Monthly Archives: April 2011

First Contact

This is a re-post of something I wrote for Off The Map – Atheist in 2008 but with the errors tidied up so that I look cleverer.

RememberI remember my first personal encounter with religion vividly. I’m not talking about attending the weddings of my cousins or family friends, saying the Lord’s Prayer at cub scouts or even the daily rote lectures that took the place of religious education at school. Religion in these contexts was easy to ignore as it was simply part of the ritual of the institution. I’m talking about my first contact outside of this protective bubble.

I was about 10 or 11 years old and in typical boyish fashion I’d been out all day on my bike. We used to ride our bikes all over the woods and hills, looking for new dens or places to hide. It was summer and very hot and I was tired. I’d cycled most of the way home but decided that I wanted a drink. I hopped off my bike, dumped it on the pavement (we were just as inconsiderate of pedestrians in my day) and popped into the nearest shop. I should point out that the newsagents of the day weren’t all 7\11 clones but small, privately owned affairs typically run by families. You had to go to the counter and ask for what you wanted and the staff would fetch it for you.*

PrayingNo-one was behind the counter though, at least no-one that I could see. I had to wait. Without warning a little old lady got up off the floor from behind the counter. “Sorry,” she said, “I was just praying”. I mumbled something , bought my drink and left. I couldn’t help wonder though: Why was she praying? What good would it do? Why was she on her knees? and while she was working? To my childish mind this was an glimpse of something that I didn’t think I should see, something taboo. I’ve never quite shaken that idea and, to this day, public displays of faith make me uncomfortable.

It may have been the reaction to my presence that turned me off the idea of prayer. Why leap to her feet (as far as the elderly can) if her behaviour is normal? Why offer the “I was just praying” excuse if the act was acceptable?

Embarrassment occurs in socially awkward situations. These may be caused by misunderstandings but more often they result from a realisation on the part of the embarrassed person that their behaviour is not normal. If you are caught talking to yourself you feel embarrassed. That embarrassment signifies the behaviour as abnormal within the social situation.

This is why I think people pray in groups and why the instruction in the bible (Matthew 6:5) to pray alone is significant. It signifies that you should avoid shame in your actions, whether prayer or not. If you can justify to yourself that your actions are right then you do not need to feel shame.

The ritualization of prayer, if ritual and prayer are different things, must help people to overcome that embarrassment. The sincere belief in talking to God must be secondary to the social situation. It must be or churches would not be so prevalent. I wonder then, how much of prayer is directed towards a deity rather than towards a group effort?

If a congregation pray to spare little Jimmy from terminal cancer, then the group support towards the effort is what unites the group. Not the effectiveness of the prayer. If little Jimmy dies it is “God’s Will” and the group is blameless but if he survives then it is as a result of the group action. In that regard it is a method for getting Christians to agree with one another.

*This makes me sound really old but it wasn’t that long ago. Only about 25 years….Oh dear, I am old.

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English Baccalaureate and Bureaucrats

It was only last month that we were at the younger Tadpoles’ school and listening to teachers go through Options. They spoke about the brand spanking new English Baccalaureate and about how they hadn’t yet had any guidance from universities, colleges or the Department of Education as to how important they were. For those of you who weren’t at the parent teacher event (and where were you?) the English Bac is comprised of English, Mathematics, a language, two sciences and either geography or history.

Back in the Iron Age when I did my options I dropped French like a rancid garlic sausage covered in flies and I didn’t have the option of learning German (which I wanted to do) or Spanish, Italian or Japanese. These are the only six languages that are spoken in the civilised world as you know and English is the only important one. At least that was how it was back in the day. Another thing we had, along with Technical Drawing, was the choice of doing Chemistry, Biology or Physics rather than Science but times change. You generally had a split between science and technical types (boys) and art and humanities types (girls) and I must say that I’m really glad that kind of silliness is behind us.

What concerns me though, on top of the seemingly never ending interference in education from state, is the setting of apparently random targets. Granted it is state education so they should oversee things but politicians are not educators and educators are the experts here. Someone in power might try listening to them. Just a thought. The Beeb reports that the English Bac is too narrow in scope. It ignores the efforts of those who are less academic and more vocationally oriented and it ignores those who do subjects like Music, Art or Ethics and Philosophy (the old RE).

It seems too that the universities are going to be pressured into altering admissions criteria to look for people with the broad education of an English Bac rather than those who specialise early or those who take alternate routes to their education. The Tadpoles’ school offers GCSEs but it also offers vocational courses like Mechanical Engineering and almost half the Options choices were BTECs. A BTEC doesn’t count towards the English Bac so are students who work consistently through coursework rather than take exams going to lose out on university places? Who knows? The government aren’t saying.

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Jesus Twitter, Saudi Lesbians and Dodgy Electricians

May contain sarcasm.

Apparently Twitter and Facebook could lead to the salvation of man at least according to the Reverend Franklin Graham.

“The Bible says that every eye is going to see [the Second Coming of Jesus],” Graham told Ammanpour. “How is the whole world going to see [him] all at one time? I don’t know, unless all of a sudden everybody’s taking pictures and it’s on the media worldwide. I don’t know. Social media could have a big part in that.”

The 58-year-old cited a verse that says Jesus will be coming on “a cloud and the whole world will moan.”

That’s one for Cloud Computing then. On the other hand maybe he’s trying to squeeze modern technology into an old story. Still you’ve got to admire his creativity. Those of us who remember the heady days of 20six already know that God had a blog.

Arab news have reported that “[a] Saudi woman expelled from her college for having a lesbian relationship with her hostel supervisor has urged authorities to review the decision and allow her to continue her education.” In a manner that is not untypical for the religiously minded they fail to see that some people are gay. We in the West have largely accepted the fact. There are some elements who don’t like it but the law accepts that people are gay and is now changing to build this acceptance into social institutions like marriage. The Middle East are a way off accepting that gay people exist. Instead they seem to be inventing excuses to vilify homosexual behaviour without considering the reason that gay people have sex with one another. You know, the fact that sex is fun and people enjoy it.

They make a big deal about it which, of course, makes gay people hide their sexuality. It doesn’t stop them being gay but it does demonise them and make them (I imagine) awfully unhappy.

He said expelling the girl created a new problem instead of resolving the issue. He said action should also be taken against the supervisor by college authorities on the basis of the girl’s statement. He said lesbian relationships are quite common among girls in recent years because of the influence of satellite channels and the Internet.

“When we observed a few cases in our university we dealt with them by providing necessary counseling. We also hold a number of lectures and other programs to protect girls from having such deviant relationships,” he said.

A number of psychologists told Arab News that lesbian relationships happen in schools and universities for many reasons, including a sexual identity crisis suffered by some girls. Some of them were victims of sexual abuse during their childhood and most of them do not want treatment to change their lesbian attitudes, they added.

Good grief, gay girls who like being gay. Whatever next? I suppose that as long as they submit to their menfolk when they are forced to get married it doesn’t really matter if they enjoy it. That is how religion treats women isn’t it?

Electrician, Colin Atkinson, of Wakefield District Housing has won the right to display his religious affiliation in his works vehicle. This not only goes against the company rules (no displaying personal items) but also common decency (don’t impose your beliefs on others). Even though people have complained the company has backed down.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of the CLC, said: “This case shows what can happen when Christians refuse to give in to threats of intimidation and, when faced with a calm rationale by Christians, many right-minded employers will see sense.”

Yay, another win for sheer bloody mindedness and putting your faith above the service that you offer as an employee.

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Women Molested by Christian Pastor

This story on Sunday World is pretty sickening. Don’t read it if you’re under 18 or sensitive to graphic details of sexual assault.

Holy Man, Paseka Mbhoro Motsoeneng, assaulted two women on stage during a “demon banishing” service in Katlehong on Sunday.

Sitting on the lap of a female congregant, Motsoeneng placed his hand on the head of a 17 year-old teen, who cannot be identified due to her age, and started praying for her.

Motsoeneng told the congregants her tummy had swelled up because some sorcerers had cast an evil spell on her.

As he was praying for her she collapsed. Motsoeneng then told the teenager, who was lying on her back, to open her legs, which she did.

He then plunged his fingers into her private parts and started moving his fingers inside her vagina.

As he was busy with his “healing process”, Motsoeneng ordered her to call him by his nickname, Mboro.

“Say Mboro,” he ordered her.

“Mboro” she said, with a stifled cry.

I’m going to hazard a guess and say that her mother and father were in the congregation or, at the very least, an adult or friends who cared for her and would want to see her protected. Why did no-one of them take a length of wood and beat it around this abuser’s head? Why did no-one even stand up and shout, “leave that girl alone, you monster” or try to intervene? It is because he is a pastor and is in a position of power. This is a well known phenomena studied in depth by Stanley Milgram. Mboro has been given power over people by virtue of his position as a pastor. He abused this power for some sick and twisted reason that I’m quite thankful that I don’t understand.

Yet Mboro isn’t a doctor or a policeman. He’s a pastor. Why should a pastor have any kind of authority at all? The dubious beliefs of theists grant power to them. They accept, for some reason, that they need someone to look out for their “spiritual” welfare. They leave themselves open to exploitation. It isn’t fair to blame them for this. They’ve been scammed. They are the victims.

Sickeningly Mboro moved on to a second victim.

The young woman, who was not asked to identify herself, was told to tell the packed hall what her problem was.

“I haven’t slept with my husband for some time because it hurts when we make love.

“Every time he penetrates me, it feels like he is cutting me with a sharp knife,” she said.

Mboro took off his shoes and placed his foot on her vagina.

“There’s something breathing in her biscuit. It feels like a heartbeat,” he said.

He later ordered the woman to take off her undies. She complied. He said he wanted to “stitch it with his holy water”.

Motsoeneng sprinkled water on his right hand and rubbed the woman’s genitals.
He ordered her to call her husband “with all the nice words in the book of love and tell him she would discharge her conjugal rights”.

Yep, her husband was there in the crowd. He watched as his wife was sexually assaulted. It sounds like he was even grateful to Mboro for “fixing” the missus.

Sick isn’t it. Such is the power of religion. When it is coupled with an abuser or unrestrained power it is really a monstrous thing.

(Source FriendlyAtheist.com)

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Easter

You know what?

I was an adult, at least in my twenties, before I found out that Easter had anything to do with Christianity. About a decade later I found out that it doesn’t have much to do with it at all. Yeah, it was ripped off. Can you believe it?

That’s because I’m a godless savage. Watch out or I might eat your brains…or something.

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