book, Falling Off The Edge shows, a major cause of this tension and conflict is neoliberalism. The doctrine of absolute free trade without any form of government interference means that conditions for ordinary working people across the globe, whether in the developed West or the developing world, has got worse. And as conditions of grinding poverty have increased, so people have turned on minorities as scapegoats for their rage and desperation.

It’s what’s behind the growth of fascism in working class White communities in Britain. And I’ve no doubt it’s also behind the growth of Hindu extremism in India, all encouraged and promoted by Modi. It’s one of the classic tactics of the wealthy elite everywhere to divert opposition away from themselves by claiming that mainstream society is perfect. It’s only ethnic or religious minorities, who are behind all societies problems. Minorities like Jews, Muslims, Christians, Blacks, Asians or gays, depending on the society.

But one thing is absolutely certain: Fascism and intolerance has to be fought everywhere, along with the neoliberal economics that force people into poverty, despair and racism or religious extremism, whatever the colour or creed of the persecutors or their victims.

Zelo Street Publishes Piece Supporting Mike Against Anti-Semitism Smear Merchants

May 5, 2019

Thanks to everyone, who’ve sent donations to Mike to help him fight the libel threats brought against him by rich, bullying z-list celebs Rachel Riley and Tracey-Ann Oberman. They’re threatening anyone and everyone, who says anything about them they don’t like, with writs, and alleging that because they’re Jewish, their detractors must be anti-Semites. Mike’s one of those they’ve tried to bully into silence, because he, like so many others, blogged about how the gruesome twosome had ganged up and bullied a vulnerable sixteen year old schoolgirl. A young woman with anxiety, whom they smeared as an anti-Semite.

As Mike points out, his article was a perfectly valid opinion piece. Mike is a trained journo, and they have to know the law. Mike has also sought counsel from m’learned him friends, who have told him that Riley and Oberman don’t have a case. But he needs money just in case they try to bring it anyway. It’s a nasty piece of legal strategy called lawfare, where an individual or group tries to silence their critics using the law, even when they know they don’t have a case. They bring the actions knowing that fighting them and employing lawyers will cost tens of thousands of pounds, and hope that the legal costs alone will frighten their critics into silence. It’s the action of bullying scoundrels. Riley and Oberman also have the advantage over ordinary schmucks like Mike, in that, as celebrities, they can also count of the support of their legions of fans and their fellow ‘slebs. Riley was on the Jonathan Ross show a couple of months ago, for example, where she thanked all the people supporting her in her spurious campaign against anti-Semitism.

But Mike also has his supporters, who know perfectly well that he’s very, very far from any kind of anti-Semite, and appreciate all the work he’s done on behalf of the disabled and vulnerable. The great folks who sent in £5,000 worth of donations in a single day last week were some of these people, as were the peeps, who defend him online, unasked, against the anti-Semitism trolls.

And one of Mike’s defenders is the good fellow in Crewe, who puts up the Zelo Street blog. Yesterday he put up a piece defending Mike against the anti-Semitism smears of Riley and Oberman, ‘The Shameful Silencing of Mike Sivier’. After explaining who Mike is, and his work attacking the DWP and discussing issues like climate change, health, the Labour party, Brexit and the colossal ineptitude of the Tory party, he tells how Mike has been accused of anti-Semitism by Riley and Oberman. He states that Mike isn’t, and those papers that tried to smear him as one have been forced to retract their allegations by IPSO. He also describes how Mike’s target of £5,000 to help him fight the terrible twosome’s threats was raised in one day, though leaves it an open question whether this is a measure of Mike’s popularity or a sign of displeasure at the behaviour of Princess Countdown and her mate, Tracey-Anne Cyberman. He makes the point that their threat to Mike came after they had similarly threatened other people on social media for supporting an article against them written by Shaun Lawson. Who, for some reason, they haven’t threatened. Zelo Street then asks

Why should this be? Perhaps Ms Riley and Ms Oberman would care, in the fullness of time, to impart that information to the world. Perhaps they would also like to tell Mike Sivier, or his legal team, what specifically he has said in regard to either or both of them which they consider libellous. Because Sivier does not appear fazed by the claim, and nor do his lawyers, which suggests they are confident of having the action struck out.

He then provides a couple of quotations from Mike, which might have provoked the ‘orrible pair into threatening him, pointing out that one is no more than a statement of opinion. The second is one, where Mike describes how the two try to justify their bullying behaviour by claiming it is part of their campaign against anti-Semitism. Zelo Street attacks this by asking

How can anyone be combating anti-Semitism by threatening someone who concludes that you’ve been indulging in bullying? Is bullying an anti-Semitic code-word?

He states that Countdown and Cyberwoman have a problem in that it looks very much like their word against Mike’s, and that as Mike’s comments are like those of Lawson’s, who hasn’t been threatened, Lawson’s comments are the key to this case. He concludes

Attacking those who campaign for the weak against the strong in an attempt to silence them inevitably leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I’ll just leave that one there.
See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/05/the-shameful-silencing-of-mike-sivier.html
As for Jonathan Ross, I stopped watching his show years ago, mostly because I simply don’t find it interesting. He is a very clever man, and I share some of his taste in trash and popular culture. But Wossy also wants to be a bit edgy himself, and so indulges in puerile jokes, like the phone call to Andrew Sachs with Russell Brand that got him into so much trouble.
And when he was on the radio I think he was trying to be as close as he could to an American-style ‘shock jock’ within the limits of the Beeb and the broadcasting regulations. So he couldn’t be as openly politically biased nor as racist as some of them are. Nor can he be as sexually explicit. Howard Stern had on his Christmas show, for example, a gay choir singing ‘I’m dreaming of a little light torture’, but Wossy on his show for years had a gay singing group ‘Four Poofs and a Piano’. I’ve absolutely no objection to them appearing on his show, but it does seem to be an example of Wossy following the Americans’ taste, which he genuinely shares, for the transgressive and camp.
But I do wonder how he gets away with some of it. A few years ago while looking for something else on lunchtime radio, I accidentally got his lunchtime programme. Wossy was talking to the late, great Dale Winton. On finding out that Winton was Jewish, Wossy announced that he himself was half-Jewish, and then asked him if he was circumcised.
Eh? What has that got to do with anything? That’s a personal question, which is between a bloke and his rabbi. It’s not a question you ask, and certainly not on the radio at a Saturday lunchtime.
A more reasonable question might be how his Jewish background has influenced him as a person or a performer. Many performers come from a religious background, and various Christian actors and musicians took their first step in showbusiness in the church choir. I don’t know if something similar has inspired Jewish showbusiness peeps through membership of their synagogue. In traditional Judaism, for example, the readings from the Hebrew Bible were chanted by the cantor. This chant, cantillation, was often sung very beautifully, and in the 19th century the best cantors in European Jewry enjoyed a celebrity status like that of opera singers in mainstream society. It seems to me that asking whether the Jewish musical tradition, whether religious or secular, would be a far better and fairer question than making such a personal inquiry.
But Wossy had to ask him, no doubting counting that as someone, who was part Jewish, he wouldn’t be accused of anti-Semitism for it, which he certainly would if he was a gentile. It’s stupid, puerile antics that like that which rightly stop people wanting to watch his show or listen to him on the radio.