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Sunday, 27 November 2011

Have I changed?

I have not posted anything here for a while.  rather busy with other things, and contented myself with contributing (hopefully constructive) comments on others' blogs.  But I find I again need an outlet for my thoughts, in a place where I will not cause offence as a 'guest' on someone else's blog.
It's interesting, and sometimes embarrasing, to look back ver all my old posts.  But it's also encouraging.  I think I have learned something over the past couple of years, and that's pleasing...

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Why I have stopped participating in religous blog discussions

To those of you who have been used in the past to my comments on various blogs for which religious belief is at the heart, I have decided that it serves so little purpose as to be a waste of time.  Most of the mainstream blogs are close knit communities of likeminded belevers, who use these blogs to reassure themselves of their faith.  They usually only welcome 'civilised' non-believers as guests in order to reinforce their own sense of belonging - It's harder to remain cohesive unless there are 'outsiders' to fend off. 

Too many times when atheists have commented and produced strong arguments against what they see as illogical or unsustainable views, the faithful band together and become ever more illogical and fervent in defending the undefendable.

However, my participation has resulted in some helpful  (to me) outcomes;
  • I am even better informed about religious belief in general, and the various forms of Christianity in particular.
  • I think I have a clearer understanding of what it is that makes many people more prone to belief in supernatural cause/influence/purpose
  • I have gained a greater understanding and acceptance of what it is to be a Humanist
  • I am convinced that there is no higher purpose to life.  This is all there is. And it no longer troubles me

Belief in Conspiracies - and God...

"To have a strong belief that the Bilderberg Group is a band of secret conspirators set on World domination means believing in a fantasy," says Aaronovich. "It suggests that there are people - like God - acting as a higher power. And it replaces the intolerable thought that there's nothing at work at all, that the world is chaotic. It may be a form of therapy but it has people believing in an anti-scientific message."
Just so...

Monday, 7 March 2011

Time flies...

Now I'm back at work almost full time I find I just don't have the time or energy to blog. Maybe a new resolution to find time each day is required - but I don't feel the same need.  Do many of us blog because we have time to fill; and because we need more intellectual stimulus in the absence of that generated by work?

Friday, 25 February 2011

The New Morality: Kill the Woman, Save the Fetus

I've been following a lot of the anti-abortion threads on Catholic blogs recently.  Here's a contrasting view that I found interesting:

The New Morality: Kill the Woman, Save the Fetus

By JAC

February 24, 2011 - 6:30pm

The new morality astounds me. In order to protect a fetus no act is too dire. Speaking from new “pulpits” in Congress and State legislatures, proponents of the "culture of life" are proposing new methods to circumvent federal law, Constitutional rights and human decency. While claiming to want smaller, less expansive, less intrusive government, these new bills encroach on families’ lives in here-to-fore unimaginable ways. They are twisting the screws so that pro choice advocates will agree to untenable compromises in the hope of saving cherished programs.

This happened during the health care debate with the Stupak Amendment. In order to derail health care, very restrictive abortion measures were proposed. To save health care, compromise was made on these and now it appears that in many states (too numerous to mention - SC is the latest) it will be impossible for women to have insurance, even privately paid from their own wallets, that will cover abortion. Is the real agenda with the Pence Amendment to Defund Planned Parenthood to make Senate Democrats compromise even more on women’s health? Make no mistake when Planned Parenthood loses funding many women and men will lose their access to health care. These funds covered preventative health screenings and visits. The costs to health care both on a state and federal fund will drive up the deficit that Republicans claim that they want to lower. Babies will be born with health issues that will be with them their whole lives as their parents did not receive prenatal care. Is this caring for the born? If one truly believes in life and the sanctity of life, then providing for these unborn is a priority. Oh, also once they are born, they have to be given health care. How can you defund health care and provide it for the culture of life?

The latest measure in Nebraska, the home of the hostile-to-women-land, is the justifiable homicide one. While this was tabled in South Dakota, Nebraska's legislature has decided it is a good idea. In this one, it is legal to kill anyone who might harm a fetus. So a person who sees a pregnant woman go into a clinic may kill her if he thinks that harm might occur to her fetus. While it might not be the same as stoning a married woman who was accused of adultery, it strongly invokes a feeling of the same mindset.

In the same vein in Georgia, there is proposed legislation to create "uterus police," who would be in charge of investigating any miscarriages, which would be renamed "prenatal murders." A woman undergoing the trauma of a miscarriage would now be subject to an investigation to see if she caused the miscarriage, and possibly be charged with murder. Another violation of the HIPAA Act which protects patient rights and privacy, and another intrusion into women's personal lives.

In South Dakota, there is a frightening proposal that seems to be crossing the line of separation of religion and state (Constitutional issue), the line of privacy between a doctor and patient (government intrusion into a private relationship between a woman and her doctor), and the line between government and the individual. This law boggles the mind. A volunteer or staff person (not a trained professional) would determine a woman’s state of mind when she has decided to have a legal abortion. This same untrained person would have access to a woman’s private medical history. This same untrained person may use a religious argument and try to impose her religious thoughts on the patient. Church-based control of a woman’s right make her own reproductive choices are set forth in this law.

We are confronting a new world where the right to choose for women is under constant assault. We are confronting a new world where it may be legal to kill the woman to save the fetus and once that is done there will be no one to take care of the fetus, if the fetus survives. We are confronting a new world where a woman has no right to medical privacy and where doctors no longer make medical decisions about a woman’s health. We are confronting a world, where established law is being chipped away and where soon abortions will no longer be legal for rich or for poor. We are confronting a new world that screams for all of us to stop the lunacy. Women are not the enemy - these new laws are. These proposed laws take away every one's freedoms. Will yours be next?

Gail Yamner
President, JACPAC

Friday, 18 February 2011

Freedom: secularism's gift to the world

Interesting article by Tom Flynn over at The Washington Post which provides food for thought:

Freedom: secularism's gift to the world

In light of the continuing political uprising throughout the Middle East, American leaders are reported to be recalculating their approach to the Muslim world.

Politico's Ben Smith wrote this week that the Obama administration "clearly sees an opportunity," signaling "that they're hoping the changes in Tunisia and Egypt spread, and that they're going to align themselves far more clearly with the young, relatively secular masses" in countries like Iran, Algeria and Lebanon.

Is this a new moment for American relations with Muslim countries? Is freedom a religious or secular idea?

Much as I may be setting myself up for later disappointment (I felt euphoric after Obama said he'd close Guantanamo too), I feel hugely encouraged by the popular revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and [insert the name of your favorite Arab country here]. For decades there seemed to be only two live possibilities in the Arab world: secular authoritarianism or some flavor of Islamic radicalism. Or in the case of Turkey, a prolonged slide from possibility number one to possibility number two. Of course America has repeatedly found itself siding with authoritarian despots because they were secular. Tunisia and Egypt mark the emergence of a third way that for too long seemed out of reach in that corner of the world: an impulse toward reform that's secular and free.

That combination should surprise no one. Secularism has its roots at least in part in the Western Enlightenment, which is where most of our concepts about freedom got their start. Almost without exception, these evolved in opposition to the dominant religion of their day, which was Christianity.

Of course, Christianity shares with the other Abrahamic religions its concept of a god patterned on ancient kings and of a spiritual realm organized on the plan of royal courts. Human beings stand to Yahweh, God, or Allah as peasants before a king. Everyone knows that in Arabic Islam means "submission," but traditional Christianity and Judaism are little different in their picture of a deity before whom men and women have no rights save those the occupant of the throne of heaven condescends to grant them. (Actually, that's a pretty fair summary of the Christian concept of grace.)

The simple fact is that across the Christian and Muslim worlds, almost every concept we associate with freedom arose in reaction to Abrahamic religion, beginning with the once-radical notion that kings might, just might, not rule by the will of God. Ever since, the ideas that fueled the development of freedom have come from what we would now identify as the secularist camp. That's not to deny the possibility of back-fertilization; sometimes religions can genuinely absorb secular ideals of freedom (witness liberation theology in the Catholic Church in the 1960s and 1970s). But secularism, not faith, has been the historic crucible of freedom.

Of course that doesn't mean that every secularist is a freedom fighter. Mubarak is only the latest counter-example. But while not every secularist fights for freedom, I would argue that if you find a freedom fighter, scratch deep enough and you're almost bound to find a secularist.

Freedom may be the biggest idea secularism ever gave the world.

By Tom Flynn
February 15, 2011; 1:43 PM ET

Is Therapy the New Religion?

I am embarking on a course in psychotherapeutic counselling, which will take me through the next 3 years part time, while I continue with with my present occupation.  I've been reading some of the set books in preparation, and I was struck by a rhetorical question posed by one of the authors in his introduction: "Is Therapy the New Religion?"

He does not answer the question, but leaves us to make up our own minds.  During the first year our focus will be on hypnotherapy.  I have to admit to starting out as a sceptic, but, having read some of the materials and had a few misconceptions dispelled,  I think I could be persuaded that it is indeed a valid vehicle by which to dispense treatment.  I have become aware that even I, the eternal scpetic, has been subject to mental states that could merit the description of hypnosis.  Being able to bypass the self censoring nature of our normal conscious selves is indeed extraordinary, and I can understand why it should be so effective.  I wonder why it continues to receive such a negative press?  Does it offend the religious, or the conservative scientists, or whoever?

Ah well.  More on this as I learn more...

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Justice: Lectures by Harvard's Prof. Michael Sandel on BBC4

Wow!  Just watched the 3rd in this series of 8 programmes on UK BBC4 on Prof Sandel's harvard lectures on Justice.  This one was on "A Lesson in Lying", with particular reference to Kant's absolute view that lying is always wrong.  Do watch it if you can - and I intend to watch all the others.  So far we've had Murder, Cannibalism and Measuring Pleasure.  Four more to come.  Can't wait!...

This and other programmes in the series can be seen at:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/tv/seasons/justiceseason/

I do hope those outside the UK can also see them.  Great food for the mind!

Monday, 14 February 2011

What is Love?

Well, it's February 14th, and that commercial feeding frenzy that is St. Valentine's Day, is in full swing, with men scurrying to petrol stations to buy absurdly expensive red roses, and stores trying to shift the last of their Valentine's Cards and tacky gifts.  I find it all very sad.  Such over hyped expectations; such inevitable disappointment.  I would wish for a return to a simple re-affirmation of one's love for those by whom one is loved in return.  It's so easy to take those nearest and dearest for granted.  And to realise it too late to prevent the catastrophe which often follows.  I speak from bitter experience.

But what is 'Love' anyway?  It's a much overused word, and can mean so many different things.  I remember as a boy my favourite sermon was the one about "...There remain Faith, Hope and Love, but the greatest of these is Love" The word Love has been changed to "Charity" in more recent versions, but it does not have the same cadence and depth of meaning.  But 'Love' can mean just about anything to anybody.  Maybe we should try harder to find different words to express different emotions and desires.

And is the passion between two people who share their lives together 'contra mundum' really love at all in any sense other than in that very personal specific singular relationship?  It certainly seems to me to be unique in causing so much mental pain and suffering.  Again, I speak from experience, both recent and in the past.  As I write this the heartbreak I feel is real.  Its like a physical pain in my chest, combined with a feeling of emptiness and despair.  And like depression, I cannot convince myself that one day I will no longer feel it, even though I know this logically to be almost a certainty.  How can she now transfer all her love to someone else when I still love her so passionately and totally.  Unrequited love is the most painful experience of all.  And the greatest irony is that when I was unreliable and let her down she was more keen on me than when I changed my ways and became a model partner.  Humans seem destined to crave that which they cannot have, but if and when they attain it they no longer want it. 
All around me where I sit writing this I see happy couples laughing and feeling love, and loved in return.  I miss it all the more.
Life's such a painful, frustrating and absurd experience.  I shall not miss life.

Later:  Just saw the following post by Alain de Botton on the BBC website.  I guess one could say that what he writes is not new, but it's helpful to be reminded, particularly what he writes about 'unrequited love':
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12404332

Sunday, 13 February 2011

"The Definition of Sin in One Sentence"?

Over at 'Mad Priest's blog I was looking through some of the sermons he has written.  One in particular caught my eye.  It's called: "The Definition of Sin in One Sentence"  After a broad examination of what constitues 'Sin' the sermon concludes as follows:


My definition of sin in one sentence: “Any action, or inaction, by a human being that causes harm to a living creature."
That includes harm to another person or to ourselves. It includes abuse of the animal kingdom and even the environment because when we damage God’s creation we cause harm to ourselves and the animals we share this planet with. We know that.
This is my moral code and when I am faced with a moral problem I apply this code. For example, promiscuity causes mental and physical harm in so many cases that to engage in it must be regarded as a sin. Two people, of any persuasion, living together in love, caring for the other and being faithful to each other, causes no harm to anybody, and nothing, not even holy scripture is going to make me think otherwise.
If this definition of sin was my idea, then I could be accused of merely coming up with an arbitary set of rules to suit myself. The very thing that I accuse so many other people of. However, I cannot claim ownership. I got it from that bloke. You know the one. He kept going on about loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself. How they were the only commandments that we needed in life. My pithy little definition of sin is based so obviously on those commandments that I really ought to be paying him royalties.


Take out belief in God and isn't this exactly what Humanists believe.  Well, yes it is.  God is not necessary for this conclusion.  I cannot think of any really material difference in the outlook of mainstream Christians and mainstream Humanists except for the Christian attribution of 'everything' to God, and their adherence to some frankly odd behaviour demanded by those who wrote their Holy book.
My thanks to Mad Priest. The original sermon is at: http://jh002a0382.typepad.com/madpriests_bog_standard_s/