Tuesday, September 28, 2010

LGBT teen suicide in the UK

Just in case you think this is only an American problem, it happens in the UK too.

Here's a few articles:

And remember that what the media reports is only the tip of the iceberg.

Check out the It Gets Better Project for inspiring videos from LGBT people showing that life really does get better after you leave school.  There's also a great video from a straight woman saying how she has loads of LGBT friends and celebrates their sexuality.

Monday, September 27, 2010

It gets better video

My effort for the It Gets Better Project. It's not the best video ever made, but it is my first ever YouTube video.

Supporting Teen LGBTs

Many UU churches have LGBT teen support groups. There are some excellent resources on being a welcoming congregation for LGBT people on the UUA's Welcoming Congregations section.

I think at least one church in the UK has placed a LGBT rainbow flag outside their church. This is a widely-recognised sign of being LGBT-friendly. Also, at least one UK Unitarian church hires their premises to the Metropolitan Community Church. Another thing you can do is to arrange to talk to your local university's LGBT group about liberal religion - where I live, the local MCC minister has done this and I hope to do a talk this term. Reaching LGBT teens is harder because they are more isolated - but you could offer to do a talk at your local school.

Standing on the Side of Love has a section for congregational resources.

In the 1970s, Golders Green Unitarians held meetings of Integroup, a sharing group for LGBT people and allies. Dudley Cave, who was a member at GGU, was a founding member of the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard.

Stonewall also has excellent resources for schools.

Other resources

Saturday, September 25, 2010

It Gets Better

Recently the media has been paying more media attention to teen LGBT suicides.

In response to this, Dan Savage has started a YouTube channel, "It Gets Better".

Nine out of 10 gay teenagers experience bullying and harassment at school, and gay teens are four times likelier to attempt suicide. Many LGBT kids who do kill themselves live in rural areas, exurbs, and suburban areas, places with no gay organizations or services for queer kids. (...)

I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.

But gay adults aren't allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don't bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.

Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don't have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.

So here's what you can do, GBVWS: Make a video. Tell them it gets better.

This deserves wide publicity, so please blog about it, tweet it, and post it on Facebook.

(via Geeky Sex and sexgenderbody)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Who controls the weather?

It has often been a source of bemusement to me that fundies think God controls the weather, and uses extreme weather events to smite unbelievers, gays and liberals.

When it suits them, they claim that God was responsible for the Haiti earthquake (smiting the Vodouisants), the flooding of New Orleans (smiting the city for being nice to gays), and so on.

On the other hand, when the Boscastle flood destroyed the Christian bookshop but spared the Witchcraft Museum, they claimed the Devil was controlling the weather.

So which is it, fundies? You can't have it both ways.

I think you'll find that the weather is not controlled by a supernatural being, but is an emergent chaotic system.

As the Bible points out: the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike (Matthew 5:45).

Friday, September 17, 2010

After religion, what?

As for ceremony, already the leaves have swirled over, the wind has spoken - Andrew Brown, Caute
We have just been through a week in which we have seen yet further examples of the deeply problematic nature of religion - especially in its monotheistic varieties.
My question - developing in various ways since 9/11 - is how might we continue to access these sacramental energies without resorting to the language of the gods/God with which they were once so indissolubly linked? In short, what religion might look like after religion - after God?
This is a wonderful post and very gently articulates what I have been struggling to say in several different ways: that religion is not all about fundamentalist nutters threatening to blow things up and burn things because the world isn't how they think it should be.

Many of my Pagan friends seek to blame fundamentalism on monotheism, claiming that polytheism is inherently more tolerant. This is understandable, but it does the liberal monotheists a disservice.  I think polytheism can be intolerant too - look at what happened to Socrates.

I think the problem is twofold: assuming that metaphors for the ineffable mystery are literal, concrete and graspable; and assuming that religion is an external process, something you do, a set of laws you adhere to, rather than an internal process and an internal apprehension of harmony.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

status of religious texts

The idea that the Bible is a single unified text, intended to be "God's word for all time" or some such rubbish, is an entirely modern idea, invented in the late 19th / early 20th century by fundamentalist nut-jobs (the original Fundamentalists who actually coined the word).

The point is that the Bible was put together by a bunch of different people, and the law codes of Deuteronomy were produced at a time of extreme social conservatism, some time in the late Bronze Age. More liberal authors of the Torah, Nevi'im (e.g. Amos) and Ketuvim would probably have been horrified by what appears in Deuteronomy.

The Qu'ran was originally produced as an oral tradition, handed down by the followers of the Prophet Muhammad, and intended to be interpreted by qadis (judges) and modified by hadiths (sayings of the Prophet). It wasn't written down until well after Muhammad's death.

The Torah (Jewish scriptures) were always subject to constant reinterpretation and discussion by the scholars (which was basically every Jew who could read and comment on them).

This notion that a religious text should be a completely infallible law code for a religion and be taken completely literally is therefore an entirely modern invention.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Let's get this in proportion

In response to my previous blogpost about what I would ask the Pope, Steve posted a link to this article on spiked, How the New Atheists are abusing the truth, by Brendan O’Neill.

O'Neill is clearly not an apologist for the Catholic Church, but he points out that various newspapers are quoting excessive figures for "child rape" by "paedophile priests".
A similarly warped conflation has been made in relation to Ireland, now widely looked upon as a country where crazy priests spent most of their days handing out communion wafers and/or raping children. When the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was published in May 2009 - with its analysis of accusations of abuse made by individuals who had attended Irish reform schools between 1940 and 1999 - the media reported it as if it had uncovered apocalyptic, Caligulan levels of sexual depravity. ‘Thousands were raped in Irish reform schools’, said the Independent. ‘Thousands raped in Ireland’s Christian Brothers schools’, said the Belfast Telegraph. ‘Thousands raped and abused in Catholic schools in Ireland’, said the Guardian.

So were thousands of children - in particular boys, the main focus of the media reports - raped in Irish reform schools? No - 68 were, allegedly. Two-hundred-and-forty-two male witnesses made 253 reports of sexual abuse against the staff of Irish reform schools at the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse - and of these, 68 claim to have been raped. Once again, not all of the allegations resulted in convictions. Some witness reports involved priests who had died, and out of the 253 male reports of sexual abuse, 207 related to the period of 1969 or earlier; 46 related to the 1970s and 1980s. How did 68 claims of anal rape made against the staff of Irish reform schools over a 59-year period translate into headlines about thousands being raped?  ...

Why is it worth pointing out these basic facts? Not in order to defend the Catholic Church, which clearly has a sexual abuse problem, or to minimise the suffering of those individuals who ‘only’ suffered being verbally abused, shown dirty photos or fondled over their clothing by Catholic priests - all of those acts are abhorrent and potentially punishable in a court of law. No, it is worth pointing out the reality of the extent of allegations against the Catholic Church in order to expose the non-rationalist, anti-humanist underpinnings of the current fashion for Catholic-baiting amongst the liberal, opinion-forming classes in the US and the UK.
It's worth reading the whole article, just to get this thing in proportion. It is bad, and there was widespread abuse of various kinds, but let's be sober and accurate in reporting it. It does not help the victims of this to exaggerate it - it means that once the exaggeration becomes apparent, it will be much harder for any future victims to be believed.

Finally, I want to quote part of Steve's comment:
I'm also reluctant to join in the fashionable chorus of condemnation of other religions because of allegations made by others. Some people allege that Wiccans sacrifice thousands of babies. I have no doubt that ritual killing of children for magical purposes does take place, but to make Wiccans a scapegoat for that would not be fair.
Because Wiccans have been victims of media feeding frenzies in the past (fuelled by right-wing evangelical Christians), we should be very wary indeed of jumping on any anti-Catholic bandwagon. As I said at the end of my previous post, I think much of the brouhaha about the papal visit is being fuelled by intolerance of religion in general and by a general Protestant feeling of anti-Catholicism. And I went on to point out that a lot of good is done by Catholics. Let's not lose sight of that.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cultural appropriation

On Facebook, my profile says "Political views: Pragmatic anarchist (i.e. Lib Dem). Religious views: Unitarian and Wiccan pantheist / non-theist".

It took me quite a long time to arrive at that particular combination of things. I have been a Wiccan since 1991, and a Unitarian since 2007. During 2007, I went through quite considerable spiritual upheaval before settling on Unitarianism as my path in addition to Wicca.

I have had some ups and downs with regard to Wicca, and have made quite a bit of effort to learn about Unitarianism in depth. So I thought long and hard before identifying as both Unitarian and Wiccan or Wiccan and Unitarian. I feel entitled to call myself both, because I am a member of both the Unitarian community and the Wiccan community, and recognised as such by other members of that community. I do not identify as a Pagan., though Unitarianism has included pagan and pantheist ideas since its early days, and first referred to the divine as a Mother in 1850.

It also took me some time before I felt that I understood Unitarianism and other Unitarians well enough to call myself a Unitarian.

I briefly toyed with the idea of identifying as a Taoist, because I like the writings of Lao-Tsu and sometimes refer to the ultimate source of everything as the Tao, but decided that I did not understand Taoism sufficiently, and I am not a practising Taoist, so it would be mere cultural appropriation if I claimed to be a Taoist.

I call myself a pantheist because I believe the divine (however you conceive of it) is immanent in Nature, and I find my source of spiritual renewal in Nature. I call myself a non-theist because I do not believe that the divine has a personality - it only has the fleeting instances of personality that we project onto it. And I do not think the divine has an objective existence as a being either.

By pragmatic anarchist, I mean that I find anarchist ideals inspiring, but am not sure that they would work in practice, so my pragmatic response was to join the Lib Dems (the nearest mainstream political alternative).

I was pleasantly surprised when a chap from America contacted me to say that he liked my political and religious views. During our chat, two things became apparent. He had no idea what I meant by non-theist, as he believed in an omnipotent God with a personality and a will, which I do not; he didn't seem too sure what a pantheist was, or what I meant by pragmatic anarchism; and he was neither a Unitarian nor a Wiccan in the sense of belonging to either of those communities. Imagine my surprise then, when I looked at his profile and it said that he was a pragmatic anarchist and a Unitarian and Wiccan pantheist / non-theist.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so they say, but honestly, if you're going to identify as the same thing as me, at least find out what is meant by the terms I am using and whether you're entitled to use them. Given the painful process by which I arrived at my particular self-description, I am not happy with somebody else appropriating it without even knowing what it means. I am sure he means well and everything, and I genuinely wish him well in his spiritual journey - and maybe one day he will earn those labels by being a member of those communities and actually being a pantheist and/or a non-theist. Until then (in the nicest possible way), get your own label.

It's impossible to say that you agree with the beliefs of the entire Unitarian community or the entire Wiccan community, because beliefs about the nature of the divine vary widely among both those groups, and values are more important than beliefs in both traditions (but especially in Unitarianism). Membership of something is not the same as identifying with it.

I believe in love, wisdom, freedom, reason, tolerance, inclusiveness and peace - but that could be said of several different liberal religious traditions (with varying degrees of emphasis). I identify with the values of Unitarianism - but that still doesn't make me a Unitarian unless I am a member of a Unitarian community and accepted as such by other Unitarians.

I identify with many of the values of Wicca (as I understand them): reverence for nature, distrust of hierarchy, feminism, the celebration of sexuality and sensuality - but that doesn't make me a Wiccan unless I am a member of a Wiccan community (initiatory lineage, coven, wider Wiccan community) and accepted as such by other Wiccans.

I put pantheist, anarchist and non-theist in lower-case because those describe my beliefs, not communities of which I am a member. I am not in touch with other pantheists, non-theists or anarchists particularly (except where they also happen to be members of the two communities of which I am a part).

I am not for a moment suggesting that it's impossible for another person to arrive at the same identity and worldview as me (indeed I know another Unitarian who has arrived at a similar worldview by a completely different route, which I find very affirming) - but I would hope they would have put in a certain amount of effort (spiritual, emotional and intellectual) before claiming the labels.

In a wider context, this raises the question, what is that makes you a member of a religious community? Is it membership, identity, belief, practice, values, or a combination of these?

Brain & religion

In response to these statistics about OK Cupid users, I decided to analyse my OK Cupid profile for reading grade level.

I am pleased to announce that my score was 10th grade (higher than all the atheists on OK Cupid, serious or otherwise). I suspect that, as Pharyngula warns, some other factor may be affecting these statistics, but anyway, I feel vindicated.

Here are the results:
Number of characters (without spaces) : 4,253.00
Number of words : 873.00
Number of sentences : 52.00
Average number of characters per word : 4.87
Average number of syllables per word : 1.64
Average number of words per sentence: 16.79

Indication of the number of years of formal education that a person requires in order to easily understand the text on the first reading

Gunning Fog index : 12.08

Approximate representation of the U.S. grade level needed to comprehend the text :

Coleman Liau index : 11.11
Flesh Kincaid Grade level : 10.27
ARI (Automated Readability Index) : 9.91
SMOG : 11.73
Flesch Reading Ease : 51.31

Thursday, September 09, 2010

What I would say to the Pope

Apparently atheists are now "leading an onslaught" against the Pope. Funny, I thought it was all people of conscience who were banding together to protest against his visit.

Apparently the current issue of New Humanist has an article reporting what various famous people would say to the Pope if they met him. That seems like a good idea.

This is what I would ask him:

Why did you cover up the child abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests?

Why did you promote cardinals who were covering up the child abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests?

Why did you prevent the perpetrators from being prosecuted by secular criminal courts?

Why did you let them continue to be priests where they could carry on abusing children?

Why do you continue to preach against condoms which would prevent the transmission of AIDS?

Why did you then try to blame the epidemic of child-abuse in your church on gay people?

Why do you refuse to reform a system that fosters abuse of this kind?

And, not so important, but it kind of represents much of what is wrong with the Papal "state visit" - apparently our Queen is required to wear black when she meets the Pope, as only Catholic queens can wear white when they meet him. Er, excuse me, this is our country, and our head of state (I'm a republican but she's still our head of state) - why on earth should she be dictated to about what to wear by a person is responsible for a massive criminal cover-up?

I think much of the brouhaha about the papal visit is being fuelled by intolerance of religion in general and by a general Protestant feeling of anti-Catholicism. However, I still object strongly to his "state visit" on the grounds that the Vatican is not a proper state, and he is a criminal who has covered up child abuse, and his church is often responsible for oppression and misery (though many of its individual members do good charitable work and political activism).

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A syllogism

God doesn't exist. (Many theologians have pointed this out, including John Scotus Eriugena, Paul Tillich, Karen Armstrong, and various thinkers from Judaism and Islam. This is because "God" is Being itself, or the Ground of All Being, or Nothing, or a process.)

God is love (according to various Christian commentators).

Love does not exist. (There's no thing you can point to and say it is love.)

Love is an experience shared between people.

God is an experience shared between people.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

redefining irony

The Jehovah's Witnesses redefine irony (Pharyngula - PZ Myers)
A new group of atheists has arisen in society. Called the new atheists, they are not content to keep their views to themselves.
That's right. The door-knockin', rabidly proselytizing cult is rebuking atheists for not keeping their views to themselves.
Wow, that really does redefine irony. I mean, you know, I have had quite a lot of atheists try to convince me that my participation in religion is deluded and strange, despite my constant explanations that my spiritual views and practices are consistent with reason and science, that I regard most theology as mythology and metaphor, and I'm only interested in practices that enhance my life. Also I have frequently pointed out to the atheists in question that religion is about practices and values, not beliefs (the idea that it is primarily about beliefs was introduced by Christian fundamentalists in the late 19th century, though sadly this attitude has spread to other groups).

But none of these atheists were complete strangers who were knocking on my door and trying to sell me irreligion. Though that might be quite fun - some of my best anecdotes involve the things that I and my friends have said to Jehovah's Witnesses and other doorstep evangelists. Let's face it, doorstep-evangelist-baiting is a national sport.

As I have said elsewhere, though, evangelism and proselytising are completely counter-productive and wrong. Interfaith dialogue is good; it's also good to communicate what your religion is about, so that other people can understand it, and join if (and only if) they feel the same way. And that goes for atheism too.

The thing that really annoys me about JWs is their rampant homophobia and the fact that they drag their kids around with them on their door-to-door evangelism.

The last time some JWs called at my house, I happened to have a copy of The Inquirer (Unitarian magazine) in my hand, so I brandished it at them when they tried to give me The Watchtower.

For the benefit of people who are unable to distinguish between different kinds of religion, may I refer you to my blogposts on liberal religion and non-theism? (for educational information only, of course).

Friday, September 03, 2010


I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain'd,
I stand and look at them long and long. -
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

from Song of Myself, Walt Whitman, in Leaves of Grass