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Comments by Stephen of Wimbledon

Go to: Rise of religion in Russia

Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 22 by Stephen of Wimbledon

As someone who has lived in Russia, and who has Russian family, I sympathise.

The thing you have to remember is that any organised religion is a political organisation. First and foremost their objectives are all aligned to increasing the power of the priesthood - and the power of the religion's leaders in particular.

Before the revolution the Orthodox Church was the established church (meaning: it was an arm of the State). During the revolution the Orthodox Church found itself on the losing side - and paid the price.

However, the Communists (Stalin in particular, probably because he studied at an Orthodox seminary) realised that you cannot simply remove the opium of the people and expect them to give it up, cold turkey. The Communists tried various approaches - one solution was famously satirised by George Orwell in his book Animal Farm (banned by the Communists but probably available in Russia now, I recommend it). In Animal Farm Moses, the crow, like Moses in the Bible is there to lead the animals (the revolutionaries) to the promised land of Sugar-candy Mountain. Communism attempted to take on many aspects of religion and in the 1970's I bought an Atlas in which Marxism and Maoism were listed as religions.

You say that your friends (I assume schooled under communism?), are turning to the Orthodox Church. But Communism was at least partly religious.

The Communists were followers, probably unwittingly, of the religious structures that the great British philosopher David Hume so effectively critiqued:

... the greatest crimes have been found, in many instances, compatible with a superstitious piety and devotion.

For these reasons, if no other, the Communists slowly relaxed their grip on the Orthodox Church. Religion can be a distraction, a palliative (as another Commentator notes: a placebo). When the revolution had failed to deliver equality and the good life to the third post-revolution generation what better solution than an organisation that explains this as being due to forces beyond worldly control.

Although Russia's education system, under communism, had a superb reputation I was often surprised during my first visits to discover how superstitious modern Russians are. It is clear that, while religion was not taught in schools, neither was superstition challenged - just as Moses went unchallenged in Animal Farm.

In addition it has to be said that the old education system did not teach critical thinking in any form. The reasons for this are obvious and the consequences dire - I still sadly recall my ineffective efforts to stop Russian friends from investing in the pyramid scheme MMM. Many lost their life savings.

In Yeltsin's time the school system was given scant attention, I can rememebr reading newspaper stories about it while in Moscow. The predictable result is that standards have dropped. As it has been twenty years since I first visited Russia I can only imagine what condition the education system is in now. Since then, the weakened education system has had time to produce an entire generation of religion-ready Russians.

Yeltsin and Putin found themselves running a country with almost no political structures typical of the average democracy.

With the benefit of hindsight we can see that Putin's solution to this lack of political supporting structures was to put Yeltsin's reforms, at least partially, into reverse.

One move was to re-assert the power of the bureaucracy, as Putin moved to reassure them that old sins would be forgotten, their unelected power would remain unquestioned, and the fraternity of membership:

I am a Chekist.

There is no such thing as a former member of the KGB.

Another was to re-establish government control and censorship of the media, in his battle of wills with the Oligarchs.

I'm guessing that Putin did not immediately understand what the Orthodox Church could offer him, but he has learned that lesson now. The Orthodox Church was revitalised by Yeltsin - for the rather spurious reason that it was a part of the 'lost' Russian culture - so the priests were already in the Kremlin when Putin first came to power as Prime Minister. They have had plenty of time to work on him. Russia at that time lacked political parties with established bases among the normal citizens on the one hand, and had oligarchs pushing for more power and highlighting the shortcomings of the bureaucracy on the other hand - while the bureaucracy itself sat sulking in the middle. Meanwhile the new political class were trying to outdo each other in populist rhetoric, while actually achieving nothing concrete - with the result that they were nearly completely sidelined by Yeltsin's constitution.

Putin needed to find a way to ensure popular support if he was to become President. One way was to use his new-found power over the media to build what looks, dangerously, like a personality cult. The other was to use the Orthodox Pulpit. The reason that politicians in every country like priests, rabbis, shamen, imams or whatever is that they get to speak to their followers - without interruption - from a place of authority to an audience that is open to whatever propaganda they might hear while they are in a reflective frame of mind. Not forgetting, of course, that priests (etc.) are supposedly moral leaders.

Finally, throwing out the communists has not created a better Russia for many. The Orthodox Church is helping out by telling the poor that they will get theirs in the next life - and all those naughty people leading the high life now will get their comeuppance. It is the classic religious move - keeping the lower classes in their place, and happy about it.

The Orthodox Church supports the President - the President supports the Orthodox Church. Today, the Church has nearly returned to it's old position as the established church of Russia.

If the above sounds critical of Putin, then I need to add something; Putin is not a great leader, he has held the Russian political clock still - rather than let it advance and handle the full challenge of change. This is clearly beginning to frustrate many Russians, who have begun to protest. On the other hand, I do not believe Putin to be a bad man - he was always clear that his own goal was stability and he has achieved that. The problem with stability in politics, of course, is that what it actually translates to is supporting the status quo.

When Yeltsin handed over to Putin, as President, many changes had been made. In order to keep those things which he thought worked (because they delivered political results) Putin was forced to continue to make some changes. Re-establishing the Orthodox Church was probably sold to him as: Actually, only putting back some of the political stability that was taken out by the communists. The worst we can say about this is that Putin was a man of his time; seeking out a new way forward for Russia in a near political vacuum.

The Orthodox Church has another string to its bow: The old Orthodox Church was a central part of the old Russian Empire. Many of the people's in surrounding countries can be, and are, influenced by priests selected, trained, appointed, supported, promoted, administered and managed from Moscow. How many Russians could honestly say that, if they had been in Putin's place, they would have ignored the Orthodox Church's influence in this arena.

The ways to combat this mess are many. As Russians are learning, rather slowly: The only way to make politics work, is to work at politics - and that includes between elections.

I suggest you read Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince to understand what you need to aim for - a humanist approach to religion and the State.

Remember what we said at the beginning? The Orthodox Church is a political organisation, or it is nothing. You will have to work extra hard to unseat the church from Russian politics now that they have had 20 years of re-building; government favouritism (e.g. legal restrictions on other religions), government propaganda, 'cultural' funding for the re-building and decoration of church buildings, being friendly with nearly every politician, and so on ...

One very serious problem is Russian censorship. This is a 21st Century problem, not just a Russian problem - though it has to be said that Russia has a worse situation than most countries. But only Russians can turn the tide of censorship and propaganda in Russia. I suggest you start with the Фонда защиты гласности.

To his great credit, Medvedev has pointed out that the bureaucracy dominates the Media - and he has pushed for a more open political dialogue. But the Church is as one with the bureaucracy on this: Censorship is vital to give them the freedom to manoeuvre. The only way for any politicians to move this area forwards is for ordinary people to keep pushing. Get involved in the Pussy Riot.

The next most important problem is education. Are the Orthodox Church in Russian schools now? It is not enough (as discussed above) to have science taught - what must be included is rationalism and the scientific method: humility, facts, observation, thesis, testing. If science is only taught as a series of facts (e.g. learning the periodic table by rote) then children will not develop critical thinking. The development of critical thinking in the young is key. Resist the Church's influence in schools. If you have children, volunteer to work for the school in your own time and try to work out how best to influence its policies.

Join a political party. Attend the meetings, push for a progressive agenda.

Talk to your friends about their beliefs and superstitions. Do not make fun of them, but do question them - and always ask the hard questions. One of the great things about Russian culture is that you can ask a friend anything.

Finally; don't expect miracles. Putin has sometimes shown that even things he doesn't like can happen. He is no fool, and knows that Russia must at least evolve if it is not to have another Gorbachev / Yeltsin moment of upheaval. Push for the big change, embrace the small wins.

Good luck.

Sun, 05 Aug 2012 18:59:42 UTC | #950416

Go to: Why is evolution more accepted in Mexico than in the USA?

Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 28 by Stephen of Wimbledon

In response to Comment 23 by Steve Mading.

Hi Steve,

You are using a bad argument ...

Was I making an argument? I thought I was just stating the facts that I think I know.

Private schools are allowed to eject students ... Government schools [must] take all comers [so] a private school can keep its scores high by being selective [then] use ... better scores ... as "evidence" that the school did a better job ... & You can be kicked out of a private school for getting low grades. [In a] government school ... poor scores ... reflect on the ... school's record in statistics like the one you quoted.

I was under the impression that the international studies of primary school attainment were predicated on samples of all school types. I may be mistaken - as I said I haven't look at this in detail for some time.

I was not singling out Government Schools versus Private Schools in the way you suggest. It's just that the majority of us will attend a government-funded school such that the private school data (in the international comparison samples) will be overwhelmed by the data (and performance) of gov't. funded schools.

Of course a rarely discussed and unintended consequence of this kind of comparison is that parents of pupils in private schools - in any country where the gov't. education sector is under-performing - will tend to see the difference as vindication of their investment and think all is okay.

But, if the combined (private + public) schools record is below that of other countries (or states), those parents may be fooling themselves. Attainment in gov't schools is what underpins truly high education standards across one regulatory area.

Other countries in the English-speaking World are tending to follow the same model - i.e. that government schools must not expel disruptive pupils - it is so obviously a bad policy that I just despair of ever getting a politician to do anything right.

... see, public schools bad, private schools good ... give less funding to public schools, which then cause them to become worse, which they can use as a reason to give them even less funding, in a downward spiral. The goal? Put education back into the hands of religious institutions instead of it being seen as a public good.

I don't know about any plan, but it is true that politicians across the World tend to take the starting point: Supporting bad schools is throwing good money after bad. I'm not convinced that it is only right-wingers either. The basic problem is that everyone - whether 'left' or 'right', to use those rather outdated cold war labels - seems to think that education policy can be run intuitively.

Establishments that supposedly study effective education seem to me to rarely use a proper scientific method and they're all too ready to make broad-brush conclusions from limited observations.

The result is competing 'sociologies' with no real strength - except where the 'results' of studies overlap with this or that, here-today-gone-tomorrow, politician's unthinking prejudice.

My own view, for the record, is that I have never seen an adequately funded education system, and nor have I ever seen an education system which is truly professionally run. Even the best private schools appear to be run using highly subjective criteria and a great deal of by-the-seat-of-the-pants management.

As VrijVlinder points out in his Comment 21, the area where you find any gov't school will help to define its ability to fund itself, with a public school:

... in an area of mostly lower middle class or poor, will have less resources to support the school beyond the minimum.

Where it is possible to compare well-off families who's children are educated in a gov't school with a nearby privately funded school (as we see here in Wimbledon) the difference is often negligible. It is, however, not a given: The management of schools and the skills of teachers still play a very significant role. Parents who are better off, and who take an interest in their child's education, are usually the source of these influences. We also see, occasionally, a large enough number of parents pushing schools in poorer areas and/or driven and skilled Head Teachers succeeding beyond expectations.

I appreciate that some politicians love to play to the religious vote by supporting stories of religions', supposed, ability to replace parents as the driver of education quality. I am dismayed that anything I may have said might be construed as a supporting argument for such an idea.

I hope the above makes my position clearer.

... the fix is NOT to defund public schooling by repeating the dodgy claim that private schools do a better job ...

I agree.


Sat, 14 Jul 2012 18:42:00 UTC | #949206

Go to: Why is evolution more accepted in Mexico than in the USA?

Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 19 by Stephen of Wimbledon

Why, if the USA [has] a strong school system, are people there still denying evolution?

There's your problem right there. You assume that because the US is rich it has good schools.

I wouldn't send any child of mine to a US Gov't. funded school for all the tea in China. The US has good private schools, and it would be unfair to say all US Gov't. schools are equally bad - as far as I can tell some even achieve mediocrity.

I am being partisan using old data, and the last time I looked at detailed international comparisons was ten years ago but I heven't seen anything to change my mind either. US schools have consistently scored Low in comparisons of educational attainment at high school.

My own time in tha States seemed to confirm that many US citizens only really start education when (and if) they go to college.


Mon, 09 Jul 2012 21:30:13 UTC | #948811

Go to: Genetically-modified mosquito designed to avoid malaria spread

Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 8 by Stephen of Wimbledon

At last, a real win for GM.

Of course it's all very anti-species-ist. As a citizen of a 'culture' that embraces difference and which recognises that difference is valuable and important - and must be 'respected' - I deplore the assumption that all malaria is bad and the automatic characterisation of malaria as something which must lead to 'sickness and death'.

Malaria is an integral component of our environment and we must respect its right to freedom as much as we value our own. We must ensure that malaria continues to enjoy its 'natural' freedom to live life on its own terms - even where they conflict with our own.

This blocking process within the insect that carries malaria can help significantly reduce human sickness and death

Well that's just too easy, isn't it. How do the Malaria viruses feel about this? Put yourself in their place: Humans are already celebrating your future demise.


p.s. beautiful picture of a mosquito.

Wed, 13 Jun 2012 23:56:35 UTC | #947273

Go to: Three Developments in British Education

Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 3 by Stephen of Wimbledon

In précis:

Academies are state-maintained but independently-run schools with outside sponsors. They have more freedoms than schools under local authority control and therefore, it is argued, are subject to less bureaucracy and have more freedom over their budgets. They also differ from mainstream schools by what they teach - but only because an academy must specialise in an area (languages, art & media, science, technology & design, etc.). Outstanding schools (as judged by the schools regulator - Ofsted) that become academies do not need to be sponsored by outside organisations, which represents a major change in the funding system.

The plan is that current, local authority run, schools will convert to academies. The essential change is the loss of direct local authority control over schools. Many local authorities are joining consortia to convert schools in their area to academies - thus maintaining significant influence.

Last time I looked, of the 24,000 schools in England, only ~200 were academies.

Free schools are set up by groups of parents, teachers, charities, businesses, universities, trusts, religious or voluntary groups, but funded directly by central government. Of the 323 applications received by September 2011, 115 were from faith groups.

So, I hear you ask, is there a difference between free schools and academies?

Essentially no. Most free schools will be established as academies. The free schools programme will give parents and teachers the chance to create a wholly new school if they are unhappy with state schools in a particular local area (i.e. if they believe that simply turning a mainstream, local authority run, school into an academy will not get significant results). This means that many local authorities are very anti-free-schools (including my own), but positive about academies.

This suggests to me that worrying about whether academies will have the freedom to re-write the national curriculum is a waste of time. Indeed, it would appear that academies are essentially the same school system under new management - but still obliged to teach the national curriculum, including evolution and excluding non-science from science lessons.

Or did I miss something?

I'm willing to be educated.


[Sources: The Guardian and the BBC]

Mon, 11 Jun 2012 21:06:06 UTC | #946932

Go to: South Korea surrenders to creationist demands

Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 32 by Stephen of Wimbledon

In response to comment 23 by Wonderingaboutlife

Hi Wondering,

Shadowmind is guilty of over-egging his pudding and airing an extreme view - and for that reason I thank you for responding.

Evolution was 0 % of my education.

Assuming your claim to be a doctor is true - I find that of very grave concern. I cannot believe that a modern doctor can be effective without knowledge of evolution:

  • Evolution explains the morphologies of your patients, and all the diseases, symbionts and parasites to which the human body plays host.
  • Evolution explains how the 1 trillion cells in the average human - with human DNA - interact with the other 9 trillion cells that do not have human DNA that go up to make that average person.
  • Evolution explains how your patients react to, and interact with, the World around them.
  • Evolutionary medicine explains the rising resistance to anti-biotics and informs public health policies on prescription, civil engineering, infestation control, agriculture - and many others besides.
  • Therefore, without fear or favor, we can legitimately conclude - without a medical degree - that your statement:

    Evolution has NOTHING to do with modern medicine. period.

    ... is wrong.

    It may be that medicine is practiced successfully, in many instances, without direct reference to evolution. That does not mean that it could not be practiced better; more successfully and more often, with an evolutionary understanding.

    Indeed, all of the most promising medical research appears to be based on the study of DNA (itself best understood as an evolved mechanism) within the context of evolution - or on evolutionary factors alone - which must surely mean that the doctors of the future will look back at the current era and wonder at how primitive medical practice is today.

    It is also possible that, despite being wrong, you really are a doctor. If you are, I urge you to bring your training up to date and into line with best practice. I recommend this course.

    Until you upgrade your education I hope you'll forgive me for not joining the queue to enter your practice. I'm more interested in a competent doctor than a compassionate one.


    Wed, 06 Jun 2012 13:05:23 UTC | #945860

    Go to: You want to ban hate speech? Isn’t that what religion is?

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 5 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    This is an interesting perspective, except that I can see the religious response coming:

    We also preach love, respect, honor, morality, etc.

    It's always seemed odd to me that they never preach humor ... ?

    Your taking those texts out of perspective

    See the Scripture Project.

    Saying that our Allah-given text is hateful is offensive - this is exactly what we mean by hate speech!

    No-one is more energised by hate speech laws than me. But even I can see that attacking hate speech laws this way is likely to be counter-productive; we will waste time and resources essentially singing the opposition's tune.


    Fri, 01 Jun 2012 02:54:29 UTC | #944889

    Go to: Does Religious Liberty Equal Freedom to Discriminate?

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 21 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    In response to Comment 7 by Russell Blackford.

    Hi Russell,

    In any event, the idea of freedom of religion (the state will not persecute you for your religion or impose an alien religion on you) is manipulated unconscionably in these debates.

    I agree that manipulation is involved - modern organised religions are kicking in the traces because, as Lawrence notes, they are losing their grip on power.

    But do the machinations of the priesthoods (redefining Religious Freedom in order to re-amplify their political power) really amount to being unconscionable?

    It seems to me that it is important for us to recognise the fight we're in - this is political.

    You are right to point out that freedom of religion means:

    ... the state will not persecute you for your religion or impose a religion on you ...

    It's the use of the word persecute that goes to the heart of the matter. Hostility and ill-treatment can be quite objective descriptions of wrong-doing but, like taking offense, claiming persecution is something we could all do if we put our minds to it - such is the flexibility of these terms.

    Indeed, it seems to me that we often recognise that repression is as much in the mind of the 'victim' as it is evidence based.

    Which brings me, neatly, to your closing statement:

    Properly understood, freedom of religion is a good thing, and it is compatible with other liberal freedoms such as freedom of speech.

    I don't know what the word liberal gives us in that statement, to me human rights transcend factional labels - but moving swiftly on.

    The whole point of a political debate is that rights are often difficult to harmonise and some debate is therefore required to find some compromise in specific instances. Your chosen sample - religion and free speech - are a case in point.

    Is it conscionable to allow that religious freedom can mean the religious have the right to express themselves through marriage, while simultaneously denying that right to gay folk?

    The religious are claiming that it is because marriage is, in some way they find hard to define, "special".

    Setting aside the inability of the religious to express themselves when describing marriage, they are having no such difficulty redefining Religious Freedom to mean the Right to Discriminate. They would like us to interpret this as the right to recognise difference but, as Lawrence notes, it actually means the Right to Act with Prejudice:

    One might rationally argue that individual human beings should be free choose what moral behavior they approve of, and which they don’t, subject to the constraints of the law. But when organized religious groups gain power of any form, power over the state, power over women, or power over children, the results inevitably lead to restrictions on liberty based on discrimination.

    When you note that:

    ... manipulation of the idea can give it a bad name

    ... it seems to me that isn't helpful. We have to recognise that all ideas are the subject of manipulation - especially in politics.

    The best way to manage this debate is to reflect back the reality of the demands they are making: A naked play for more political power.

    In this fight your are bang on with one idea: We all need to point out to others that the religious are attempting to redefine the ages old definition of Religious Freedom and we need to call the religious to account for it - get them to explain their new definition.


    Tue, 29 May 2012 13:43:37 UTC | #944217

    Go to: New Bill will reform libel laws

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 1 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    It doesn't go far enough, and it's a sop to those concerned about civil rights in a sea of announcements flowing in the opposite direction.

    This was the worst day for civil liberties in Britain in half a Century - probably more.

    Icing on the Cake: The Leveson Inquiry may act as a brake on the proposed Act being passed.

    Pass me a bucket.

    Thu, 10 May 2012 13:42:33 UTC | #940854

    Go to: Open letter and video re threat to GM Research

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 62 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    In response to Comment 3 by Jos Gibbons.

    Hi Jos,

    You ask:

    Why are the "unintended consequences" of GM liable to be any greater a threat than the unintended consequences of the ordinary artificial selection that agriculture has used throughout recorded history?

    Well, according to Rothamsted Research:

    We have identified a way of getting the plant to repel aphids, using a natural process that has evolved in mint and many other plants – and simply adding this into the wheat genome to enable it to do the same thing.

    I know of no unintended consequences to other species as great as that - produced by Traditional GM (a.k.a. inter-breeding). The threat is that the unintended consequences of modern GM will affect eco-systems.

    When using Traditional GM, we give other species time to adapt - up to a point. We come out on top (what would be the point otherwise), but the overall ecosystem remains stable and speciation isn't crashed into reverse gear.

    A good, real life, parallel to this is the importing of species from other parts of the Globe. Removed from the checks and balances of their native lands, they run riot. In Britain we are battling several plagues of invasive species right now. Actually, surrendering is probably the better verb. The best example of this is Japanese Knot Weed - but it is not alone, by any means.

    US Citizens check here.

    When you say:

    At least with GM you know which genes you end up with, which gives you a good idea what phenotypes will result.

    That's true, and it doesn't help. The whole idea behind GM is that you strengthen one species against another. By doing so you do the same as European and US gardeners did - as an unintended consequence - when they imported Japanese Knot Weed. You remove checks and balances. To quote this expert Site:

    ... the controlling influence of the many insects and fungi that attack the plant in its native range has been removed. Our native species have not taken a shine to Knotweed and very few if any insects or fungi can be found on the plant even after almost 200 years.

    No doubt, many people will say: "Aha, we could produce a variety of food that ruins riot. Hang on, where's the fire?"

    The problem is that by simply building places to live, turning over more land to agriculture, making roads, and growing in numbers - year on year - we're already pushing the Global eco-system to the brink.

    When you say:

    So far, literally the only bad thing that's happened with GM is that an allergy to Brazil nuts has proven applicable also to the meat of some animals with the relevant nut genes inserted.

    ... that seems to me to lack any critical thinking of any kind. I will be happy to be proved wrong.

    Clearly, there is another recent example to which we can look when we consider unintended consequences of human intervention in agriculture: Bees.

    I will be happier when the development and licensing of all agricultural products includes environmental and eco-system studies.

    However, the group threatening Rothamstead Research are clearly nuttier than a Bertholletia excelsa. We won't get anywhere without research. I signed the Sense About Science petition, and I urge all RDFRS / visitors to do the same.

    As Simon Singh so righhtly says:

    Destroying research is worse than burning books. These protesters appear to want a return to the Garden of Eden, but in reality they are taking a step towards the Dark Ages.


    Thu, 03 May 2012 22:30:07 UTC | #939457

    Go to: School vouchers and the religious subversion of church-state separation

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 1 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    Is it really true that parents must have a choice in the education of their children?

    As a parent I have the unenviable job of choosing between state schools that have open admission policies - and trying to work out which is the best fit for my child.

    But other than that:

  • Do I have the right to demand, and if so why so?

  • Am I the ultimate consumer of education - or is it society at large - or is it the child?

  • Why are schools different from each other?

  • It may be that we will never get a level playing field between schools - but we can try.

    In the meantime isn't this choice thing a sideshow? It seems to me that it is. What's really needed is that we decide, together, what we are supplying and paying for when we talk about education. Are we getting the best bang for our buck?

    What do we want to achieve with education, and what are we giving the next generation? What are the challenges we are preparing them to address, and what do we need to teach - as opposed to simply letting them learn? What mistakes have we seen that we don't want to repeat?

    What is education for ... ?

    Wed, 25 Apr 2012 13:33:13 UTC | #937208

    Go to: In defence of obscure words

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 35 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    Humbug! One does not need to be an inveterate sufferer of verbal diarrhea to make a point succinct, articulate, incisive and sound.



    Mon, 23 Apr 2012 22:13:53 UTC | #936823

    Go to: Atheism and Political Philosophy - Secularization

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 5 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    Hi Bob,

    Anvil gives good advice. Just to add a little to that; John Locke was one of three (philosophers even call them 'the triumvirate of British empiricists'), the others being David Hume and Francis Bacon.

    I'm not necessarily advising that you read Bacon, and Hume had little to say about politics specifically, but both put religion into it's social context.

    John Stuart Mill is worth every waking moment of study and contemplation.

    In order to understand why religions are not needed as moral guides in politics you could try reading Herbert Spencer and his various writings on natural law - though much of his writing is very disappointing.

    Niccolò Machiavelli has much wisdom to impart on religion and power. It is instructive rather than modelled. He is very easy to read - his writing almost literally drips with a biting satire that is as relevant today as it has always been. Politics has not come far in the last half millennium, and so too religion.

    One cannot mention political philosophy without mentioning Karl Marx. Marx's ideas have been tested - literally - to destruction several times over. Although his ideas were coherent, detailed and uncompromising that doesn't make them true - as hundreds of millions of ghosts, and the histories of so many failed states, testify. On the other hand, the very fact that his ideas were so coherent and thorough makes Kapital worth a look as an example of systematic political philosophy. It's a tough call. Don't worry - just like reading the Bible, reading Kapital will not convert you - if anything rather the opposite.

    I'm only an amateur philosopher, so I may easily have missed several important political philosophers who have studied or considered religions in their main works.

    It seems to me that the numbers of philosophers who consider the contemplation of religion and politics to be relevant, or even interesting, drops off dramatically after the early 20th Century. Indeed, I cannot think of a truly modern and well-referenced philosopher who mentions religion in anything more than the intellectual equivalent of a dismissive, foppish, wave of a hand.

    The positivists were totally dismissive of religion, but many other modern philosophical models treat religion far worse - they simply ignore it all together. It seems to me that the philosophers' implicit message is that religion has no place in modern politics?

    I stand ready to be corrected.

    That's my advised reading list, for what it's worth.


    Mon, 23 Apr 2012 15:02:17 UTC | #936705

    Go to: Pell, Dawkins wage battle of belief

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 110 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    Can anyone help me to understand the Professor's reaction to Cardinal Pell's assertion that Charles Darwin was a theist? When Professor Dawkins attempted to put the Cardinal right, he replied that: " ... it's in Darwin's autobiography, page 92"

    At this point the Cardinal's supporters in the audience (i.e. most of the audience) squealed and clapped with joy - drowning out any further response.

    The Prof. did not take up this challenge, and I don't understand why.

    Charles Darwin's autobiography is available from Darwin Online - the full 1959 version, with annotations by his grand-daughter.

    In this I found a paragraph that starts on page 92 (with key phrase on page 93):

    Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.

    Looking further back, for context, I found that this comment of Darwin's comes amidst a series of deliberations in which Darwin explored, and rejected, arguments for a god or gods.

    Then I read on:

    This conclusion [ I deserve to be called a Theist ] was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species; and it is since that time that it has very gradually with many fluctuations become weaker.

    Darwin is writing his autobiography, after all. It is clear from this very next sentence that Darwin has (pages 91 to 93) been exploring the development of his thinking regarding the supernatural over his lifetime and that he had reached a point where he recognises that the First Cause argument is a weak argument. And Darwin isn't finished yet:

    But then arises the doubt - can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions? May not these be the result of the connection between cause and effect which strikes us as a necessary one, but probably depends merely on inherited experience? Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.

    Darwin, recognising that cause and effect is a way of thinking that, being evolved, may not be up to the job of deciding a question as vast as the origin of the universe. He follows this with a cautionary note that even he is likely to fall foul of childhood religious indoctrination.

    On page 94, Darwin changes his tone and becomes more reflective again - and gives us a very clear message about whether he was still a theist (even in the very narrow sense that he called his younger self a theist):

    The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.

    As Elisabeth Cornwell notes (Comment 86):

    An agnostic is a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena.

    As I say, I don't understand why 'Darwin's Rottweiler' let this go. Perhaps it was the jet lag (as a fellow sufferer, I sympathise). We all make mistakes; it isn't the end of the World.

    At least now if anyone tries to pull the Pell lie on you, dear Reader, you'll know how to respond.


    Mon, 16 Apr 2012 13:55:04 UTC | #935056

    Go to: Petition: no jail time for birth control

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 8 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    As an AVAAZ member I signed this some time ago.

    May I also suggest that also considers re-posting activist posts from:

  • The Open Rights Group [UK]

  • Unlock Democracy [UK]

  • Demand Progress [US]

  • Cheers!

    Fri, 13 Apr 2012 12:55:55 UTC | #934395

    Go to: What do you say to your faith-based neighbors?

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 514 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    Hi Quinne,

    As you requested I stopped by.

    In the highly unlikely event that anyone is interested in anything I might add to this thread (after such a long discussion I mean, not that the subject in itself isn't of interest) I have posted on tactics for conversations with the faithful here, and here.

    As to the question: What do you say to your faith-based neighbors?

    As a matter of fact some of my neighbours are Christians (Presbyterian I think, but don't quote me on that). I don't say anything to them (about their faith). They moved in ten years ago, and I'm still waiting for religion to pop up in conversation. It did once before, but in those days I was still only a lazy agnostic with a vague idea that religion was probably okay for other people - it just wasn't for me.

    Why then, I hear you ask, am I not fired up to pop round and accost them right now?

    I may be both atheist and militant agnostic - but I don't define myself by something that I'm not. I'm also afootballist (the new religion) but I don't go around asking people if they're football supporters so that I can tell them that they're wrong.

    Also, as I may have mentioned a hundred times before (sorry about that), my Mother is a priest (or was, she just decided to retire). I haven't had much time to work on her (since becoming a militant agnostic) - but when I do spend time with her this month - and in the Summer - I will be using the tactics in the above links.

    It is actually extremely frustrating talking to the faithful - just as it is when speaking to anyone who has some fixed idea or other. Do I weaken, do I fail to follow my own tactical plan, do I (horror of horrors) sometimes lose my temper? Of course I do.


    Wed, 11 Apr 2012 23:41:27 UTC | #934029

    Go to: How, realistically, do we get rid of faith schools?

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 97 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    In response to Comment 40.

    Hi Viveca,

    ... that very realism illustrates the relative impotency of "our" position.

    Don't give up before you've started.

    It's a long road - not a road without end.

    Tue, 10 Apr 2012 15:03:36 UTC | #933665

    Go to: We asked "Do you really believe ___" and they said yes. Now what?

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 21 by Stephen of Wimbledon


    It seems to me that there are two ways to address your 'Now what?' scenario.

    One is succinctly, and pithily, addressed by irate_atheist in Comment 14. This is probably appropriate if you don't fancy yourself as a psycho-analyst (geddit?). But, I reckon it's also a good idea to at least have a go at the other response, before you put your sprinter's spikes on.

    The other response is addressed in various ways by people above - engagement. As Mike (Sample) says in Comment 2:

    Religion doesn't own the patent on planting seeds.

    This is the key approach. If you find yourself asking closed questions (see Laura Bow's Comment 13 for examples) you'll - more often than not - find yourself talking to a brick wall (a lot like 78rpm in Comment 6)

    I have already posted on asking open questions, here.

    Remember, in any conversation: The overall objective is not to win the argument!

    The overall objective, as Mike said. is 'to plant a seed'.


    Wed, 04 Apr 2012 14:11:19 UTC | #932350

    Go to: How, realistically, do we get rid of faith schools?

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 26 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    Hi Viveca,

    ... by what means do you imagine faith schools can ever be abolished?

    By the same means by which they were established - by political means.

    Are there any lessons and parallels we can draw from history whereby seemingly entrenched laws and opinions were subsequently overturned?

    Votes for women, the abolition of slavery. In my lifetime: A Scottish Assembly and joining the European Union were originally considered next to impossible in my youth - but both are fact today.

    ... merely pointing out that things can change, without understanding what specific ideological and material forces brought about that change, isn't going to help anyone.

    Joining the EU and forming the Scottish Assembly were - demonstrably and decidedly - not driven by ideology. Both decisions were pragmatic (they also proved to have unintended consequences - but that's dim-witted politicians for you). Ted Heath's government (actually, probably the Civil Service) recognised that not belonging was causing growing harm, and belonging had hard economic benefits (witness that the EU is now our biggest trading partner).

    The Scottish Parliament was formed because the Idiot thought that it would be a great way for the Labour party to make trouble when the inevitable non-Labour government would be voted into Westminster. At least, that was what was reported at the time.

    Do these count as material forces? They're certainly political forces.

    Are there any specific ideological or material forces currently on the horizon which have the capacity to assist in the abolition of faith schools?

    Ideological, no.

    Material ... well, there's you, and me, and a few thousand others. Do we make a political force? Given our success rate so far I think we have to recognise that we have a long way to go. As the Prof. says; Herding Cats.

    But it's not just the lack of standing up to be counted, or the absence of leaderships and organisation, it's that politicians are convinced of the value of the religious vote. That, it seems to me, is the key.


    Tue, 03 Apr 2012 16:49:26 UTC | #932157

    Go to: You are not so smart

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 21 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    Hi Kat,

    If someone is clearly wrong, how do you bring this (and facts) to their attention without them digging their heals deeper into convincing themselves that they are right and you are wrong?

    Thousands of people do this every day - it's called diplomacy. Charm, sensitivity and tact go a long way.

    After all, it has been shown that telling someone clear facts creates the opposite effect.

    Yes it has. There is also a modern tendency towards relativism (all points of view are valid). It is really important to steer clear of this error. Introducing facts into a conversation is often the worst way to proceed when trying to get people to view the World differently. Also, we have to factor in the problem of subjective judgement.

    It has been argued that all human decisions are, ultimately, based on the subjective feelings of the Decider.

    People also invest in their decisions - the longer they have held a particular view the more likely they are to defend it.

    Then there is the problem that most of us did not get a good education. Very few children are taught philosophy and critical thinking. Philosophy would teach us how to think from others' perspectives, logic and what is necessary (and many other good thinking skills besides). Critical thinking skills are essential for understanding the importance of facts, and how to weigh any evidence presented for facts - how to exercise true judgement.

    In a nutshell:

  • Be nice

  • Accept that they have a right to an opinion

  • Listen

  • Mirror their thoughts back to them - show that you understand how they feel, that their emotional and subjective feelings are important to you

  • Build trust

  • Respond by asking questions

  • Ask open questions

  • Put your own case without being confrontational

  • Avoid facts, facts are subjective

  • Direct your questions at building on their cognitive dissonance

  • Be: logical, charming and unrelenting

  • Allow no middle ground wherever possible

  • Don't push for a decision, better to leave the conversation hanging, indecisive, thought-provoking

  • Be persistent: Life is a long, unending, sequence of negotiations. All decisions are temporary and all strongly defended positions are merely provisional camps

  • By-the-by, to respond to your first question:

    We'd like to think that we are more competent and aware compared to other people, but are we really immune to faulty thinking, logical fallacies, and even magical thinking?

    I fall into the magical thinking trap on a regular basis, I expound and accept logical fantasies every day - sometimes without even noticing, and I'm always ready to re-check my thinking because I know I make mistakes all the time.

    As Christopher Hitchens was fond of saying: "Our frontal lobes are not all that they might be."


    Tue, 03 Apr 2012 16:23:26 UTC | #932151

    Go to: Apathetic Atheists: A Forgotten Resource?

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 22 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    Hi Mike,

    I confess I winced when Dr. mentioned the word apathy regarding secularists. It was a low point in an otherwise excellent speech that changed my opinion of the Out Campaign.

    I have some experience of volunteering and single-issue politics (free speech, copyright, voting reform, etc.) and I have to say that I never met a voter who was apathetic. Your story touches on one of the most frustrating, and also the most intriguing, thing about modern politics: The Silence of the Voters.

    Your friends, with their clear body language and their non-speaking parts in the narrative, are one of the most common types of voter in modern representative democracies.

    People everywhere have very strong political opinions - typically on a wide range of subjects. They have to get to know you very well, but in the end a little charm and encouragement will get them to talk.

    We hear those voices so rarely in politics today. Only the politicians get through. It is important to remember that some politicians are not party members, indeed no-one ever votes them into power; Journalists. They, and their power-broker employers, of course claim that the voters vote for them by tuning in or paying for the paper - what a crock.

    The reason people are afraid (yes, afraid) to speak out is because they not only fear they are in a minority - they fear retribution by the deluded. Or they simply fear social isolation.

    Anyone that holds a point of view that is never, or rarely, discussed in the traditional media (Papers, Magazines, Radio, TV) knows what I mean. You are made to feel an outsider before you even begin any discussion. You are made to think you must be worrying about something that is at best esoteric, at worst you're made to feel eccentric. Not eccentric in a unusual, or ambassadorial, way but in a different, diseased, not invented here way.

    Some of us are not afraid to be different, but we must not let this blind us to the problem that very significant numbers of people are unable to mature beyond teenage angst.

    By shutting people up, or ignoring what they don't like, old media narrows the field of debate. We have now reached the stage where - in the US and UK at least - voters are increasingly left with only one option: To protest that the political system does not represent them (in a representative democracy) by not voting. Because old media have got so good at doing what they do - and that the system is so bereft of real debate - tens of millions of people feel disenfranchised. Yes, they really do say: "Nothing is going to change" - I've heard it too.

    In my experience, these atheists know the rules of skepticism, they know religion is a pollution plaguing society, and yet they are motivated to do nothing.

    That's a new one on me Mike. I never met someone motivated to do nothing. Demotivated, maybe.

    They are not motivated because they feel powerless, alone, dis-empowered, disenfranchised, voiceless ...

    The way to make them active is to reach out to them. Marches (like the Reason Rally) and other meetings seem so basic and unsophisticated. Yet that's how they work - because people can relate to them so easily. Right now we are a grass-roots movement. Personal contact is everything - and the Net is a fantastic support mechanism and publishing device.

    Dr. Cornwell was bang on the button about one thing. Now we're all back home we need to: - Stand up and be counted - Reach out to others (I see you started on this one. Keep plugging away Mike, even when things seem hopeless) - Put religion in its place: Write, speak, make the odd joke - Organize, proselytize and rationalize

    Rinse & Repeat.


    Thu, 29 Mar 2012 20:45:24 UTC | #931225

    Go to: From Faith to Facts: Theology to Atheism an Unintended Outcome

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 25 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    In response to Comment 1 by gr8hands

    Hi gr8,

    An honest study of religion always brings about atheism ...

    Clearly that isn't true. If it was, no-one would ever pass out of seminary.

    To save time: Yes, I believe that many - even most - seminaries and theological studies are conducted honestly. My Mother is a priest. I visited her seminary. I have met and spoken to other priests and bishops. I have no reason to believe these people and these activities are institutionally dishonest.

    ... the intrinsic dishonesty of religion.

    There is no natural link between dishonesty and religion (or, at least, christianity - I can't speak for all of them).

    Religious people are generally convinced that faith is all that is required to speak the truth. That is not good thinking - but it is not dishonest.

    Religious people are generally very sincere. They are typically sincere from a subjective, highly emotional, fact-free base ... but they are sincere nevertheless.

    Religious people also try to be as reliable, honest and truthful as the rest of us. They tend to try to do it for odd reasons - dressing up their actions as specially favoured or claiming special guidance or remit. But they don't try to be unreliable, dishonest or pathological liars.

    If religious people do anything it is because they honestly believe, not because they're dishonest.

    This is why the title of the Professor's book says "delusion", not dishonesty.


    Thu, 29 Mar 2012 19:39:08 UTC | #931210

    Go to: Free speech under fire

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 65 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    Comment 60 by S. Gudmundsson

    I am offended by all these people taking offense at things.

    Comment 61 by susanlatimer

    I find that statement deeply offensive.

    How dare you take offence at S.G.'s offence! I am deeply, and greatly, offended!

    Tue, 13 Mar 2012 17:25:24 UTC | #926727

    Go to: Free speech under fire

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 41 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    In response to Comment 39

    Hi isisdron,

    People that pride themselves on their rationality are awesome. It's a good thing :)- but keeping in mind that humans are largely emotional actors, with very slight triggers, is a better thing.

    Why should I go out of my way to give extra privileges to someone who has hair-trigger emotions?

    I dont see the point of dressing like Zombie Mo as anything other than to be provocative.

    What's wrong with being provocative?


    Mon, 12 Mar 2012 16:15:58 UTC | #926434

    Go to: Atheists likely to outnumber Christians in England in 20 years

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 41 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    In response to Comments 36 & 39.

    Hi Strangebrew & Functional Atheist,

    Thank you for the kind thoughts.

    Of course, we could just be paranoid.

    On the other hand; They really could be out to get us ...


    Sat, 10 Mar 2012 23:21:53 UTC | #925995

    Go to: Atheists likely to outnumber Christians in England in 20 years

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 31 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    The actual British Parliament Paper can be found here.

    It covers more than one subject, and the religion part starts on page iii (or page 8, if viewing in Adobe Reader).

    The Briefing Paper says this in it's preamble:

    From 2002 to 2010 the Labour Force Survey asked respondents in Great Britain the question: “What is your religion even if you are not currently practising?”

    The question measures self-defined religious affiliation rather than religious practice, and it does so in very broad terms.

    The qualifying phrase “even if you are not currently practising” could be interpreted as an invitation to express a sense of cultural affinity with a particular religious tradition rather than an expression of faith in that tradition’s beliefs.

    The ... qualifying phrase is therefore likely to increase the number of responses in religious categories and reduce the number in the category for “no religion” [and] when the qualifying phrase was removed in 2011 ... it had the effect of reducing responses in the Christian category and increasing responses in the “no religion” group.

    From the start, the paper acknowledges significant weaknesses in the data.

    The Washington Post article is therefore incorrect on a matter of fact:

    The study conducted by the British Parliament showed there were 41 million Christians in Britain ...

    No it doesn't - as the extract above, from the Report itself, demonstrates.

    The Report is actually very professional and easy to read (as you would expect coming from such an august organisation), and I recommend it to all British citizens visiting this Netsite.

    On page vii (or page 13, if viewing in Adobe Reader) there is a final twist:

    Between Q4 2010 and Q1 2011, following [a] change in the question, the estimated number of Christians fell by around 2.8 million, while the estimated number of people in the “no religion” category grew by roughly the same number.

    Not only that, but the table on the same page suggests that the gap is shrinking by 4% every 6 months (No Religion + 2% Christianity -2% between Q1 and Q3 2011) - or 8% per year. That is Non-Believers will be the bigger than Christianity (measured on, as the Report recognises, a subjective basis) in Britain, by 2021.

    That's 9 years, not the 20 years claimed by the Washington Post.

    However, the Report goes further:

    The older you are, the more likely you are to identify yourself as a Christian and the less likely you are to define yourself as a person with no religion. But the Christian population is shrinking despite an increase in the number and proportion of older people


    [One] hypothesis is that as children grow into young adults and form a religious identity independent of their parents, an increasing proportion are coming to regard themselves as having no religion.

    In other words: the trend to No Religion may be accelerating!

    No doubt the Author of the Report would protest at my extrapolating from such a small sample. Perhaps that shows that any report based on statistics can be biased with very little effort? As Alan4discussion notes (Comment 20) the BSA survey seems to be more accurate than the subjective and misleading question in the LFS. Some BSA figures are mentioned, but are not included in the Report's conclusions.

    Which begs the question: Why were BSA figures excluded?

    In addition, as Alan4discussion again notes (Comment 20) the RDFRS / MORI polls provide a useful lens through which to view the LFS data (as it pre-dates the Parliamentary Report). Including the ability to answer the Reports own implied question: How accurate is this data? contained in the Report's sentence:

    This difference [between those claiming to be christian in the BSA and Government figures - a difference of a staggering 29%] suggests that people’s sense of religious affiliation is sensitive to the question that is used and the response categories that are offered when they are asked to define it.

    No kidding.

    Which brings me to the commissioning of the report. Who asked for this report and why?

    My analysis, above, seems to me to point to a politician who wishes to try and re-affirm the current Government's line on the privileging of religion and their social engineering to assist religions to grow. The Report is clearly designed to use the most favourable data available in order to draw specious conclusions in order, probably, to counter the RDFRS / MORI poll.


    If the Government is happy to generate and use specious arguments to shore up religions then: The Government are denying you, and your children, your right to freedom from religion.

    In addition, because I can never resist having a pop at the morally and intellectually bankrupt Old Media, regarding the Washington Post's story:




    Sat, 10 Mar 2012 14:56:03 UTC | #925883

    Go to: The Other Half: When children marry

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 15 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    In response to Comment 8.

    Hi Jonathan,

    Many thanks for the link. What a truly wonderful idea to raise the aspirations and knowledge of girls in poverty. I am inspired.

    Christopher Hitchens did indeed press the issue of girl's education. He was, as we would expect, working from the facts - numerous studies have shown that educating girls has great benefits for their families, countries and communities as well as for them as individuals in their health, welfare and economic situation.

    I find it strange that the women who call themselves feminists in the West seem not to be active in promoting this kind of initiative - projects which offer far greater returns than anything happening in the West. Strange, not only because of the number of women who's lives could be improved, and the huge increase in quality of life that such projects offer. But also strange because of they are missing a P.R. opportunity. Every woman in the West has a Father. Recruit them.


    Fri, 09 Mar 2012 16:12:40 UTC | #925640

    Go to: Countless millions of taxpayers’ money spent on discrimination in schools

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 6 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 forbid discrimination in employment or vocational training due to religion or belief.


    St Mary's Island CE Primary school [asking applicants] to "provide a faith reference" to prove that they will uphold the "Christian leadership that are at the heart of our caring environment".

    ... is a clear instance of discriminatory and illegal practice as a qualified applicant with no membership of an organised religion could provide such a reference.

    I'm not a Teacher. Anyone out there qualified who might fancy becoming a cause célèbre?

    Questions about what constitutes a religion or belief are settled by Employment Tribunal. From my own experience I know that this is a long road designed to wear down litigants and promote out-of-court settlements, or a very limited financial penalty on the employer.

    I cannot fund the full course of an ET case myself, but would be happy to contribute.


    Thu, 08 Mar 2012 12:15:29 UTC | #925351

    Go to: In the Spirit: Some florists won't deliver to atheist

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 39 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    In response to Comment 24 by DavidMcC

    Hi Dave,

    Is someone going to threaten to beat me up now?

    What, in WIMBLEDON?

    Yes, I see your point.

    Wouldn't you first have to check whether your local florists were refusing to send flowers to atheists?

    How long do you think it will take when Warsi is beating the war drum so loudly?


    Wed, 15 Feb 2012 17:42:21 UTC | #918064

    Go to: Freedom of speech for street preachers

    Stephen of Wimbledon's Avatar Jump to comment 206 by Stephen of Wimbledon

    In response to Comment 205 by AngusNZ

    Hi Angus,

    I believe that the subject matter is irrelevant, the right to free speech is something to protect but ...

    Whenever someone says this kind of thing, I'm reminded of "I'm an Atheist BUT ... " arguments.

    Free speech is not a sweetie at the Pick & Mix counter. You sound like you're saying: "Oh yes, I'm all in favour of sweets, but I don't like liquorice ... so they're not sweets".

    Free speech does not have an adjustable scale of no free speech at one end and open season on rude, destructive ranting at the other.

    Free speech is a principle.

    Free speech is a founding truth and finely judged proposition that serves as the foundation for that chain of reasoning which leads to

  • Civil Society

  • Rule of Law &

  • Democracy
  • ... direct verbal assault is not free speech ...

    I do not accept that the term verbal assault is a valid statement. I do not deny bullying (see my above posts, ad nauseum).

    But if you were to say rude language: Why is directed rude language not free speech?

    ... whatever the Preacher's reason for directing abuse at two people in the street once it becomes directed and not just an opinion then it is a form of assault.

    The data we have is incomplete, but even with that caveat we have enough to be able to say: The Preacher is not guilty of assault. His rant remains, simply and straightforwardly, an opinion.

    He upset a couple of people who were foolish enough to take his tirade and his ridiculous opinions about some mythical cobblers seriously.

    I don't give a toss!

    If they want to take offence at what someone says, that's their look-out. Taking offence is a choice. If you want to take offence at anything that is your privilege - but I'm not bound by any moral code to defend your highly-tuned, effete, sensibilities.

    I do believe that civil discourse and polite society are the necessary preconditions for progressive and constructive debate - in most instances. But that doesn't mean we have to feather-bed anyone from barbed opinion. By doing so we limit our own free speech, and we oppress one minority in favour of another - before the debate can even get started.

    Don't involve me in someone else's subjective feelings of offence - and don't use that as an excuse to make a law saying that I can't say what I want, and that Angus can't say what Angus wants, just because someone, somewhere, has previously decided they don't quite like that sort of language - 'you know, because, well, you know, it's nasty, yeah?'.

    For goodness sake: Get some balls!

    Your wittering on about namby-pamby definitions of assault is undermining me, you, and our Western culture of openness and free expression. Stop!

    Even charity collectors cannot directly ask you for, or approach you, to request money

    Two wrongs don't make a right. The law is still an Ass, you have simply provided more evidence that it is so.

    In addition, you are making a logical fallacy here; The law describes approaching people in the street and talking to them as wrong - therefore approaching people in the street and talking to them must be wrong in every way of wrongness.


    We change laws on a daily basis because the law is often, repeatedly and maddeningly wrong.

    In this Preacher's case the law is wrong because it is attempting to police democratic debate between citizens by digging traps in the otherwise level playing field.

    The law is wrong, not free speech.

    ... a speaker should not direct his words to individuals who have not requested interaction.

    I agree, the Preacher is guilty of incivility. Nothing to see here, move along. You could have added that the Preacher is a despicable, bigoted, pathetic, deluded moron and I would still agree with you.

    We know this because the Preacher exercised his free speech.

    That's free speech. Get over it.


    Tue, 14 Feb 2012 10:42:37 UTC | #917606