Thursday, December 24, 2009

Secular bigotry

What the National Secular Society doesn't seem to realise is that the rise of religiosity is very different from previous such resurgences, as it's much more about individual spirituality and building community and being compassionate than the bigotry which is actually increasingly the preserve of a noisy few. For example: Stonewall did a survey recently and found that most Christians were far more tolerant of gays and lesbians than the doctrines of their churches would suggest. Needless to say this received almost no coverage in the mainstream media, whereas Lilian Ladele etc got loads of coverage.

Research has shown that most people think in terms of "occult" concepts like reincarnation and karma, rather than traditional Christian ones like salvation. Much of the renewed interest in religion and spirituality has gone into non-Christian practices, and even Christians do stuff like yoga and meditation and crystals.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Critiques of the Alpha course

The Alpha Course is one of the most insidious phenomena of evangelism - and it's interesting to note that it has been criticised from inside Christianity as well, because there are still Christians out there with brains and integrity.

The theology propounded by the Alpha Course is not mainstream; it was developed by the same kind of people who 'discovered' the Toronto Blessing. It has been criticised by both evangelicals and liberals.

The course's homophobic stance has been widely criticised, and there is an analysis of it by the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association.

It's also deeply manipulative of vulnerable people, being run in prisons, workplaces, schools, colleges and military establishments:
"It was like to talking to a politician of the opposite persuasion. They were all very nice people, but I came out feeling exactly as I did when I went in," said Jill, who asked that her name be changed.

Among her problems with Alpha was her feeling that other faiths were not given equal status.

"I felt it was biased against other religions, whereas I believe all roads lead to one God," she said.

There was also an element of "therapy" about the style of the course, she said.

"It plays huge mind games with people. You have to be a strong personality to resist, but I did. They were working on me all the time. They said they would pray for me.

"I think they tend to prey on who is vulnerable. The whole thing for people is about being accepted and feeling like they belong.

"It's friendship I want, not spirituality."
It also uses sales techniques to manipulate people:
Debbie Herring, a former Alpha course leader in Sheffield, told the BBC that the techniques she was expected to use were similar to those of door-to-door salesmen.

“It became clear very early on that what Alpha was really about was high-pressure selling of a very narrow evangelical agenda, which dismisses and denies whole swathes of Christian teaching and tradition,” she said.
The course is also mis-sold as an opportunity to explore the meaning of life (which you would expect to offer a genuine philosophical discussion of the various ideas on offer):
It’s at that point you really see what the Alpha Course truly is: it’s not an invitation to explore the meaning of life, but a slickly marketed Christian conversion course. The objective of Alpha is not to educate people about Christianity, but to convert as many people as possible their particular brand of this religion.
The whole thing makes me sick, quite frankly.

Alpha Course is anti-gay

Pink News: More schools running 'anti-gay' Christian crash-courses

There should be no place in schools for proselytising for religion. A person's choice of religion or philosophy should be freely made as an adult, not forced on unsuspecting children. And there should be no place for homophobia in schools either.

Christianity is not inherently homophobic; same-sex marriage was once a Christian rite, and the "clobber verses" in the Bible have been deconstructed numerous times. So there's no excuse for including this poisonous homophobic nonsense in the Alpha Course. I am not particularly surprised that it's there, though, given that the Alpha Course also teaches young-earth creationism. It's all of a piece, really.

One good point about this: being taught this nonsense in school will make kids rebel against it. I recall when I was a teacher, the headmistress invited an evangelical band in to do an assembly, and the kids were rightly completely up in arms about it. I told them I completely agreed with them that it was wrong for them to have religion forced on them in this way.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

2010 Equality Ride

Every day, thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people suffer harassment, violence, and discrimination at the hands of those who do not understand them. This oppression usually hides in plain sight, masquerading as rigid doctrine or timeless tradition. Consequently, it often goes unchallenged and unchanged. Guided by principles of nonviolence, we at Soulforce Q approach these controversial issues with a readiness to meet people where they are. It is our belief that open and honest discussion begets understanding and healing, and that philosophy is at the heart of our work.

The Equality Ride is a traveling forum that gives young adults the chance to deconstruct injustice and the rhetoric that sustains it. It allows emerging young leaders to unite in the struggle for common equality. The idea is this. We get on a bus and journey to various institutions of higher learning. Through informal conversation and educational programming we explore concepts of diversity, comparing the effects of inclusive and exclusive viewpoints. More practically, we share and gain insights about how our beliefs influence policy and culture, thereby impacting society. Our goal is to carefully and collectively examine the intersection wherein faith meets gender and sexuality. Such discourse, especially when it affirms the beauty of our differences, plays an essential role in creating a safe learning and living environment for everyone.

Thus far, the Equality Ride has engaged nearly seventy academic communities. Many have shown considerable hospitality in welcoming us, and our legacy at those schools is one of mutual growth and compassionate fellowship. In addition to panels and schoolwide symposiums, we have joined students in cafeterias and coffee shops, participated in Bible studies and worship services, and given presentations in packed classrooms. Unfortunately, not every school chooses to host the Equality Ride. Voluntary redemptive suffering in the form of civil disobedience may become our avenue towards progress if, and only if, a school ignores the urgency and rejects dialogue.

A Movement in itself, the Equality Ride is empowering future generations to put their faith in action and make social justice a reality.

Donate to the Equality Ride

Interesting religions

A blog thing from Matt Stone, via Jarred, who tagged me.
what religions do you find most interesting apart from your own? Would you pick one of the major world religions? Say Islam, or Buddhism, or Hinduism or Judaism? Or would you pick something more obscure, like Wicca or Taosim or Rastafarianism or Gnosticism? Would you pick irreligion, say Atheism or Agnosticism? Or if you're not Christian, would you say Christianity?

To participate, state your own religion (or irreligion) as your first preference, state the other religions that interest you most as your second and third preferences, then pass onto five others. If you're feeling brave, say why they interest you.
OK, well, I practise two religions, Unitarianism (since 2007) and Wicca (since 1991), so presumably I can't have either of those on my list. I do this partly to remind me that all religions are metaphors for whatever is really going on (and this is made explicit in both Wiccan and Unitarian theologies). It is going to be quite difficult for me to pick three religions, as I find all religion fascinating, so I'm going to pick my favourites that appeal to me most at the moment.

I am fascinated by Taoism - I think the writings of Lao Tsu are the clearest expression of the mystery of life that has yet been formulated. Also, I like Taoism's positive attitude to life and the world (shared by both Wicca and Unitarianism).

I find Judaism really interesting - I love the rituals (though not the liturgy in many cases) and all the baroque twiddly bits. They also have great food, music and philosophy; they love life; and they cleverly integrate ritual and prayer into everyday life.

I'm currently really interested in spiritual and Christian atheism, as described by people like Richard Holloway, André de Comte-Sponville, and Andrew Brown. Holloway's books Doubts and Loves: What is left of Christianity, Godless Morality, and On Forgiveness are well worth a read.

Any mystical tradition that is based on a rational footing gets my vote, really: so Kabbalah, Sufism, the Quakers, Christian mystics and the Brahmo Samaj also interest me. And it's not a religion as such, but queer theology is really interesting. I also like religions with plenty of ritual and bells-and-smells (the only problem is that these often have elaborate theology to which I find it impossible to subscribe).

I disapprove of religions that think they have the only truth, or more truth than anyone else. Spiritual truths must be available to everyone everywhere in all times, and accessible by reason and intuition, not special revelation.

I tag Bo, Evn, Pax, D Miley, and James.