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Where has the radical freshness of christianity gone? How come the symbol of a martyr who was tortured so much he was resucitated three times before, literally, losing his head for his faith become the flag for a national football team…

Perhaps we in the West, and especially in England of whom the symbol is the national flag just wanted to know George was a soldier and a saint and lets not talk about how he peacefully made his protest of faith and was then tortured and killed for it – Let’s talk about dragons instead… And whilst we are here – here’s a question: Would we return George to his state so they could kill him? Nowadays we do send, or propose to send, folk back to countries which kill folk for their views on the grounds that we get a ‘guarantee’ from the state in question re looking after the asylum seeker – we have courts defending their rights not to be packaged out to be killed as there are protests in the press about the money they cost us… Is this the behaviour of a country St. George would want to be symbolic of?

Would he rather his flag would be waved around for a sporting event where, if not caught, a cheat is seen as herioc – the dives, the ‘ruff and tumble’, the penalties gained.. the list of the behaviour goes on… but if the team wins then the sins are washed clean and the flag can be waved in glory…

Victory was never George’s aim in his conduct and that’s a problem for the church and for society – he went and did what? St. George’s story is not boring so why do we not tell it?

Here’s quote from Vivian Stanshaw from 1983 –

Aparthied and prejudice,come before a fall,

but patronage is even worse, you’re walking towards that wall…

from his rare work of genius ‘Sir Henry at Ndidi’s Kraal’

I’ve had this thought for a while and have tried to figure out exactly how it works but I think going to history may help…

A while ago I managed to trundle through this work Constantine’s Bible which debunks the idea of the selection of the books of the New Testament as forced by the Emperor Constantine except by the power of patronage… True, there is the Council of Nicea and all that but what we do not talk about and thus do not see is the habitus of power that Constantine gave to the church… Thus clergy when given a nice big house, virtually, all said ‘Thankyou’ and with all those comments about trusting power from St Paul – hands were shaken and the church went to bat for the state – a boring conclusion.

Well it is now but way back Then when it seemed that the levers of power were influenced by the church – and indeed when the church managed some tight manouvring to have actual physical, legal and state granted [no matter how grudgingly]  power the the church was exciting but not for the reasons it should have been and as we make progress of the church moving away from the state’s machina for governance [note the sermons of the First World War and those before that for fighting for ‘King and Country’ – just like St. George?] we are left with the stain of granted patronage – we had the patronage of lords or the great and the good [whoever they are] and then the priests could trickle down the patronage of sanctity from God… I’m sure the fines for not going to church managed to keep some bums on the pews, right up into the 1900’s… and now when we see patronage for the skeletal effect it is when not given freely or only on demand the story of christians looks boring because we’ve lived the wrong story for far too long… and have been unable to come to grips with the fact that the history of christianity shows how we remember and honour those who stand against the powers that be whilst we find ways of twisting the story so that we no longer need to feel guilt for our normality…

no wonder we’ve grown dull.

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Not only is this the title for a rather entertaining yarn by Mike Resnick it is a direct reference to one of the CampQuest‘s activities, well at least as part of the UK’s camp experience…

The idea is that the leaders talk about unicorns that live in the nearby forest and there’s a prize to be won for being able to prove that the unicorns do exist. There are various ideas behind this whole thing – the one that is given is that it is to show how the onus is on the propegator of a positive idea to prove their point to the sceptic.

The idea that the unicorns stand in for God at the atheist camp is neglected to be mentioned by those little atheists; the children are merely trained in critical thinking whilst having a fun time in a secular camp…

Part of the idea is from how did we ever get ourselves to the folly of belief  in supernatural things/spooks? Note that this activity is dreamed up by atheists for atheists and their children… amongst other fun and frolics…

So why single this one out as the activity to be blogged about?

Because, dear reader, this is the one with quite a few assumptions behind it. Even perhaps dogmatic assumptions -the ones that are accepted but still open to be contested, if only philosophically. Take Occam’s Razor – the rule here is that between two explanations for the same phenomena the simplest should be accepted because that is a. easier to test and b. more elegant. However more complicated explanations could have a firmer grasp of the various factors that are played out… Occam’s Razor or, as it’s also known The Rule of Parsimony is undoubtedly useful and has its place but I doubt that it is infallible…

The simplest explanation for the unicorns is that they don’t exist – and they don’t. No-one is arguing that the unicorns drawn out of the atheists hat are real. The issue I have is that they are obviously meant to stand in for God. According to atheists there is the same level of chance of existence for God as their precious unicorns…

This is obviously contentious.

Take a historical view. If anybody looks back through time to the documents prepared for the camp they would find that the whole activity was a sceptical study – we have historical documents [ie manuscripts that go back through centuries] that speak about historical events and who some call and called God. The role of this ‘Super Being’ is supposed to have done various things – one of which is to have created us and the world and universe around us…

Kant managed to disprove that Creation was Proof of a Creator back when he wrote Critique of Pure Reason but did not then say that disproved the presence of a creator… which is what some would have argued. The problem is that we are losing the ability to balance evidence – only being able to take a ‘proof’ rather than think things through. There are what we theists sometimes call ‘footprints’ of our Creator. Whilst a contentious being some beings have been completely assumed and recreated from one impression in the ground from millenia ago… and accepted by the scientific community.

If you follow the link at the CampQuest site to the clip from this  radio 4 programme then you’ll hear camp followers argue that we have a universal moral code and that we do not need any divine laws to make us ‘behave’… This is sloppy thinking – at the moment I’m reading a terribly engaging book on hunger – Hunger: An Unnatural History by Sharman Apt Russell and the ninth chapter is ‘The anthropology of hunger’ where diferent cultures who suffer from near starvation, notably two of interest here are the Ik who lived near the northern border of Uganda and Kenya and the ‘People of the Alto’ in Brazil. Both of these populations are or were, used to a near starvation diet and if the humanists are correct we should be able to see similar values and cultural norms between the two peoples. This is not the case.

Both societies are also a great deal diferent to the modern western norms. These norms come from a history of a common faith. They are not universal norms that all humans share but becuase there is a great deal that we like about ‘our’ norms we assume that these are universal and correct.

I can argue for my values and norms but I find it interesting when I challenge atheists and humanists about why they think something is ‘right’ about how we should behave; we move onto the shifting sands of debate. There is nothing wrong with debate – I like a good debate as much as the next person and quite possibly moreso… but it shows that there is not this ‘universal’ view of right and wrong.

Perhaps rather than sending kids off to stalk a fictional unicorn they should think things through more and go in search of what is the universal code of behaviour…. Maybe that would be more ellusive than they assume.

Could it be a worthy quest to be undertaken and at the end of the search they might discover something as valuable and as precious as a unicorn would be.

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Let me unpack what I mean here. Happiness is standing in for Utilitarianism [as you can see ‘Happiness’ is comparatively user friendly] – Bentham the great grandaddy of this school defined it as the greatest total sum of happiness which has been rather cheaply reduced to the phrase ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’ [see Note 2 on Chapter 8: The Greatest Happiness: Is that the goal? in the slim volume Happiness: Lessons from a new science] on the other hand ‘a good life’ is standing in for an even older way of looking at the world – the ancient greeks and romans used to ask themselves just what made a good life…

Socrates championed being true to yourself and your values. If you think that’s an argument for Happiness he took the poisoned cup prescribed for him as not to do so would have broken his own values – hardly something that made him, his followers or even his detractors happy. Socrates thought that a good life was about living to standards – ethics and the one work we see this sort of thing [Plato’s Republic] at work – those who cannot live a good life need to be controlled…

Orwell, in one of his essays, attacked the supposed utopia of Swift’s Houyhnhnms as totalitarian of a very dark shade – that those peacefull beasts had to impose constrictions on their very thoughts and speech. Given that utilitarianism had not risen above communism and was still [I believe] a defence of liberty when he wrote his essay he would not have criticized it per se. Now we are leaving utilitarianism behind as a defence for liberty – let folk seek their own happiness as long as it does not harm others to a more pro-active ‘happy’ agenda… where we can discover what would make us happy and then legislate towards that end…

I prefer the idea that we should construct what is a good life built on principles – sometimes the decisions we make which make us grieviously unhappy are the ones we ‘know’ are right. How does that sit with the ‘happy’ agenda? How could you so formulate a world where there are no unhappy choices or to ask another question- how meaningless would that world be?

Just recently on the run up to the Euro and the local elections we’ve had clergy telling us to go out and vote… but what if we don’t like the political reality enough to more than hesitate over the voting slip – and what if we know that before we even get up in the morning… Now I’m sure that Lord Layard [that guru of New Labour] would want us to be happy to vote as much as the clergy.

But to take this as the nutshell to crack the the arguments about with…

I doubt the clergy would expect you to change your internal reality for the sake of the electoral process whereas Layard’s view is much more to do with our internal motivators – in short he would want us to have an internal reality that gave us a kick for expressing our views on the ballot paper…

Now I doubt either of these schools of thought would appreciate my deliberate spoiling of the ballot papers I was given yesterday [Yes – I did vote ‘Liberty!’ even though I had to write that myself… you’ll be gald to know, Dear Reader.] the questions I’m trying to get to are who would be the most displeased with my disposition? why? and what does that mean about how we should live?

In the end various members of clergy would have different views on how I behaved… so I’ll try to stick to the mentality that declared I should get out and Vote! and I’m sure they’d be dissapointed but understanding that I decided my own path despite the diferent values meant a diferent course of action to the one proposed. Perhaps Layard would be happy to know I was happy enough to vote against the entire status quo of the political situation. Perhaps not as it says that positively voting is meaningless in a world that should be seen as meaningful – boxes are to be ticked or crossed.

Layard does argue for electoral change in a world of diminishing turn out – so let’s stop being gentle and take the ideas he promulgates full on. My protest vote would be wrong. I was not happy, for whatever reason, to vote for anybody. In Layard’s world we should either change the choice until I am happy to vote or we should change me until I am happy to vote. Perhaps a mixture of both. What freedom then?

We return to the Houyhnhnms – do we want a society where we cannot express things which disturb the minds of others around us? In this sense I prefer the idea that we should be able to decide what pursuits make us happy but that we should seek to live a good life… We may not be happy but we can be right – not only in our own minds but that we can be acknowledged as having the right to decide what we think that is.

Call me hopelessly romantic [and I’ll reply with a very hard nosed reply made from a mixture of anthropology and game theory to defend my view] but I think if we were developped as individuals with a sense of our own responsibility we would not seek to harm those around us.  As opposed to the current state of affairs where we are taught there have to be losers and they are to be trampled by the system until they reach a certain low point in which case the government will look after them – so we don’t need to worry our little heads about them…

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To start with a provocative statement – I know folk who have so much faith in the ‘democratic process’ that they were reduced to idiocy when I told them I had not voted; claiming that I had no view worthy of debate…

So why spoil your vote?

In a representative democracy, which is what the U.K. and the E.U. has, you vote for folk to represent your views. If no-one represents your views the question becomes do you vote for someone nearest your point of view, do not bother to vote at all or go along and ‘spoil’ your ballot paper? and if you choose the latter – why bother?

The First Reason is that you can foil any argument that you do not hold your views so lightly that you did not bother to turn up to the polling station. Thus you do have views worth debating.

The Second Reason is that this is a completely peaceful protest and without ‘them’ getting a judge’s permission to go through the ballot papers and their coding it is also completely anonymous.

The Third Reason is that this is a fundamental challenge to the system. Either you do not agree with representative democracy and want to be able to vote on stuff issue by issue or you refuse to endorse candidates you do not agree with… There is the argument that you vote for the best candidate for your aims – this allows for a political consencus over various views with differences being at fringe areas over whatever the parties think will make you vote for them as opposed to the other fellow/s.

Some parties say that a vote for them is a vote for change and that is true depending on who you vote for but should we vote for folk when the rest of the stuff they say we do not agree with?

The Fourth Reason rests on every political party having bought into the system enough for them to stand candidates. Despite the varying degrees of discontent they have with the ‘system’ they wish to use that very same system to change it. Of course once the system empowers them enough to actually change things the first thing they would want to do is to get their ideas implemented and then change things in a way that would allow them to be able to do so again…

The Fifth Reason for spoiling your vote is that every political party wants your vote and if we turn up in a time which has seen a constant decline of folk willing to turn up to the polling stations – then a spoiled vote is something that they would give their eye teeth for if enough folk do so…  It is a fundamental declaration that you are not satisfied with the status quo.

If enough folk spoil their vote in the same way they would see it as a way of gaining votes. Therefore it may shock the political consensus enough to shift it in a direction we want.

If that’s not democracy in action – I don’t know what is…

On another note it could also show how dissatisfied we are with the system we have and therefore make them think about how they could reshape the system for our votes… It might, and I can’t stress the slimness of this chance, make them think we could actually deal with issues and gain ground towards a system which is more issue driven democracy – with referendums and stuff…

Personally, I’m for consencus politics in that if someone is willing to stick their thumb up at tens of millions of people then they either have a very strong reason why they do not agree or they have been allowed (by the system) to be ignored enough that they are now willing to do the same back…

I’m not saying I think that would bring about an utopian society just that it would be a better one than we presently have where tens or hundreds of thousands of folk are left completely forgotten by either the present system or would be even by democracy ran on issues…

So vote ‘Liberty!‘ and hope for the best – whatever reason/s you agree with.

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I recently went to a Mark Thomas gig.

And to be unfair – here’s the email I sent off today

Dear Mark Thomas or whoever gets to check this mail box…

I must say that I enjoyed, laughed and applauded during your stand-up routine. I even signed a petition and got a couple of badges for the wife.

Perhaps this bit goes under the general heading of ‘Never Meet Your Heroes…’ – I was near enough to the front to note that you had a bunch of ideas [including mine I admit] that you did not even bother to reject. I understand that my suggestion could have seen to be coming from an industrial interest due to the facts and figures I used – this is not the case. My point would be that you would seek to champion a minority point of view – atheism at around 20% of UK population and feel happy enough to prosecute smokers who also make up around 20%… Where does one group become righteous and another guilty? Or to put it another way – How many lives would you save if you banned smoking tomorrow?

On a more positive note, as I was talking to some of the chaps in red jackets – they mentioned that there was a ‘group’ up in ——–. If you’d be so good as to pass on a contact number, or forward them my email address (no spam, please) I’d like to see what I could get involved in [no to ID and other such issues].

I look forward to hearing from you.

I will post whatever reply I get in either this post or in another as I deem best practice or whatever. [Bearing in mind as I’ve covered up my personal info – I’ll do likewise for reply.]

So why pick on Bakunin and Marx?

Well, I’m no Bakunin but then again Mark – though he has written good books on topics we should know about and actually manned the barricades more than Marx, he has not writted something along the lines of Das Kapitol… But perhaps Mark has spent too much time with radical Marxists and no longer would champion Liberty but rather The Way…

Of course everybody has their own view of The Way – mine includes long afternoons sipping gin, writing thousands of words and smoking my pipe to some interesting music with a mug of cooling coffee by my side… and I reckon if more folk spent their time doing that we’d have less people doing bad things if for no other reason then they are already preoccupied.

I also don’t think that the whole atheists are winning is an appealing concept, not least because I’m an old fashioned diest and believe in a ‘higher being’ – when I look back at the history of ideas and ideals it is when one (any one – atheism included) is feeling the boldness of ascendancy that they do the most harm (atheism included). So to think of ideological battles to be ‘won’ invites ‘losers’ to be devalued. I think I’m right and Mark thinks he’s right (even though he’s an atheist)  we cannot both be right but – and here’s the thing – neither can prove the other wrong.

Learning that our ‘opponents’ are not thick clods who just need to be enlightened but are our equal despite our differences would be a positive way forward – though it might not make for a good joke…

And Mark knows how to deliver a good joke…
Oh, and sorry for being away for so long.


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or is it just from somewhere nearby that hallowed place.

Yes, as the storm rumbles on around Westminster I decided to have a look at Christmas in today’s world. I will, however, pre-warn you to say that I’m a bit of a ‘humbug’ would be a drastic case of understatement…

It doesn’t matter if you are a christian or an atheist or even believers in Other faiths – You Will Not Escape The Crushingly Good Cheered Adverts To Focus Spending On Your Family and Friends…

As I was passing through an internet site I saw an advert for gadgets at a reasonable, or even cheap, £50. This is itself a terrible message in that it tells us that spending £50 should be considered norm or cheap for a present and in today’s crisis of debt and recession!

But not to worry the tv tells us that we can get ever cheaper deals and that we should all be One [especially on BBC One] – and that means presents in today’s world – if you don’t believe me, for you who love christmas just try to imagine what it would be like if you had christmas with the old family and what the reaction would be if you merely forgot the pressies, nevermind making an idealistic stand against making relative judgements of worth of family members, friends and associates…

And here at the idealistic end we come to what Christmas should be about [and for the historians who argue that it’s just a pagan celebration that the ‘church took over’ – the slaves and servants took 25 Dec becuase in Rome, before christianity had managed to swim to The West, it was the equavelant of a bank holiday and so they could gather to celebrate Jesus’ birth together… ] it is about God entering Life as We Know IT and putting up with all it’s messiness, especially in poverty…

Those Three Gifts? Well, unless Joseph and Mary had great discipline they would have probably made use of them as they became exiles in Egypt. As we know how we still care for the stranger who passes over borders for a better, or safer, life. Possibly rather than buying presents we should be lobying government to treat immigrants, for whatever reason they are here, with more understanding and less judgement. The planet may be small and we might feel there’s not enough space left ‘around here’ but in the face of the Christmas message we should defend our ‘neighbour’ – no matter where they come from.

Christ did not come from the North Pole, nor did Saint Nicholas who gave presents out. Father Christmas did not dress in flamboyant red until Coca-cola ‘pimped’ him up in the 50s/60s… There was, and still exists, in some places in the UK, the odd tradition of ‘First Stepping’ where on New Year’s Eve you’d go down the street and spend time with everybody… if that’s not nearer Christmas I don’t know what is – the ability to welcome all-comers and see everyone within the community as being one…

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Apart from a couple of quick personal asides this ones about freedom and what it means when we loose it.

This evening I’m off to stand outside an emerging church cafe evening because it’s about faith and politics – as a smoker I can no longer just go on in and if segregation isn’t political I don’t know what is. One of my posts has been tagged top mud here on Jabbertags, which I find almost ironic. It was The Blind Atheist which is a critical look at evolutionary theory – I just didn’t go back to the nut of primordial soup or mud…

It seems that the government wants to control our behaviour in new and interesting ways. There’s a guide to how you treat pets, story here, and that contravening these ‘guidelines’ may be a factor over whether or not we’re fined or even imprisonned – so more like laws then… It’s a small thing really as most folk will probably just cave and hand over whatever pet they’ve got to the RSPCA or whoever and be done with the pet, but for those who want to keep their beloved pet despite not being the best owners in the world…

Whilst this may seem a small step and has very little to do with Rule 303 but there is more that’s about at the moment – there’s this about all net visits and email on the net turned into evidence in a ‘black box‘ – for what is it if it is not evidence just waiting to be used – and what does that say about how the government views us as we tap away at our keyboards? Well, luckily for us – the government has been kind enough to tell us, and it isn’t happy. In the form of Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has said that we are ‘witnessing a dangerous corrosion in our political culture’ and that we bloggers with our own views are the problem. True she does have a view on how to get other folk into politics, the article is here, if you’re interested.

This is all well and good but none of this touches our freedom if we follow the law… well, yes, except of course unless you are either part of the 20% of the population who still has the bloody mindedness to still smoke or are married/partnered to one of these 20% and want to foster as now there’s a possibility you might be banned – for health reasons… Of course what level of risk is it? Nobody says… The biggest chance of damage to a child’s health is that they model the behaviour of the smoker (evil as they are) and become smokers themselves (and thereby help contribute more to society than they cost…) Go Here for more… I wonder if it will be one of those many boxes on the ID card that the gutless totalitarian Jacqui Smith is starting to roll out on immigrants and workers in two airports… which of course the immigrants and workers will have to have and have to pay for….

Of course this is not to say that we suffer from any of this raft of legislation, however uncomfortable it may make us feel. Unless, of course you are a parent and your child has become overweight or obese – then you can have your child taken away and put into a smoke free care environment, you can go here, or even watch a news video here! How long will it be before parents who continue to smoke will risk their own children being taken away?

And here we have a government that is willing to get ever more personal with us in a legal fashion – forcing us to have ID cards and to try to keep as much DNA as possible on record, although it has run into trouble with that just recently, in the unelected house of Lords, here, and by the unelected information commissioner, here. These records are damaging as they show up where they are no longer relevant and DNA travels almost as if flapped about on the wings of that darn butterfly – I shake your hand, minute traces of my DNA rub off onto your hand, you shake hands with someone I’ve never met, my DNA rubs off onto them, they rub their hands somewhere I’ve never been and if a crime goes down there – I have to provide an alibi…

So for me, so for you, dear reader.

And another personal restriction is the rising of the marriage visa age for foreigners. Whilst a good aim is to try to stamp out forced marriages – how bluntly does this go?

At a time when we can actively contemplate Honeymoons in space within the next 50 years and a stop off by the end of the century we still have to live with the problem of Jean Charles de Menezes – with the pathologist now chipping in about how he was lied to by the police. Of course we also have the problem of closed ranks, however understandable, which led to an unofficial strike amongst firearms officers – so They Know they can rely on each other…

This is where I draw in the old Rule 303, if we lose our freedom to live our own lives, even within our family units are we not being made to live in a drastically real ‘prison in the community’? And if we somehow get on the wrong side then everything will be stacked up against us, no matter how little or large we’ve been infringed upon. Of course, if we have no freedom left, what is to stop us from either thinking, rightly, we may as well be physically imprisoned or feeling, depending on how strongly you feel, that the state might as well just get it over with. Because without freedoms what life do we have?

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