Non Stamp Collector

Found this great YouTube channel (thanks to a vid posted on Hehmant Mehta's Friendly Atheist blog).

If you haven't seen it, there are some funny vids - featuring stick-men animation - such as a creationist interviewing a biologist, a quiz show with biblical contradictions, and (my favourite so far) 'Context!!!'. Well worth a look.

Or you can visit the main channel here:

Non Stamp Collector

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What About the Abuse Cases We Don't Know About?

In my last post I discussed the raid by Belgian police of the headquarters of the Church in Belgium, and the 'furious' reaction of the Vatican at the appalling way in which Church figures were treated like ordinary people.

The raid came about because Belgian Church officials and Bishops were meeting to investigate allegations of child abuse by the Belgian clergy. Naturally, one assumes that if they were to properly investigate these claims, they would have evidence such as statements and so forth at the meeting. Not even Bishops conduct investigations by closing their eyes and thinking of God. Well, at least I assume not.

For some bizzare and unfathomable reason, the Belgian authorities took the view that allegations of sex abuse against Belgian children, by Belgian clergy, in Belgium, were a matter for Belgian prosecutors to investigate. I cannot begin to imagine why they would take this view, when allegations of abuse in other countries are usually treated as internal Church matters. As I said, allowing the Church to investigate sex abuse claims made against its priests is on a par with allowing a paedophile ring to examine the photographs of its own members, and decide which are just a little bit too risque.

All over Western Europe and North America, the Church is being forced to apologise to and compensate thousands of people who have suffered unspeakable acts of physical and sexual abuse at the hands (and various other parts) of the faithful. In Ireland, they even had to read out a letter of apology. Wow, such humility.

The thing is, all of the countries where these scandals have come to light are growing increasingly secular (with the possible exception of the USA which, as everybody knows, has been secular since its foundation) wich means there is less and less interference by the Church in national policy making, and less automatic respect for the wishes of the Vatican shown by those responsible for setting policy. It also means that fewer and fewer of the general public in these countries are in such fearful awe of the gold-plated staff-wielding proselytizing anachronism preaching humility and self-loathing from his palace in Rome than they once were.

No wonder his holiness is so worried about secularism; it is not a decline in Christian belief he fears, but a decline in the power of the Church.

So we note that all of the countries where people feel able to speak out about the abuse they have suffered are wealthy, civilized, secular Western nations. Which brings us on to the nub of this post. What about those countries where people still live in genuine fear of the Church and its power?

Are you asking us to believe that there is something intrinsically decadent about Western societies that turns so many pious, celibate and God-fearing servants of Christ into child abusing monsters? Or could it be the case that thousands of innocent children in South America, Africa, South and South East Asia are even now suffering abuse, but they and their parents are unable to speak out for fear of the reactions in their communities?

We already know that some priests serving in Ireland, who were accused of acts of such unspeakable depravity that even the Church had to do something about it, were relocated to 'safe' parishes in central Africa and more remote parts of South America. Safe for the priests of course, presumably less safe for the innocents who came under their care and influence.

So as we reflect upon the thousands of lives damaged here in the West by the Church's pathetic insistence upon the celibacy of the clergy, maybe we should take a little time to wonder how many thousands of children in poorer, less literate and (crucially) more God-fearing societies may even now be suffering the same fate.

So long as the Church wields real power, we may never know.

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The Church Just Doesn't Get How Serious This Is

The child sex abuse scandal enveloping the Catholic church entered a new phase on Thursday when Belgian police raided a meeting of Bishops, who were meeting to investigate allegations of child abuse by clergymen in Belgium.

The police seized a number of documents and a laptop belonging to the former head of the Belgian Church, Cardinal Godfried Danneels. They also 'allegedly' searched the tomb of at least one former Cardinal in their hunt for documents. Apparantly we're supposed to be outraged by this - even the BBC's news website describes this as 'profaned the tomb'. Profaned? Surely you mean 'opened'. What is so special about the tomb of a Cardinal, as opposed to the tomb of anyone else? It seems the BBC's reporter has bought into the noxious idea that these self-serving parasitical scum are somehow worthy of automatic respect, rather than (as is more generally the case) automatic contempt. Yes, even when they're dead.

I'm personally very happy to see that at least one government is prepared to treat this outrageous, decades old cover-up as a criminal matter, and take the appropriate action. Most seem content to allow the Church to investigate its own affairs, which is akin to allowing Iran to produce its own report about whether its nuclear programme is peaceful or not. Or perhaps a more appropriate analogy would be letting a peadophile ring investigate its own members, and decide for itself whether their picture collections were just wholesome family holiday snaps.

Say the BBC:

"Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State - Pope Benedict's number two - was furious when he learned about how the police prevented the bishops from leaving the building where they had been meeting for nine hours, and took away their mobile telephones to prevent them communicating with their staff or with the Vatican."

You mean he was furious that his fellow clergymen were treated as though they were ordinary people, being investigated for covering up some of the worst crimes it is possible to commit? How awful. Poor lambs. Does he not know that it is standard practice to prevent a criminal suspect from communicating with accomplices? Rather than prevent the Bishops from leaving, the police should have hauled them down to the nick and taken their fingerprints and DNA.

So lets remember that the meeting was held to investigate allegations of child abuse in Belgium, by the Belgian clergy. Do you imagine for a second that the Church would even bother to hold such a meeting if they didn't have a huge wodge of complaints to investigate? Come on!

The BBC's report goes on to say:

"Cardinal Bertone angrily told reporters during a conference he was attending at a Catholic University in Rome that not even communist states dared to treat Church authorities and Church property in this way. He summoned the Belgian ambassador to the Vatican and handed him a formal protest note."

Why not just excommunicate him? That's what you normally do isn't it? Or perhaps you should send one of your crack team of exorcists to find out if the Belgian government have been co-opted by Satan and his demonic hordes. You superstitious, anachronistic hypocritical old fool. I hope the Belgian ambassador laughed in your face.

It is easy to see why Church figures feel a little hard done by here, but easier still to explain why they need to get over it, and wake up to the reality that they have brought upon themselves by denying these allegations for so long. For about the last 1700 years or so until very recently, the Church has done exactly what it wanted. And I do mean exactly. Suddenly it finds itself in a position where people aren't quite so fearful of its temporal power anymore, and are prepared to say occasionally 'hang on a minute, your minion has been fucking my little boy for years. Pardon me for being impertinent, but that can't be right can it?'.

For years the Church's response has been bluster, obfuscation and denial, and for the most part we've bought into their claims that it is an internal matter. In Ireland for example, it was common knowledge that Church schools were populated by wicked and sadistic old men and women, who were firmly of the opinion that the devil needed to be thrashed out of little children, and barely anyone raised a protest about this. But when it transpires that many of these old men also believed that the devil needed to be fucked out of little children too, we heard the first wimpers of protest, rising slowly to a crescendo as more and more people spoke out about the appalling abuse that they suffered. And the Church's response? We're sorry, a bit, now stop whinging and get back on your knees where you belong. Don't you know that you're a worthless little sinner and only we can save you?

Of course it's not just Ireland, and that's why the Church has a crisis on it's hands. And if there is any real justice, it will be the crisis that finally brings this disgusting organisation crashing down. Probably a bit too much to hope for though.

In the meantime, allegations of abuse keep cropping up. Millions of dollars have already been paid to shut people up in America. Claims are being 'investigated' by the Church in Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland and several other Western countries. The Pope's last archdiocese in Germany is under investigation, and it may even be the case that the Pope himself has covered up the perversions of priests serving in his own backyard. Some infallability.

The Pope himself has been a little more cautious than Cardinal Bertone in his response to the raid by Belgian police, at least in the sense that he didn't invoke communism. In a letter to the head of the Belgian Church he said

"I want to express, dear brother in the Episcopate, as well as to all the Bishops of Belgium, my closeness and solidarity in this moment of sadness, in which, with certain surprising and deplorable methods, searches were carried out.

"I hope that justice will follow its course while guaranteeing the rights of individuals and institutions, respecting the rights of victims, (and) acknowledging those who undertake to collaborate with it"

'Surprising and deplorable methods'? Ah yes, searching Church property as they would a business or private household. How deplorable that the holy brotherhood should be treated the same as everbody else. Note also that his hopes of 'guaranteeing the rights of individuals [Bishops and Priests] and institutions [the Church]' come before 'respecting the rights of victims [defenseless and innocent children beaten, abused and violated by said individuals]'.

If there is evidence to suggest that a priest raped a child, that priest must be tried according to the temporal laws of the country where the alleged incident took place, and if found guilty, sentenced accordingly. If it transpires that his Bishop knew about the allegations against him but failed to take the appropriate action, that Bishop must be tried for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. If his Archbishop knew, then so must he. And if the Pope knew? So far I don't see countries lining up to extradite the Pope, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have taken legal advice about the possibility of having the Pope arrested when he visits the UK later this year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this idea has been met with derision and even humour. I doubt their attempt will be successful (and you could bet your soul that if they had a chance, the Pope would cancel his visit in a snap - no martyr he) but I hope this attempt will open more people's eyes to the fact that this is not an internal Church matter. It is not for the Church to decide what to do with known sex offenders, it is for the courts to decide and punish those who are found guilty accordingly.

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Exploring Islam: Apparently it's Really a Force for Fairness, Equality and Women's Liberation

I note with a mixture of interest, amusement and horror that a new charity has been set up in London to 'tackle people's negative views of Islam.'

The Exploring Islam Foundation commissioned a YouGov poll to assess public opinion of a few very weighted questions about Islam. Apparently 58% of respondents equated Islam with extremism, 50% with terrorism, only 13% agreed that Islam was a religion of peace, and 19% thought that Islam had a positive impact on British society.

Really? 19%? That's a bit high isn't it?

It's OK though - as one report reveals, more than 57% of these respondents admitted to only getting their information about Islam through media outlets such as newspapers and television, which are obviously hostile to the religion of peace. Doubtless had they learned about Islam from their local Imam, they would have formed a much more positive opinion of it.

The Charity has commissioned what amounts to a PR campaign, to promote a better understanding of the positive side of Islam, and have produced a series of posters including prominent British Muslims pictured with heart-warming slogans.

OK, so I know I'm a total cynic, but a comic could not have asked for a better set of slogans to rip the piss out of. In fact a good comic probably wrote them. The slogans read:

“I believe in social justice. So did Muhammad.”

“I believe in women’s rights. So did Muhammad.”

“I believe in protecting the environment. So did Muhammad.”

Ideas about what constitutes social justice have (thankfully) changed a little in the last 1400 years - at least outside the middle east - and no longer include eye-for-an-eye style punishments. On a more positive note, they may be referring to the charitable provisions enshrined in Islamic law, whereby men must give up a percentage of their income as charity, to be distributed amongst the poor. Why proponents of Islam can't see the difference between wanting to help the poor (voluntarily giving up your earnings) and being forced to do so on pain of eternal damnation is beyond me.

So too have Women's rights - again outside the middle east. It is no longer acceptable to beat the shit out of any of your wives, buy a wife, marry a nine year old girl, sell your daughter off to your cousin for a few goats, or have your daughter's external genitalia cut off with a sharpened stone, in order to preserve her purity and dignity. Of course, I'm being a little unfair - none of these things happen in Britain today, right? Any thug of any religion or none is capable of beating his wife, it just happens that in the Koran and Hadith you have instructions telling you when and how it is acceptable to beat your wife. Little girls get sent abroad to have their labia cut off, we wouldn't dream of allowing that kind of thing here. And goats are no longer in fashion.

What Muhammad knew about the environment could be written down on the back of a postage stamp. Any suggestion that an illiterate merchant who died 1400 years ago had ideas to save our planet in today's world are beyond laughable.

If I had enough funds, a large security force and could be guaranteed immunity from prosecution under the laws pertaining to causing religious offence, I might be tempted to run a counter-campaign thusly:

"I believe in murderous conquest and forced conversion of the infidels. So did Muhammad (peace be upon him)."

"I believe in marrying nine year old girls and raping them whenever I choose. So did Muhammad (peace be upon him)."

"I believe my wives and daughters are my property. So did Muhammad (peace be upon him)."

Offensive? Probably. True? Read your Koran. Read the Hadith, then tell me I'm wrong.

The point of the Exploring Islam Foundation campaign is to prevent hostility toward British Muslims. What they either don't see, or prefer to fudge for political advantage, is that it is not people that are disliked - generally speaking - but the ideas and beliefs they stand for, uphold, and insist are the only acceptable ideas around.

How could anyone not brought up from his/her mothers knee to believe that Islam is true possibly look at Islam and say 'hmm, now there's a system of peace, justice and respect for humanity and the environment I could really buy into'?

Viewed even half-way objectively, Islam is a truly horrifying prospect.

We often hear and read the phrase 'Islamophobic' used pejoratively against the mindless cretins who deface mosques, assualt Muslims or otherwise make total dicks of themselves in the name of ignorance. This word is generally bandied about by people who have some advantage in drawing genuine criticism away from themselves by branding all potential critics - reasonable or otherwise - as basically motivated by the same prejudice. The use of this word and others like it bear a striking similarity to such words as 'anti-semitic' so beloved of that small minority of messianic bulldozer-friendly Jews. 

The argument is a simple one, which is probably why it is so popular in religious circles, and goes a bit like this:

"I cannot be doing anything wrong, because you are prejudiced and just hate me. Therefore anything I do must be right, because you are a nasty bigot. Anyone who agrees with you in any particular is therefore also a nasty bigot, so their opinion must be discounted too. Ergo, I'm right, anyone who disagrees is an evil hate-filled bigot."

The original meaning of the suffix -phobe is fear, not hatred. By all means call me an Islamophobe if you mean it in the sense 'scared of Islam' - I am terrified of it. But don't just write off anybody who can't see Islam's divine truth as an Islamophobe, for the word becomes meaningless.

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