30 December 2007

I haven’t posted about religion for a while.

Here is a story of Christians scuffling in Bethlehem. Religion, eh.

And here is an article by Jeremy Clarkson in today’s Sunday Times which I enjoyed.


10 October 2007

Months ago I wrote about Kareem Amer, a blogger of Egypt who was jailed for four years. I explained then why he was jailed:

Why? Officially, for insulting Islam and the president of Egypt. What exactly did he do? He has a blog and on it he criticised the president of Egypt and what he sees as the sectarianism and sexism of the state-financed Azhar University, and criticised the attack by some Muslims on a Christian church in Alexandria. He has criticised violence and dictatorship.

He is still in jail.

We should not let this go. We should not weary of this. The Egyptian regime is hoping we tire and forget. Send an email to the Egyptian ambassador in London protesting against Kareem’s continuing imprisonment. The email address is The address for letters is Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt, 26 South Street, London, W1k 1DW.

Everyone who writes a blog or reads one should stand up for Kareem and free speech.

There is a website Free Kareem. It has a section with addresses and sample letters here.


9 October 2007

Here are two articles, by Libby Purves and Andrew O’Hagan, which ooze civilised sense about the nature of religious and philosophic tolerance and the importance of live-and-let-live and not imposing your beliefs upon others. I wholly agree with their sentiments.

The news from Christians has been dispiriting of late. The Anglican church has, as far as I can see, gone along with those who think homosexual acts are evil and damned in their Bible and that homosexual committed partnerships cannot be recognised in their churches and homosexuals cannot be Anglican mahoffs. Francisco Chimoio, Catholic archbishop in Mozambique, has said condoms from two unnamed countries of Europe are deliberately infected with HIV, unbelievable views which leave me speechless. And here’s an item from Nicaragua on the effects of a Catholic prohibition on abortion.

Mehr Licht, said the dying Goethe. I think liberals should also take to heart his other words, Ohne hast aber ohne Rast.


20 September 2007

Last week the Labour government and several religions in Britain put out a document, Faith in the system. This supports more tax-funded faith schools. See the document here and the launch here.

Some children are sent to different schools at age five because of their parents’ genuine or claimed religious beliefs. We are told that this segregation fosters community cohesion. This view is drivelling nonsense.

Religiously segregating people doesn’t promote social cohesion. It is divisive. You do not increase mutual understanding through segregation; you do not unite people by separating them; you do not get cohesion and integration in society by religious apartheid. Indeed, is not segregation more likely to lead to failures of understanding and to social disunity?

Cohesion and a sense of common belonging are better fostered in education by having children learn and play alongside one another every day and experience their differences and, more importantly, the many things that they share in common. That mutatis mutandis applies to the adult world too.

This week the Commission for Racial Equality, about to be subsumed in a new all-embracing commission, published a final report, A lot done, a lot to do. In that they say that “our society is fracturing” and “segregation – residentially, socially, and in the workplace – is growing.” They do not examine whether religiously segregated education places a part in that fracturing. The new commission should.

Incidentally, a recent report by Rebecca Allen and Anne West shows that faith schools in London select a disproportion of pupils from better-off homes.


5 April 2007

The Christian organisation Tearfund has published research undertaken for it in February and March in 2006. Seven thousand adults (aged sixteen and over) in the UK were asked about their church attendance and belief.

53 percent said they were Christian (the question asked which religion they belonged to); 6 percent belonged to other religions; and 39 percent had no religion.

Tentatively applied to Cornwall these Tearfund figures suggest there are now about 160 000 non-religious adults in Cornwall and about 60 000 regular churchgoers.

The report draws attention to the difference between its data on claimed Christian belief and that of the 2001 census (53 percent–72 percent); the latter was presumably measuring undifferentiatedly both real belief (belonging to a religion) and nominal association with Christianity. The Tearfund survey notes the findings similar to its own of the British social attitudes survey of 2004 (BSAS). Both the Tearfund and BSAS data give much larger proportions for the non-religious than the 2001 census which gave a figure of sixteen percent.

I think that there is an issue here for the office for national statistics (ONS). What are the religion figures in the census intended to represent? How is that best elicited from respondents? The data thrown up by the census seems to maximise any connection, however insubstantial or ambiguous, with Christianity. What figures about religion should national policies be based on?

The Tearfund report is here.

On 19 March the House of Commons voted for the regulations outlawing sexual orientation discrimination by 310-100; on 21 March the House of Lords rejected a fatal amendment by 168-122 and then agreed the regulations.

On 19 March Julia Goldsworthy (Liberal Democrat MP for Falmouth and Camborne) voted for the regulations, Colin Breed (Liberal Democrat MP for SE Cornwall) voted against them. The other three Cornwall MPs were absent or abstained (it isn’t possible to tell which from parliamentary publications).

See Hansard: Commons 19 March column 647, Lords 21 March column 1289.

On 7 March 2007 the department for communities published the Sexual Orientation Regulations which outlaw discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in the provision of goods and services. They come into effect on 30 April unless voted down.

The excellent aspect is that religions have not been exempted as they demanded. Remember the arguments about a Catholic adoption society.The National Secular Society website quotes Ruth Kelly, the secretary for communities, saying that religious organisations that provide a public service on behalf of a public authority, will not be allowed under the Regulations to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation.

Despite the exemptions given in parts to religionists to discriminate, the Equality Act will soon be wholly in place and that is welcome progress.


18 March 2007

…but today let me look farther away.

First, Kareem Amer was sentenced to four years imprisonment in Egypt last month. Why? Officially, for insulting Islam and the president of Egypt. What exactly did he do? He has a blog and on it he criticised the president of Egypt and what he sees as the sectarianism and sexism of the state-financed Azhar University, and criticised the attack by some Muslims on a Christian church in Alexandria. He has criticised violence and dictatorship.

Four years for free speech. Everyone who blogs or reads them should think about this. Here is a young man who is exercising freedom of thought and expression and is putting forward views that are routine in the democratic west. In any case it does not matter whether one agrees with his views or not, the issue is free speech. It is gratifying that several Muslims have bravely supported him though they disagree with his views.

We should support him. Visit the website,

And westward, on 12 March 2007 Pete Stark, a Democrat member for California in of the house of representatives in the USA, has said he does not believe in a supreme being. He is the first American congressman to say he is a nontheist. Since religious belief, or profession of it, is commonly held to be necessary to get elected to government in America, Stark’s declaration is courageous. It will be fascinating to see whether the other rationalists in Congress come out and what happens to them.