Posts Tagged ‘Churches’

Beeb Documentary Next Week on American Evangelical Christian Support for Israel

January 14, 2021

Also on TV next Wednesday, 19th January 2021, at 9.00 pm in the evening, is a programme on BBC 4 on the support for Israel amongst American Evangelical Christians and their influence on Donald Trump’s administration, ‘Til Kingdom Come: Trump, Faith and Money. The blurb for this on page 89 of the Radio Times runs

Documentary exploring the relationship between American evangelicals and Israel’s foremost philanthropic institution, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, and its influence on both nations’ foreign policies.

There’s an additional few paragraphs about the programme by Jack Searle on page 87, which states

This seems at first to be telling a small, local story: we’re in woodland in Kentucky, where a man loading an assault rifle in preparation for some target practice explains how Donald Trump, he feels, spoke up for ordinary folk like him. But he isn’t just a regular Republican voter. He’s an evangelical pastor whose calling in life is to raise money for Israel.

Maya Zinshtein’s film explores the global significance of US Christians, who believe Israel is the key to the Second Coming, and ow that partly explains Trump’s highly controversial relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem. It forms a spiky fable about what happens when politics and rigid religious dogma interact.

Apocalypticism and the desire to hasten Christ’s return has been a very important strand in Christian Zionism since the 19th century. Historians and activists critical of Israel and its barbarous treatment of the Palestinians, like Ilan Pappe and Tony Greenstein, have pointed out that Zionism first emerged amongst Christians in the 19th century. They wished to see the Jews return to Israel in order to fulfil, as they saw it, the prophecies in the Book of Revelation. Support for Israel in America is now strongest amongst Christian evangelicals. The largest Zionist organisation in America by sheer numbers of members is Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. Jewish support for Israel is waning, especially among the young. American Jews were like their European coreligionists before the rise of the Nazis. They wished to stay in the countries in which they were born, and this attitude continued at least up to 1969. One of the Jewish magazines ran an article that year lamenting the lack of interest in Israel among Jewish Americans. The Neo-Conservative movement, founded by William Krystol, had its origins as an attempt to raise support for Israel amongst Americans. Young Jewish Americans are increasingly losing interest in Israel or actually becoming opposed to it, because of its treatment of its indigenous Arab population. The numbers of school leavers taking up the heritage tours of the country, sponsored by the Israel state as a way of gaining their support, is falling. Many Jewish young people have joined the BDS movement against goods produced in the occupied territories. As a result, Israel is shifting its efforts to muster support to American Christians.

I do wonder how many of those evangelical Christians would still be vocal in their support for Israel, if they knew that Israel pulls down monasteries and churches as well as mosques and that some of the extreme right-wing rabbis in Netanyahu’s coalition have said that they’d like to see every church in Israel pulled down as a place of idolatry. Or that the European founders of Israel really didn’t want Arabic Jews, the Mizrahim, settling in the country, and only accepted them because they needed their labour while also heavily discriminating against them. Possibly some might find this troublesome, but I’ve no doubt others would find some way to justify it and their continued support for the country.

A Trlingual Dictionary of an Ancient Arabic Language

December 11, 2020

A.F.L. Beeston, M.A. Ghul, W.W. Muller, J. Ryckmans, Sabaic Dictionary (English-French-Arabic)/ Dictionnaire Sabeen (anglais-francaise-arabe) (Beyrouth: Lbrairie du Liban; Louvain-la-Neuve: Editions Peeters; University of Sanaa, Yemen, 1982).

Sabaic is the ancient Arabic language of Sheba, whose present, Arabic name is, I believe, Marib. It’s located in what is now Yemen, and its Queen famously visited King Solomon. Fabulously wealthy, it flourished in the 10th century BC on the profits of the spice and perfume trades, and conquered Abyssinia, now Ethiopia. The Ethiopian languages Amharic, Tigray and Tigrina are Semitic languages descended from the South Arabic language spoken by these ancient settlers.

The book’s the product of a Colloquium on Yemeni Civilisation, which requested the four authors to compile this dictionary. It appears to be of the terms found on inscriptions in the Yemen, and possibly one or two other places. It is just a dictionary, and doesn’t include any texts or inscriptions although it does give the alphabet in which they were written. I picked it up really as a curiosity in one of the secondhand bookstalls in Bristol through my interest in archaeology and the Ancient Near East. The book’s really of use only to archaeologists, linguists and historians working in Yemen, and it’s another language that I haven’t learned. Nevertheless it’s a reminder of just how ancient and advanced civilisation has been in the Middle East. I don’t know if there are any books specifically on the archaeology of Yemen, but I found a book a few years ago on the archaeology of Arabia, which I think contained a chapter or two on Yemen.

And these nations’ antiquities are seriously threatened by the region’s wars. When I was doing the doctorate at Bristol Uni, one of the speakers at an archaeological seminar said that much of the archaeological heritage of Syria had been trashed by the fighting. We’ve seen ISIS destroy precious mosques, churches and other shrines, as well as an ancient sculptures from the ancient Mesopotamian civilisations like Babylon and Akkad. It therefore wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Yemen’s archaeological heritage, including that of an Sheba, isn’t also seriously endangered and damaged by the current war between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia. And I am afraid that Iran’s similarly ancient and precious archaeological heritage won’t also suffer catastrophic losses if Trump and the Neocons have their way and launch an invasion of that country.

We need to stop these wars, because the cost in human lives and to the nations’ cultural heritage has been immense. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, millions forced to flee and priceless objects and monuments destroyed. And so our knowledge of the past is diminished.

But books like this help preserve and stimulate an interest in the preservation and exploration of these ancient treasures, if only among those few scholars able to read the ancient languages.

To Fight the Tories and the Racists, Labour Should Platform More White Working Class Speakers

October 19, 2020

This is not by any means a criticism of the Labour party’s great Black and Asian MPs, activists and ordinary members and supporters, like Dawn Butler and Diane Abbot. It is simply a case of effectively mobilising White working class support for Labour, which necessarily and rightly includes non-White politicos and supporters to combat Tory propaganda.

Much Conservative rhetoric aimed at winning over White working class support presents the Labour party as profoundly, traitorously anti-British. BAME anti-racist activists, like Diane Abbot, are criticised and abused by the right, and particularly the far right, as people who actively hate traditional British culture and wish to see it destroyed. This nasty rhetoric was ramped up several notches a few weeks ago with the controversy over the Beeb’s supposed ban of ‘Rule, Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at the Last Night of the Proms. This was to show that the Beeb was run by anti-patriotic lefty liberals. In fact it was nothing of the support. It was simply a response to the regulations imposed by the Coronavirus lockdown. Although they have been eased, they still prohibit public singing. It’s why those churches, which have reopened, now use recorded music while the congregation remains silent. In one way, it’s almost like a return to the Middle Ages, when it was only the clergy who participated in the ritual of the mass while the congregation heard it. I’m not surprised that the ban did cause controversy. There have been allegations before, including by Private Eye, that the Prom’s producers at the Beeb are acutely uncomfortable with the performance of the two classic pieces, and would like to stop their performance. But that wasn’t the case this year. Also, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ is much more than a jingoistic ditty. It’s lyrics include lines about ‘justice and equality’, civilised values that should be at the heart of liberal society.

And I’m afraid this rhetoric and the xenophobic nationalism is going to increase with the failure of Brexit. It now looks like Britain is going to exit the EU without a deal. So much for all the Leaver talk from Johnson, Gove etc about oven ready deals and that making trade arrangements with the EU would be so simple, they weren’t worth worrying about. The EU would be so desperate to make one, they’d come running to us. Anybody who said otherwise was being un-patriotic and trying to terrify the British public unnecessarily with ‘Project Fear’.

But the Remoaners, as the Brexiteers have dubbed them, have been amply proved right. Boris and his cohorts told businesses that they wouldn’t have to worry about complex paperwork to carry on trading with the EU. Everything would be simple and straightforward. But our industry is suffering because Johnson and the rest haven’t provided clear guidance for them. In addition, we now have two tariff borders, one in the Irish Sea, and another in Kent. A no-deal Brexit means that we could be faced with shortages of food and medicines. The Tories are desperately trying to negotiate a deal with America, but this will mean lowering our food hygiene standards to their abysmal levels. This will do preciously little for the economy, but it will harm our farmers.

Brexit will increase poverty, despair and starvation.

There were genuinely left-wing, anti-racist peeps, who voted ‘leave’, and with entirely understandable reasons. Our farmers and fishing industry was hit by the EU. The Common Agricultural Policy was designed for small scale, peasant agriculture such as practiced in France and Germany. It did not suit highly mechanised farming employing relatively few people, which is the case in Britain. And the opening up of British waters to foreign fishing decimated our own fishing fleet. Tony Benn and others in the Labour party foresaw this. It’s why they opposed our entry into the EU at the time of the 1970s referendum.

But many Brexiteers are racist, and Brexit was presented as a way of stopping further immigration. Apart from the furore over the Proms, there has also been very vehement criticism of the numbers of asylum seekers crossing the Channel from France. The numbers involved are trivial compared to those who legally immigrate here. The people crossing the Channel in flimsy, makeshift boats and dinghies do so because other, legal means of entering Britain have been closed. But you wouldn’t know that from arch-Tory right-wingers like Alex Belfield. They are attacked as illegal immigrants, a potential threat to the communities in which they are housed, and the left blamed for encouraging them to cross, which puts the migrants themselves in danger. Belfield would like them intercepted by the navy, or deterred from crossing altogether. The liberals and left-wingers defending the migrants wish to have proper legal channels opened up for these migrants, so that they wouldn’t have to risk their lives crossing the Channel.

At the same time, Belfield and other right-wing opponents of immigration present the left as very middle class, out of touch and actively hostile to the White working class. Belfield in his videos rants about how the BBC is dominated by Guardian reading, chinos wearing, latte sipping lefty snowflakes, who all, of course, eat avocado toast. Right-wing organisations like the New Culture Forum and hacks like Douglas Murray have put videos up on YouTube about the demonization of the White working class. The working class, including the White working class, has been demonised, but by the Conservative, Thatcherite elite. As Owen Jones, who himself has received any number of vicious personal attacks, showed in his book Chavs.

With Brexit about to fail, I think we can be sure that the Tories and the Brexiteers will now increase their attacks on immigration and ethnic minorities, because it’s the only way they have of maintaining any kind of support for it.

I think here Labour should learn from a campaigning trick of the Nazis. I’ll make it clear that I have nothing but contempt and disgust for Hitler and his squalid dictatorship. They ruled by terror and violence, and were responsible for the horrific deaths of millions. 11 1/2 million were murdered and died of starvation and overwork in the concentration camps. Six million were Jews, and 5 1/2 million assorted non-Jews, including political prisoners, the long term unemployed, the disabled and Roma. The Nazis also intended to cleans a stretch of land from Poland to the Ukraine and Russia of its indigenous people in preparation for German colonisation. The surviving population would become poorly educated, depressed peasant farmers and labourers to serve the colonists.

Nazism and Fascism are truly horrific movements, that need to be fought everywhere.

But unfortunately Hitler and the Nazis were terribly effective political campaigners. Although they described themselves as ‘socialist’, they despised ‘Marxist’ socialism, which included reformists like the SPD, the German equivalent of the Labour party, and the organised working class. They smashed the trade unions and sent their leaders and activists to the concentration camps. As social Darwinists, they saw the aristocracy and business elite as biologically superior with an absolute right to their social position and authority.

But at the same time, the Nazis were determined to win over the working class. While they stressed class collaboration, with Hitler declaring that ‘the class conscious worker is as unwelcome in our movement as the race conscious Jew’, the Nazis also claimed that they wished to create a genuine classless society. In the new volksgemeinschaft (people’s/ ethnic community) all were to be looked upon as equals. The only difference was supposed to be social function. And Nazism was going to be meritocratic. Any ethnic German would be able to rise socially, no matter how humble his origins, provided he had the talent.

To show that they were serious about this, the Nazis conspicuously put working class speakers on their platforms along with those from the middle and upper classes.

I believe that Labour needs to do the same with White working class speakers.

The people, who are serious about improving conditions for the White working class are, as I have said, the Labour left. They will do so because they’re committed to the working class as a whole. The Jewish anti-racist, anti-Fascist bloggers and activists Tony Greenstein and David Rosenberg have pointed out again and again that the only way of effectively fighting Nazi scumbags like the National Front and BNP is through actively working to improve conditions for all the working class.

Very many of Labour’s great BAME politicos and members are working class. I think Abbot is. And the anti-immigrant right have also included in their attacks on Dawn Butler statements that they’re tired of hearing how working class she is. They’re aware that the Black and Asian targets of their ire are working class, but that doesn’t count as they’re not White working class. And indeed they see them as actively anti-White.

Which is why I believe they need to be partnered on their platforms with White working class speakers. I’m aware that this is already very likely to be the case. But it needs to be so obvious, that the racists will find it difficult to minimise or deny it. It needs to be done to show the racists, and those inclined to listen to them, that BAME politicos like Abbot and Butler are not anti-White and have White working class support.

I also believe that something similar but vice versa may have to be done for Black MPs so that they are obviously given support by White speakers. Under Starmer, Labour has been haemorrhaging not only its traditional Labour voters and supporters in general, but particularly its Black members. This has partly been due to Starmer’s dismissive and mercenary attitude towards Black Lives Matter, but also his utter failure to take any action on the right-wing ‘centrists’ responsible for the racist bullying of respected Black MPs and activists like Abbot, Lammy and so on. Labour needs to show that it is still genuinely committed to improving conditions for Blacks and other ethnic minorities. And that this doesn’t mean being anti-White.

Whatever their colour, working class Brits need to stand together and support each other. Because the racists and Tories will try to divide us to push through their policies.

Which will hurt all of us, regardless of our creed or skin colour.

BLM Protests – Brillo Retweets Far Right Conspiracy Theorist

June 3, 2020

Remember when Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neil had Alex Jones on his programme years ago? This resulted in farce when Neil asked the right-wing, Libertarian Jones about guns and the high rate of shootings in America. I think it came in the wake of yet another crazed gunman going into a school, shopping mall, church, synagogue or mosque or somewhere and shooting innocents. The right to bear arms is sacrosanct to Republicans and Libertarians, and so Jones responded with a long rant about how Americans will never give their firearms up and that there’d be another 1776 if anyone like Britain tried. He then started screaming nonsense, including ‘metal shark!’ at one point. The camera pulled away from Jones to show Brillo making the ‘nutter’ sign behind his head.

It’s a debatable but fair question whether Jones is mad. He’s promoted some immensely stupid theories, like the Democrat Party operating a paedophile ring out of a Boston pizza parlour, that Obama was the Antichrist, Hillary Clinton a Satanist cyborg, and that the world is being run by ‘the Globalists’ intent on enslaving humanity and turning us all into dehumanised cyborgs to serve demons or malevolent aliens. He is most notorious for ranting about how ‘they’ were putting chemicals in the water ‘to turn the frickin’ frogs gay’. He’s been widely ridiculed for that, but as Blissex, one of the great commenters on this blog reminded me on another post about Jones, he does have a point. Frogs and other amphibians are suffering from industrial pollutants that mimic female hormones and so cause reproductive abnormalities in males. Jones pushes all manner of outlandish theories, but some people have said that off-air he’s calm and rational, and his bizarre antics on camera may just be to garner viewers.

Whatever the real state of Jones’ mind, Brillo is now no longer in a position to sneer at Jones for pushing whacky and dangerous conspiracy theories. Because now he’s done it himself. Yesterday Zelo Street reported that Neil had taken exception to criticism of his comments on a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Colorado, and retweeted the bonkers comments by Spectator USA contributor Andy Ngo. Nadine Batchelor-Hunt had responded to his approving comments about the demonstration in Colorado by telling him that as a White guy, he shouldn’t be telling Black people how to protest. This is essentially the same point some Black Civil rights leaders in America in the 1960s told their White supporters when they said they should ‘be in their own space’. The result was the formation of a radical, White, working-class identity movement, which was crucially anti-racist as some of the White poor turned to their own situation and demanded change. I can’t see Brillo, former editor of the Sunday Times, the Economist and head of the Spectator board, wanting to see that develop. He replied “Looks like most of the folks protesting are white. I’m not telling anybody what they should do; just approving of a particular form of protest. Why make an issue of my colour. I don’t take kindly to what people tell me I should or should not do”.

Zelo Street commented that this was a remark from his privileged perspective. I think however, that Neil has the right to make whatever comment he likes about the protest. It might seem condescending, but people have the right to their own opinions whatever colour they are. But then the great newsman went overboard, and retweeted this from the Speccie’s sister paper.

‘We are witnessing glimmers of the full insurrection the far-left has been working toward for decades. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis was merely a pre-text for radicals to push their ambitious insurgency,’ writes [Andy Ngo]”.

Ngo is a member of the American far right, despite being Asian. He wrote a farcical piece about Islam in Britain, ‘A Visit to Islamic Britain’ for Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, and has hosted the infamous Carl Benjamin, the man who broke UKIP, on his podcast. Zelo Street commented that it was shameful for the Speccie to give Ngo a platform, and even more so for Brillo to retweet him. They also wondered if BBC News and Current Affairs would take a dim view of being linked with Ngo through Neil. And this is apart from some of the deeply unpleasant characters who write for the British Spectator, like the anti-Semitic supporter of the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, Taki.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/06/brillo-boosts-far-right.html

The American far right is riddled with bizarre conspiracy theories. When Obama was ensconced in the Oval Office there were any number of loons proclaiming that he was an anti-White racist who would immediately launch a genocide of Whites. Or that he was closet Muslim, who would impose the Shariah. Or a Nazi, Communist or militant atheist. Jones ranted that Obama would become absolute dictator by declaring a state of emergency, suspending the rule of law and forcing Americans into FEMA camps. It didn’t happen. There are also loony conspiracy theories going around the American and British right about ‘cultural Marxists’ trying to create a new Communist dictatorship through destroying traditional, Christian morality and replacing it with multiculturalism and gay and trans rights. It’s a garbled misreading of Gramsci’s theories of hegemony, and ultimately has its roots in the Nazis’ denunciation of ‘cultural Bolshevism’.

But I’ve got a feeling that the Spectator USA always was a haven for demented conspiracy theories. Way back in the 1990s a magazine with a very similar name, The American Spectator, and a group of Sunday Times journos, got it into their heads that Bill Clinton was at the heart of a vast criminal conspiracy. They believed that Slick Willy was importing drugs from Latin America through a secret airbase in Arizona. Anyone who crossed or otherwise displeased him was then executed by his gangsters. This theory was partly based on the real fact that about 19 of his aides had died, but investigations had shown that their demise had absolutely nothing to do with Clinton. The conspiracy theories were even later denounced and ridiculed by a former believer, one of the ‘Clinton Crazies’. Adam Curtis has discussed this bizarre affair in one of his excellent documentaries.

It looks to me that The American Spectator was a previous incarnation of The Spectator USA, and that, despite the Clinton Crazies having come and gone, there still is a paranoid mentality out there. And Brillo, as former editor of the Sunday Times, and head of the Spectator’s board, shares it.

You don’t have to invoke non-existent conspiracies to explain the protests and riots in America. They come from endemic racism, poverty and lack of opportunity, quite apart from the casual killing of Black Americans by the police. This has been simmering away for several years. Now it’s exploded again. What is needed is calm, rationality and justice.

What we don’t need is more stupid, inflammatory rhetoric by Trump, Ngo or Brillo.

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Three

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Socialism and Marriage, Children, Liberty and Religion

Shaw also discusses what socialism would mean for marriage, liberty, children and the churches, and these are the most problematic sections of the book. He looks forward to marriage being a purely voluntary commitment, where people people can marry for love instead of financial advancement. This will produce biologically better children, because people will be able to choose the best partners, rather than be limited to only those from their class. At the same time incompatible partners will be able to divorce each other free of stigma.

He defines liberty in terms of personal freedom. Under socialism, people will be freer because the amount of time they will have for their personal amusement and recreation will be greater. Legislation might go down, because the laws currently needed to protect people will become unnecessary as socialism is established and society advances. Shaw also believes that greater free time would be enough to attract the top brains to management positions in the absence of the usual inducement of greater pay. Shaw realised that not everyone could run industries, and that it was necessary to hire the very best people, who would be a small minority. Giving them greater leisure time was the best way to do this, and he later criticises the Soviet government for not equalising incomes.

But this is sheer utopianism. The Bolsheviks had tried to equalise incomes, and it didn’t work, which is why they went back to higher rates of pay for managers and so on. And as we’ve seen, socialism doesn’t necessarily lead to greater free time and certainly not less legislation. The better argument is that socialism leads to greater liberty because under socialism people have better opportunities available to them for careers, sport, entertainment and personal improvement than they would if they were mere capitalist wage slaves.

Religious people will also object to his views on religion and the churches. While earlier in the book Shaw addressed the reader as a fellow Christian, his attitude in this section is one of a religious sceptic. The reader will have already been warned of this through the foreword by Toynbee. The Groaniad columnist is a high-ranking member of the both the Secular and Humanist Societies, and her columns and articles in just about every magazine or newspaper she wrote for contained sneers at religion. Shaw considers the various Christian denominations irreconcilable in their theologies, and pour scorn on orthodox Christian doctrines such as the Atonement, that Christ died for our sins. Religion should not be taught in school, because of the incompatibility of the account of the Creation in Genesis with modern science. Children should not be taught about religion at all under they are of the age of consent. If their parents do teach them, the children are to be removed from their care. This is the attitude of very aggressive secularists and atheists. Richard Dawkins had the same attitude, but eventually reversed it. It’s far too authoritarian for most people. Mike and I went to a church school, and received a very good education from teachers that did believe in evolution. Religion deals with ultimate questions of existence and morality that go far beyond science. I therefore strongly believe that parents have the right to bring their children up in their religion, as long as they are aware of the existence of other views and that those who hold them are not wicked simply for doing so. He also believed that instead of children having information pumped into them, the business should be to educate children to the basic level they need to be able to live and work in modern society, and then allow the child to choose for itself what it wants to study.

Communism and Fascism

This last section of the book includes Shaw’s observations on Russian Communism and Fascism. Shaw had visited the USSR in the early ’30s, and like the other Fabians had been duped by Stalin. He praised it as the new socialist society that was eradicating poverty and class differences. He also thought that its early history vindicated the Fabian approach of cautious nationalisation. Lenin had first nationalised everything, and then had to go back on it and restore capitalism and the capitalist managers under the New Economic Policy. But Russia was to be admired because it had done this reversal quite openly, while such changes were kept very quiet in capitalism. If there were problems in the country’s industrialisation, it was due to mass sabotage by the kulaks – the wealthy peasants – and the industrialists. He also recognised that the previous capitalist elite were disenfranchised, forced into manual labour, and their children denied education until the working class children had been served. At the same time, the Soviet leaders had been members of the upper classes themselves, and in order to present themselves as working class leaders had claimed working class parentage. These issues were, however, gradually working themselves out. The Soviet leaders no longer had need of such personal propaganda, and the former capitalists could reconcile themselves to the regime as members of the intellectual proletariat. And some of the industrialisation was being performed by criminals, but this was less arduous than the labour in our prisons.

Shaw is right about the NEP showing that nationalisation needs to be preceded by careful preparation. But he was obviously kept ignorant of the famine that was raging in the USSR through forced collectivisation and the mass murder of the kulaks. And rather than a few criminals in the gulags, the real figures were millions of forced labourers. They were innocent of any crime except Stalin’s paranoia and the need of his managers for cheap slave labour. It’s believed that about 30 millions died in Stalin’s purges, while 7 million died in the famine in the Ukraine.

Shaw’s treatment of Fascism seems to be based mostly on the career of Mussolini. He considers Fascism just a revival of the craze for absolute monarchy and military leadership, of the kind that had produced Henry VIII in England, Napoleon, and now Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, the Shah of Iran and Ataturk in Turkey. These new absolute rulers had started out as working class radicals, before find out that the changes they wanted would not come from the working class. They had therefore appealed to the respectable middle class, swept away democracy and the old municipal councils, which were really talking shops for elderly tradesmen which accomplished little. They had then embarked on a campaign against liberalism and the left, smashing those organisations and imprisoning their members. Some form of parliament had been retained in order to reassure the people. At the same time, wars were started to divert the population and stop them criticising the new generalissimo. Industry was approaching socialism by combining into trusts. However, the government would not introduce socialism or truly effective government because of middle class opposition. Fascist regimes wouldn’t last, because their leaders were, like the rest of us, only mortal. In fact Mussolini was overthrown by the other Fascists, who then surrendered to the Allies, partly because of his failing health. That, and his utter military incompetence which meant that Italy was very definitely losing the War and the Allies were steadily advancing up the peninsula. While this potted biography of the typical Fascist is true of Mussolini, it doesn’t really fit some of the others. The Shah, for example, was an Indian prince.

Anarchism and Syndicalism

Shaw is much less informed about anarchism. He really only discusses it in terms of ‘Communist Anarchism’, which he dismisses as a silly contradiction in terms. Communism meant more legislation, while anarchism clearly meant less. He should have the articles and books on Anarcho-communism by Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin believed that goods and services should be taken over by the whole community. However, rather than a complete absence of government and legislation, society would be managed instead by individual communities and federations.

He also dismisses syndicalism, in which industry would be taken over and run by the trade unions. He considers this just another form of capitalism, with the place of the managers being taken by the workers. These would still fleece the consumer, while at the same time leave the problem of the great inequality in the distribution of wealth untouched, as some industries would obviously be poorer than others. But the Guild Socialists did believe that there should be a kind of central authority to represent the interests of the consumer. And one of the reasons why nationalisation, in the view of some socialists, failed to gain the popular support needed to defend it against the privatisations of the Tories is because the workers in the nationalised industries after the War were disappointed in their hopes for a great role in their management. The Labour party merely wanted nationalisation to be a simple exchange of public for private management, with no profound changes to the management structure. In some cases the same personnel were left in place. Unions were to be given a role in management through the various planning bodies. But this was far less than many workers and trade unionists hoped. If nationalisation is to have any meaning, it must allow for a proper, expanded role of the workers themselves in the business of managing their companies and industries.

The book ends with a peroration and a discussion of the works that have influenced and interest Shaw. In the peroration Shaw exhorts the readers not to be upset by the mass poverty and misery of the time, but to deplore the waste of opportunities for health, prosperity and happiness of the time, and to look forward and work for a better, socialist future.

His ‘Instead of a Bibliography’ is a kind of potted history of books critical of capitalism and advocating socialism from David Ricardo’s formulation of capitalism in the 19th century. These also include literary figures like Ruskin, Carlyle and Dickens. He states that he has replaced Marx’s theory of surplus value with Jevons treatment of rent, in order to show how capitalism deprives workers of their rightful share of the profits.

 

 

Weird Science: Plants as Interplanetary Communication Devices

January 9, 2020

Science Fiction has been described as the literature of ideas, and one of the most bizarre ideas is that grass is an artificial computing device. This strange notion appears in Clifford Simak’s 1965 novel, All Flesh Is Grass. This is about a small American town that finds itself completely enclosed beneath a forcefield. The town is on a nexus linking our world and its counterpart in a parallel universe. Investigating the force field and the strange disappearance years earlier of a mentally handicapped lad, the hero finds himself transported to this alternative Earth, where he meets the missing boy, now grown up. He also encounters a group of mysterious travellers from yet another universe, who have come to the world simply to listen to music and dance. Returning to our Earth, he finds that the force field has been put around the town by intelligent extradimensional aliens. There is a series of alternative Earths, who have come together to form some kind of interdimensional federation. These wise, enlightened beings wish to help humanity. They are skilled physicians, and show their good intentions by healing the town’s sick free of charge. It’s revealed that grass is some kind of intelligently engineered device, which was used by an alien race for information storage thousands of years ago.

As with many of the stranger ideas in literature, whether Science Fiction or not, you wonder where the idea came from. Some clue is perhaps given in the 1973 Erich Von Daniken book In Search of Ancient Gods: My Pictorial Evidence for the Impossible. Beginning on page 192, the world’s most notorious author on ancient astronauts discusses how two American scientists suggested that plants could be extraterrestrial communication devices. He writes

So far all attempts to capture signals from the cosmos with the aid of electromagnetic waves have failed. Dr George Lawrence of the Ecola Institute in San Bernardino, California, hit on a fantastic new way to communicate with extraterrestrial intelligences. Lawrence wondered if plants connected to an electronic control system would be suitable for communication with the universe. It is known that plants possess electrodynamic properties, indeed their capacity to assimilate tests and react in a binary way like a computer is sensational. Lawrence closely observed the semiconductive and general electromotive capacities of plants. He asked himself the following questions as part of his programme:

  1. Can plants be integrated with electronic apparatuses in such a way that they yield usable data?
  2. Can plants be trained to react to specific objects or events?
  3. Is the assumption that plants have the capacity for exception perception provable?
  4. Which of the 350,000 kinds of plants is most suited for the test. (p. 192)

Von Daniken then goes on to describe how plants respond to electric stimulation, and how Dr Clyde Backster, an expert in lie detectors, observed similar responses in 1969 during experiments in which he believed his test plants responded telepathically, at first to himself lighting a match, and then to a bucket of shrimps being plunged into boiling water. This response became known, apparently, as the Backster effect. Von Daniken continues

Dr Lawrence next tried to use plants for electromagnetic contact with the cosmos. A series of experiments, christened Project Cyclops, was organised over a distance of seven miles in the Mojave Desert, near Las Vegas. On 29 October 1971 at the same fraction of a second the measuring sets attached to the plants registered heightened curves which were transferred to the tape by an amplifier. What was going on? Was something underground stimulating the plants? Were there torrents of lava, earthquakes, magnetic influences? New sets were made, the plants were protected in lead boxes and Faradaic cages. The result was the same! Observed over a long period of time, curves and notes showed a certain synchronicity. The plants seemed to be communicating. Plants cannot think: they can only react. Every conceivable kind of magnetic wavelength was tried. At the moment of the different reactions, nothing could be heard. Could the process be connected with the fixed stars, with quasars or radiation? A new series of experiments clearly showed that the cause came from the cosmos. Radioastronomers with their gigantic antenna could pick up nothing, but plants showed violent reactions. Obviously a wavelength that functioned biologically was involved. This brought the experimenters into a territory whose existence has been suspected, but which is not measurable so far – telepathy. A biological contact took place in a way unexplained to date, but during the detour via the cells it became measurable. Dr George Lawrence said on the subject:

Obviously biological interstellar communication is nothing new. We have only 215 astronomic observatories in the world, but about a million of the biological type, although we call them by other names such as churches, temples and mosques. A biological system (mankind) communicates (prays) to a far distant higher being. Biological understanding is also the order of the day in the animal kingdom; we have only to think of dogs and cats which find their way home again by instinct. A fascinating feature of the experiments in the desert is the realisation that these biological contacts with the cosmos are connected with the speed of light.

The suspicion is growing stronger that the plants are called up by someone in the constellation Epsilon Bootes at a hundred times the speed of light. That is also why radioastronomers could not register the transmissions. Why use a big drum when a kettledrum is available? Perhaps we have investigated interstellar contacts with the wrong instruments, the wrong wavelengths and the wrong spectrum until now. (p.194-5).

This is clearly very fringe science, if not actually pseudoscience of the type likely to get Richard Dawkins grinding his teeth. It also merges into a kind of New Age pantheism, in which the cosmos itself may be some kind of God or supreme intelligence. It’s all very different from what I was taught in secondary school that grass was a monocotolydon. That means, it only has one leaf. I also note that the experiments started in 1971, some six years after Simak published his novel. But scientists and novelists were discussing plant intelligence from the 1950s onwards, including the idea that they could feel pain. It’s now been found that plants do communicate biochemically, and there was an article in the papers last week stating that they do feel pain. Perhaps Lawrence’s ideas, or ideas similar to them, were being discussed several years before Lawrence conducted his experiments, and influenced Simak when he wrote his book.

Melanie Philips Criticised by Board of Deputies for Islamophobia Article in Jewish Chronicle

December 18, 2019

Oh the irony! Melanie ‘Mad Mel’ Phillips, Daily Mail hack, author, and determined opponent of anti-Semitism and Islamism, has been slapped down for an article she wrote in the Jewish Chronicle denying Islamophobia. According to her highly informed opinion (sarcasm), islamophobia is simply a made-up term used to close down criticism of the Islamic world, including Islamic extremism.

According to Zelo Street, without any trace of irony or self-awareness,  Phillips started the piece off by conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism. Anti-Zionism, she declared, was merely the latest mutation of anti-Semitism. The two, according to her, share ‘the same deranged, obsessive falsehoods, demonic conspiracy theory and double standards. It is furthermore an attack on Judaism itself, in which the land of Israel is an inseparable element.’ This is twaddle. Zelo Street points out that Zionism and Judaism certainly aren’t the same, because how else can you explain Christian Zionism? It’s a good question, especially as Christian and non-Jewish Zionism often stemmed from anti-Semitism. Many genuine anti-Semites and Fascists supported the foundation of a Jewish state as a way of clearing Jews out from their own countries. This attitude was so strong that, when one German aristocrat was approached by the Zionists c. 1920 and asked why he didn’t support the creation, he replied that he did, but didn’t want to make it public in case people thought he was an anti-Semite. The Nazis and other European Fascists considering setting up a Jewish homeland in Madagascar, and the were similar schemes among British Fascists for Uganda. This was succeeded by the infamous and short-lived Ha’avara Agreement between the Zionists and the Nazis, in which the Nazis smuggled Jewish settlers in Palestine, then under the British Mandate. But mentioning this, according to the Israel lobby in this country, means that you’re an anti-Semite. Look what happened to Mike when he did in his long piece defending Ken Livingstone, The Livingstone Delusion.

The identity of Zionism and Judaism is also highly dubious. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, such as the Haredi and True Torah Jews, passionately reject the state of Israel for religious reasons. They believe that Israel can only be founded by direct divine action through the Messiah. Modern Israel was founded by secular atheists, and so to them is an abomination. Before the Second World War, most Jews throughout the world, whether in America or Europe or wherever, simply wanted to be equal citizens of the countries, where they had lived for centuries, if not millennia. They regarded these as their real homelands.

As for the accusation that anti-Zionism is based on conspiracy theories, well, there is a mass of very strong evidence showing that the attacks on anti-Zionists and critics of Israel as anti-Semites are very much instigated and supported by the Israeli state through its Office of Strategic Affairs. And recognising that is very different from believing idiotic, murderous myths about the Jews controlling capitalism and trying to destroy the White race.

Philips then went on to declare that ‘Islamophobia’ was invented by the Muslim Brotherhood to mimic antisemitism’. Er, no. Zelo Street states that the term was invented before 1923, citing the article in Wikipedia, which suggests that the term was first used in a 1918 biography of the Prophet Mohammed by the painter Alphonse Etienne Dinet and the Algerian intellectual Sliman ben Ibrahim. The Muslim Brotherhood wasn’t founded until 1928. Philips then went on to claim that  “‘Islamophobia’ appropriates to itself the unique attribute of antisemitism – that it is deranged – in order falsely to label any adverse comment about the Islamic world as a form of mental disorder”. Zelo Street succinctly demolishes this absurd claim by stating that the term is simply used to describe anti-Muslim bigotry. Which is correct. I haven’t heard of anyone seriously suggesting that anti-Muslim prejudice is a form of mental illness, or demanding that those who allegedly suffer from it should somehow need psychiatric treatment to cure them. Philips then continued “The concept of ‘Islamophobia’ is thus profoundly anti-Jew. Islamophobia’ is not equivalent to antisemitism. It facilitates it”.

The Board of Deputies found these sentiments to be unpalatable, and issued the following statement in professed solidarity with Muslims and others suffering racism. the Jewish Chronicle’s “fearless journalism has been at the forefront of tackling antisemitism & its denial. The publication of this piece was an error. Anti-Muslim prejudice is very real & it is on the rise. Our community must stand as allies to all facing racism”.

The Muslim Council of Britain also wasn’t impressed. Zelo Street quote a tweet by Miqdad Versi, describing how the Jewish Chronicle has a lot of previous in stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment, especially with articles by Philips. Versi said

We should not be surprised by the Jewish Chroncile – it’s not the first time. When many Muslims were reeling after the massacre in Christchurch, they published a similar hate-filled piece by Melanie Phillips.They lied about the [MCB] & had to correct their lie … They lied about a Muslim charity, falsely linking it to terrorism, necessitating an apology and paying libel damages … When Baroness Warsi speaks up against Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, its editor tries to slur her … In one of a *number of articles* intending to undermine the definition of Islamophobia, it made false claims of links to extremism, about Professor Salman Sayyid, which it had to retract … This latest article is not a one-off but part of a pattern of behaviour – an editorial line on Muslim-related issues as the thread shows”. 

Zelo Street concludes that at least the Board of Deputies has called the Jewish Chronicle out on this one. It’s just a pity that it won’t have any effect on either Philips or the editor, Stephen Pollard.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/12/board-of-deputies-calls-out-jewish.html

I also find the Board’s statement somewhat hypocritical.

David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group stated in one of his articles that when he was growing up in the 1980s, the Board of Deputies did not want Jews such as himself attending any of the anti-racism marches or protests by organisations like Rock Against Racism. The ostensible reason was that they were trying to stop Jewish youth from hearing anti-Zionist propaganda. But others on the Left thought the real reason was simple racism on their part. Whatever the reason, some of the meetings held by Jewish anti-racists had to be held in non-Jewish venues, like Quaker meeting houses and church halls, because the Board forbade synagogues to allow them to meet there.

The Board of Deputies is a Zionist organisation. It’s in their constitution. And as such, it has absolutely no qualms accommodating real Islamophobes. Let’s take their mass demonstrations with the Chief Rabbi and the Jewish Labour Movement against Jeremy Corbyn last year or so. The former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has led a group of British Jews to participate in the annual March of the Flags in Jerusalem. This is when Israeli super-patriotic bovverboys parade through the city’s Muslim quarter waving the country’s flag, vandalising Arab property and terrorising the neighbourhood’s people. Liberal Jewish organisations asked Sacks not to go. But he went anyway. As far as I am aware, there was not a peep of criticism from the Board, and they were happy to join the attacks on Corbyn by Sacks and his successor, Ephraim Mirvis, who may also have participated in the March. I also remember that among the protesters was one young man wearing a Kach T-shirt. Kach are an Israeli far-right organisation, which was banned under their terrorism laws. I am similarly aware of no criticism of this man by the Board.

In my experience, the issue of the Palestinians looms very large amongst this country’s Muslims. I studied Islam at College in the 1980s and early ’90s. I once came across the equivalent of a Christian parish magazine put out by one of the mosques. Among its articles was coverage of the closure of a mosque and a nearby church by the Israeli authorities. The Israeli state has a policy of closing down unauthorised non-Jewish places of worship as part of the general pressure and discrimination against the Palestinians. And certain sections of the Muslim community in this country were very aware of it. My guess is that the mosque that published the article wasn’t alone in its concern for its coreligionists in the Holy Land, and that this attitude is general and persists to the present day. That does not mean that they all hate Jews or want to see Israel destroyed and its people massacred. It does mean, though, that they want the religious and ethnic persecution of the Palestinians stopped. But the Board of Deputies flings around accusations of anti-Semitism in order to stop criticism of Israel for its actions against the Palestinians.

If the Board of Deputies is really serious about standing in solidarity with Muslims against racism, then one excellent place would be to start protesting against the treatment of Muslims – and by extension Christians – in Israel.

Until that happens, the Board is just being hypocritical.

Boris Johnson Declared Islamophobia ‘Natural Reaction’ to Islam

November 28, 2019

Mike also put up another excellent piece, pointing out that while the Tories are misdirecting people to look for massively over-exaggerated anti-Semitism in the Labour party, they have been actively promoting hatred against Muslims. According to the magazine Business Insider, in 2005 our comedy prime minister wrote in the Spectator that

To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia — fear of Islam — seems a natural reaction, and, indeed, exactly what that text is intended to provoke. Judged purely on its scripture — to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques — it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers.

This was in the wake of the 7/7 London bombings, and Johnson questioned the loyalty of British Muslims and said that the country must realise that ‘Islam is the problem’.

Mike concludes ‘He’s not my prime minister. He is racist filth.’

Boris Johnson believes Islamophobia is a ‘natural reaction’ to Muslims. Let’s vote this racist OUT

No argument there from me, especially after Mates Jacobs has released a dossier of rabidly islamophobic, racist and anti-Semitic comments from the supporters of Jacob Rees-Mogg and our buffoonish Prime Minister. Not after Sayeeda Warsi has repeatedly demanding investigations into islamophobia in her party, and been condescendingly told that there’s little to worry about. Not when an inquiry into it has been pushed back after the General Election – presumably so that it won’t embarrass Johnson when it uncovers massive prejudice and hatred.

Now let’s put Johnson’s comments into their context. Many Brits understandably were worried about the possible danger from Islam after the 7/7 bombings on the London Underground and on buses. This was also a period when alienated Muslim youths marched through the street waving placards against the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, proclaiming that Islam would dominate the West and promising more violence and terrorism. But it is a mistake to claim that this alienation and rage represents true Islam, or comes from the pages of the Qu’ran.

In fact Islamism is the product of a distinct set of social and political circumstances. This includes the economic and political stagnation of Islamic societies, rising poverty and the bewilderment and dislocation felt by many Muslims to rapid modernisation. Some of the problems are due to the adoption of neoliberal economic programmes by secular Arab and Middle Eastern states, like Algeria, which have massively increased poverty. Some of it is a reaction to western colonialism and cultural and economic hegemony. And some of it is a response to real oppression by non-Muslim states around the world. Like there is massive discrimination and organised violence against Muslims, as well as Sikhs and Christians, by Hindu ultra-nationalists in India.

I studied Islam as part of my religious studies minor degree at College. Yes, Islam has expanded through violence and conquest, just as Christianity has. But it has also spread through peaceful contact and conversion. And the problems Islam is experiencing as it modernises aren’t unique to it. Christianity and the West experienced the same process in the 19th and 20th centuries. There were reactionaries in the Anglican Church in the 19th century, who were frightened of the extension of the franchise and political rights to Protestant Dissenters, Roman Catholics, and other religions. In the middle of the century the Papacy placed on its index of forbidden doctrines the idea that Roman Catholic countries should allow freedom of religion and conscience to non-Catholics. But now the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches as a whole very definitely are not anti-democratic, despite the attempts of General Franco and Roman Catholic clerico-Fascists during the Second World War. And aggressively atheist states like the Soviet Union have their own bloody history of intolerance. Religion was viciously persecuted in the USSR, and millions of people of faith, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or shamanist, were killed or imprisoned in the gulags for simply holding their beliefs. Nathan Johnson, surveying the vicious intolerance across secular, atheist as well as religious societies in his books on the mythology of New Atheism, has suggested that such intolerance may be part of human nature, rather than just unique to religion or a specific religion.

Islam also has a tolerant side. Christianity survived in the Balkans after the Turkish conquest because, when the Ottoman emperor wanted to force the Christian peoples to convert to Islam, the majlis, the assembly of Muslims scholars and jurists, told him it was specifically forbidden, for example. And even after the conquest, there were many areas in which Christian and Muslim lived side by side in peace. When Mike visited Bosnia after the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, he saw areas where churches and mosques had been built next to each other. Not the mark of an intolerant society, at least, not at that time.

Boris Johnson is, as Mike and so many others have repeatedly pointed out, a vicious racist. This is in sharp contrast to the Labour leader, who is a determined opponent of all forms of racism. Don’t believe him when he smears Labour as anti-Semitic.

And don’t let him get away with smearing Muslims. This is what the Tories are doing and have always done: manufacture hate against an out-group in order to gain power. They are doing it against the poor. They are doing it to the unemployed, to the disabled, to anybody, even working people, who claim benefits. And in the early part of the 20th century they did it to Jews. Now they’re doing it to Blacks, Asians and particularly Muslims.

A better world is possible. Reject the Tories and their prejudice and bigory, and vote for Corbyn and his anti-racism instead.

 

 

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!