THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

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Will France Ban Scientology? - Page 1 - The Daily Beast.

Cruise If Scientologists commit fraud, then let those individuals be convicted and punished. If that discredits a particularly loopy religion (in a hotly-contested field) then so be it. To ban the religion itself, however, would be a mistake. Religion thrives on oppression. When I first moved to Poland, church attendance was incredibly high. Throughout the Communist era, the church was the only public voice of opposition. Poles credited Pope John Paul II (with the help of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher) with the fall of Communism. By the time I left, 11 years later, attendances were falling to "normal" levels and (though Polish national identity is closely tied up with Catholicism) educated young people were becoming as anti-clerical as other modern Europeans.

Scientology itself is no more a "fraud" than Catholicism. Indeed, by comparison to the immensely wealthy Catholic Church, Scientology is a raw beginner at the delicate art of parting the credulous from their cash. If there is no God, then asking believers for money to support the infrastructure of any church and to keep the priesthood in parasitic existence on the gullible is "fraud". I mention Catholicism in particular both because this story is about France and because it is a church with a long record of strong opposition to competitors. Banning an heretical sect is quite mild by Catholicism's historical standards.

When believers in old religions mock followers of the new ones, they remind me of smokers and drinkers decrying more modern drugs. Cigarettes and booze are the same thing; they are simply hallowed by age and convention. The first followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the Buddha and the Prophet Mohammed were probably regarded with just as much derision as those of L. Ron Hubbard today. Viewed dispassionately, the tenets of the old faiths are no more plausible - and certainly no more verifiable - than Scientology's ludicrous, lucrative tales of space aliens.

Indeed, it seems to be a feature, not a bug, of religions to test "faith" (i.e. the ability to believe without proof) with crazy stories. Having crossed the desert with a caravan of camels, and experienced the hallucinations typically brought on by thirst, starvation and heat, Lawrence of Arabia observed it was no coincidence that the Middle East was where so many religions were founded. Mr Hubbard may have raised the bar on the faith test, but not much.

Ban one religion and, logically, you should ban all. Ironically, since any religion requires that all others be seen as fraud, you would have the support of most religious people if you did it one by one. There would be no point however. If neither the Inquisition nor the KGB could suppress one or all modes of religious belief, then no milder force is likely to succeed. Religious believers simply see repression as yet another test of their faith.

People are entitled to believe, and to persuade others to believe, what they wish. They are entitled to solicit donations or charge fees for religious rites, just as others are entitled to refuse with a laugh or a curse. In the end, the problem with accusing entire religions of "fraud" is that, while some followers may know (or suspect) they are living a lie, most don't. While the cynical may say that all victims of fraud are betrayed by their desire to believe something too good to be true (consider Socialists, for example) it's important that the "victims" here are willing. They could, if we are honest, easily be any of us.

France is making a mistake about Scientology. Her politicians and courts are in danger of accidentally playing the part of Pontius Pilate in converting a cult into a religion. No church that has Tom Cruise and John Travolta as respected "Elders" should be taken so seriously. It is below the dignity of the 
nation of Voltaire and Diderot to do so.

Cranmer on Brown

Cranmer: Cranmer reaches 60,000 unique visitors.

His Grace Archbishop Cranmer is celebrating a milestone in the history of his blog. Why not head on over and offer him congratulations? He is currently working on a sermon that might have been preached to the Prime Minister by his father, were he alive today. Judging by his "trailer", that should be good.

His Grace shall post again later. He is still working hard on the sermon he imagines that the Reverend John Brown might today preach to his son, the Prime Minister, whose ‘Presbyterian conscience’ appears to have been offended. One wonders what kind of conscience it is that can endure 12 years of spinning deception, Damian McBride and Derek Draper, the underselling of the nation's gold reserves, the theft of billions of pounds of pension reserves, the bringing of the nation to the brink of bankruptcy and the unrelenting erosion of our Christian liberties, but is suddenly 'offended' by the relatively trivial abuse of parliamentary allowances.
The Prime Minister's decision to 'do God' over this issue not only shames Presbyterianism, it offends against God and would appal the Reverend John Brown who fully understood what it meant to be Christian.

If Archbishop Cranmer says so, I shall not doubt it. As my readers know, I am even further from being religious than my illustrious namesake, but I always enjoy His Grace's writing. I look forward to this particular sermon as a rare treat.

Fitna, judge for yourself while you still have the right

It's not a good movie. It's not well-conceived or well made. I am perfectly aware that one could easily make a similar film about Christianity, given all the hatred and violence that particular religion has also inspired. However, I believe you have the perfect right to make that anti-Christian film if you wish. Many have.

Frankly, I am disappointed by all the people in the media and the blogosphere ready to denounce Fitna sight unseen. Its maker had the right to make it and you have the right to judge it for yourself. So here it is. Please feel free to explain in the comments why it is as unfair a portrayal of Islam and the Koran as we all must hope.

If you are a blogger and believe in freedom of expression, please consider posting it on your own site.

Adopt sharia law in Britain, says the Archbishop

Link: Adopt sharia law in Britain, says the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams - Telegraph.

The responses to the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech are more troubling than his words. Emotion has been exceeded only by ignorance. Khalid Mahmood, the Muslim Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, outrageously said:

This is very misguided. There is no half-way house with this... What part of sharia law does he want?  The sort that is practised in Saudi Arabia, which they are struggling to get away from?

Given the gentle tenor of the Archbishop's actual comments, this is demagoguery. The Prime Minister also appears on this matter (as many others) a complete idiot:

The Prime Minister believes British law should apply in this country, based on British values

said his official spokesman. This, despite the fact that there is no such thing as "British Law"( I leave, for the moment, the more difficult question of whether there is any such thing as a "British value.")

I am a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England & Wales, qualified to advise only on the laws of that jurisdiction. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own, entirely different, legal systems. They are just as alien to me, as a lawyer, as is Russia where I live and work.

There are three families of legal system in the world; Common Law, Civil Law and Islamic Law. England & Wales is (I know it sounds wrong, but "is" is right in this context) a common law jurisdiction. Indeed England is the mother of all common law jurisdictions. Scotland is a civil law state. The most important common law jurisdiction in the world today, the United States of America, has a civil law state operating efficiently within it.

Yet philosophically, the division between the Common Law and the Civil Law may be more profound than that between Christianity and Islam. All of which is interesting (at least to me) but as irrelevant to what the Archbishop said as is the existence (angrily condemned by bloggers unaware they had operated quietly for centuries) of the Beth Din Jewish Courts. As the website of the London Beth Din explains:

In Jewish Law, Jewish parties are forbidden to take their civil disputes to a secular court and are required to have those disputes adjudicated by a Beth Din. The LBD sits as an arbitral tribunal in respect of civil disputes and the parties to any such dispute are required to sign an Arbitration Agreement prior to a Hearing taking place. The effect of this is that the award given by the Beth Din has the full force of an Arbitration Award and may be enforced (with prior permission of the Beth Din) by the civil courts.

That Jews, between themselves, submit disputes to such courts, is no more a threat to our legal order than the secular arbitation courts designed for speedy settlement of commercial disputes. Parties who submit to such courts agree, as a matter of contract, to accept their decisions. The public courts enforce their awards just as they would enforce other agreements. There is no harm in it; no threat to any unique "British values." Indeed, a more sophisticated Brit might think allowing people to order their own affairs was at the core of "British values." No such private arrangement can supplant or override our laws. Any attempt to do so would be overruled on appeal to the public courts.

None of these arrangements, of course, apply to criminal law. The Crown (our quaint personification of the British state) is a party to all criminal cases. When I am eventually prosecuted (as must happen to us all if our authoritarian government continues to make one new crime per day) Her Majesty will prosecute me in her own courts.

Welsh_godbothererThe Archbishop has raised a firestorm, but he advocated nothing more than an Islamic Beth Din. Since (a) this already exists (without the sky falling), (b) the laws of our lands cannot be overridden by it, and (c) it has nothing to do with criminal law, the current Sharia "hand-chopping" hysteria is misplaced. As Dr Williams said in the radio interview, "choice" is important. As long as Muslims can choose to go to the public courts, there is simply no story. Move along now. Nothing to see.

The full text of the unkempt Welsh God-botherer's speech (and a recording of the radio interview which set the blogosphere "off on one") is here. I challenge my more heated blogging colleagues to read it and retract their inflammatory remarks.

Regular readers know that I hate multiculturalism. My culture is entitled to prevail in its native land. Newcomers should respect as I have learned to respect and admire the cultures of the other countries in which I have lived and worked Nor I am any friend of Islamism. I applauded this week in Paris as a French philosopher described it as "the third fascism" (for such it is). But if we criticise Muslims wildly and without justification, we may lose the most important argument of our lives. This is an argument on which the future of our civilisation may depend. We must be honest and true if our criticisms are to prevail.

I have to admit that Dr Williams' naievety is troubling. He is the leader of an evangelistic religion which believes there is only "one way" to God, through Jesus. Why, rather than evangelise the Muslims amongst us, does he pander to them so? How can such an intelligent man so often fail to anticipate the effect of his words? Is he completely out of touch with his confused flock, so badly in need of his leadership?

Perhaps, though, all this is consistent with his faith. After all, Christians, unlike Muslims, follow a naïf.

Clarity at Christmas?

Link: seasons_greetings.swf (application/x-shockwave-flash Object).

Christmas_2007I guess this London law firm (follow link above) is simply making a seasonal joke about its marketing tagline - Clarity Matters - but this sort of thing still mildly gets my goat. Had they wished me "Happy Hannukah" or "Happy Eid" (as some very politically correct business contacts have done) I would not have been at all offended.

I am happy these days to have a happy anything. Happily, I can't see how someone wishing me to be happy could make me any more unhappy than I might otherwise happen to be. I cheerfully wished a Muslim friend in Russia "Happy Christmas" when we parted and he did not seem remotely bothered.  Why should he be? I was merely being pleasant and surely intention counts for something? Yes, in my moment of bonhomie, I had forgotten what religion he is, but it's hardly a topic of conversation with us. Indeed, I am only assuming he's a Muslim because 99.99% of his countrymen are. Maybe I am wrong? Either way, no sane person cares.

Few of us may be practising Christians in England now, but Christianity and its festivals are part of national life. Generations of Christians worked to make it that way, so - while modern Christians could take offence at the (from their point of view) insincerity of our casual references to their Saviour - they are not in a position to complain. If people of other faiths are offended by expressions of goodwill couched in superficially religious terminology, it is hardly in the best spirit of the inter-faith dialogue religious leaders are always promoting.

Blogging is going to be light here for the next few days as my family and I will be travelling. It's my youngest's 18th (she shares her birthday with Jesus Christ) and we plan to celebrate in style. I hope that you all enjoy your holiday celebrations with family and friends. As an atheist, perhaps I have no right to say so but - with the very best of kind intentions -  I wish you all a very merry Christmas (click card to enlarge).

An atheist, grateful for God

Icon_thumbnail Years ago, I visited the monastery at Czestochowa in Poland - the home of the famous Black Madonna. Be-camera'd and in full tourist fig, I sauntered unthinkingly through a door and found myself among the faithful at prayer. I have never forgotten the moment. Coming from secular Britain, religious fervour was new to me - and scary. To be fair, if I could believe in something so extraordinary as a loving, omnipotent Deity, I would be fervent too. When faith is, rarely, encountered in Britain, it is polite and tepid. That makes no sense. How can one be lukewarm about God? If He exists, nothing else matters.

During Communist times in Poland the Catholic Church offered the only alternative world view. It  eventually played a vital role in the fall of Communism. Poles credit Pope John Paul II for that (plus President Reagan and Baroness Thatcher) more than their under-appreciated hero, Lech Walesa.

The Catholic Church in Poland never submitted to the Communist State in quite the same way as the Russian Orthodox Church. In Russia the Church had always been subordinate to the secular power of the Tsar. Not that the Tsars weren't devout. Ivan the Terrible spent so much time in daily prayer that there was scarcely the time for all his murder and mayhem. However, there was no doubt who was boss. In the cathedrals, the Tsar's throne was closer to the most sacred part than that of the Patriarch.

The church in Russia was ruthlessly suppressed by Lenin and Stalin. Churches were demolished; priests exiled to Siberia or sent to their God. Sometimes, even under Communism, old people would return to the open practice of religion. The Party's power over them as individuals waned as death approached. In a State where all resources and opportunities were allocated by the Party, no younger person could afford such risk. Yet, every morning as my car waits at traffic lights by a church, I see people crossing themselves as they pass by. Their actions seem natural, casual, even unthinking. Were they furtively doing that during Communism?

Dscn0635_thumbnailYesterday, at one of the holiest sites of the Russian Orthodox Church I relived my Czestochowa experience. The monastery was business-like enough. Tours were permitted only under paid guidance. The ticket office sold camera permits (a real bargain at £2, with a free CD of church music thrown in). The official guide was devout. She bowed, made the sign of the Cross, kissed reliquaries with a peculiar motion I noticed among the worshippers (wiping the kiss away with a downward stroke of the forehead). However she gave us her talk as worshippers were at their devotions around us. We attracted some irritated glances.

I was embarrassed and my wife even more so. Expecting more of a museum than a functioning monastery, she had brought no headscarf. She was the only uncovered woman. Around us, Russians of all ages were at prayer. We stood awkwardly in the communion line for a while, before leaving abruptly. It just felt wrong to be an unbelieving tourist in the midst of such ardent faith.

Yesterday I realised that - while I cannot myself - I am glad that others can believe in God. I am glad for them because it is a comfort in life's troubles. I am also glad for the rest of us. The believers' faith is a fortress no  State power can ever conquer. If you want a religion to die, ignore it. The most powerful repression, however, will only make it stronger.

There are signs in Britain that our leftist Establishment is girding itself up for an attack on religion. The row over gay adoption gave rise to hostile, even contemptuous, statements from our secular leaders. Attacks from the intellectual Establishment are more and more aggressive. With all respect to our believers, I hope these intemperate attacks continue. They can only strengthen religious belief. A free society needs many groups and individuals prepared to stand up for their beliefs. It does not need a homogenous mass of people who submit to force or fashion.

Dscn0645_thumbnail I do not share their belief, but when I encounter people who stand firm in the face of repression, how can I fail to be impressed? As Britain continues on her path to a police state, we need a wide range of people who are variously motivated to resist. Every Church, synagogue, temple or mosque can be a source of intolerance and reaction. It can also help balance secular power. There is, objectively, no more totalitarian vision than that of the monotheistic religions. Fortunately, their all-powerful leader is not of this world. He need not trouble the rest of us much as he goes about inspiring His people to stand firm against earthly powers.

Dr. Arif Ahmed

Link: Faculty of Philosophy: Dr Arif Ahmed. my person of the month. Here's why. Well said, that man although - to quibble slightly - I don't think we should feel free to mock the over-sensitive only when their beliefs are "...a tissue of superstition and prejudice..."

In a free society, one should sometimes mock beliefs just for fun, if only to test them, or to harden the believers up for life as free men. They will thank us for it one day, when they are no longer mullah-struck victims clinging to the apron strings of the Nanny State.

Boris and the other Turkey

Link: Telegraph newspaper online.

I so rarely disagree with Boris Johnson that I hesitate to do so now, fearing I may be wrong. I would like to think I am. His vision of reconciliation is fine in its Christian idealism. His line on Turkey and the EU is seductive. I fear that both are misguided.

There is certainly an attraction to integrating a leading Muslim nation into a Western club for democracies. But Turkey will never be a beacon of hope for the Muslim world, or for anyone, while those who tell the truth about its history are imprisoned at best and murdered at worst. The legacy of Ataturk may be crumbling. "Militant Islam," aka "Islamism" seems to be growing in strength there. Pace Boris, we should see where that story leads before leaping into bed with his family's former homeland.

Which religion?

Given my view as stated in my previous post on religious belief (my second most popular item), i.e. that my values are derived from my Christian heritage, the results of this "pop quiz" are surprising. I can understand that it doesn't score me as an atheist. For it to do that, I would have to have faith in my own ability to know everything. If I had that amount of faith, I could have the false comforts of religion. The doubts it detects are so vanishingly small that "atheist" is still a more honest description.

But it makes no sense that it assesses me as being further from Christianity than Buddhism or Islam. Maybe I have firmer views against the doctrines with which I am familiar? Or maybe the quiz-setter is a Christian and is better at identifying his own brand of unbeliever? Please give the quiz a try and let me know what you think.

I still maintain that I am an atheist, but that the "theism" I am "a" is Christianity. H/T The Blogpower Headmaster

You are an agnostic. Though it is generally taken that agnostics neither believe nor disbelieve in God, it is possible to be a theist or atheist in addition to an agnostic. Agnostics don't believe it is possible to prove the existence of God (nor lack thereof).

Agnosticism is a philosophy that God's existence cannot be proven. Some say it is possible to be agnostic and follow a religion; however, one cannot be a devout believer if he or she does not truly believe.



















Which religion is the right one for you? (new version)
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