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#Occupy2012 (feat. Noam Chomsky & Anonymous)

This probably won’t be my only post concerning 2012.. but I have friends who understand much more about it than I do, so I shall likely be just reblogging their stuff. I have just seen this video from The Juice, and thought it was a funny introduction to the whole thing:



The Alternative X-Factor: Churches to publicly rate their clergy

I have just received the following through a mailing list, so I don’t have a link to the source. However, it seems incredibly bizarre. Whilst I can see the potential benefits – I have witnessed some utterly atrocious ministers in my time – it seems like an avenue which could allow certain fundamentalists to organise mass votes to oust more liberal clergy, for example. Just one more example of ‘Rational Choice Theory’ and ‘pick-and-mix’ religion, I think. As every other sector of our society becomes dominated by feedback forms and ‘satisfaction’, it was only a matter of time before churches jumped on the bandwagon…

Is this a good thing? What does it spell for the future? I haven’t decided yet…

Ecumenical News International
News Highlights
17 August 2011

German website allows congregations to rate clergy

Berlin (ENInews)–Does your pastor set a glowing example to his or her flock? Or does the herd tend to drift? A new website launched in Germany allows churchgoers to rate their “shepherd’s” performance on worship, youth work, work with seniors, credibility, and engagement with current issues. “The idea behind Hirtenbarometer [shepherd barometer] is that pastoral work should be and often is qualitative,” one of the website’s founders, Andreas Hahn, said in an email interview. “We wanted to create … an open platform for dialogue between priests and the members of congregations.” [391 words, ENI-11-0432]


Cows and Fish… Atheists and the Church… and Abortions?

Proper blog posts are still a long way off… but here is a selection of interesting things I have spotted on the internet over the past week or so:

A worrying discussion about abortion in the state of Kansas.

A church that mistakenly advertised for an atheistic organisation

Another atheist complains about an infringement on church-state separation in the US.

Apparently fish can use tools!!!! Does this cause any ‘vegetarians’ who eat fish to reconsider their position?

Understanding the current situation in the Middle East… with cows. My personal favourites are:

You had two cows that were lost decades ago. Lament them.

You have two bulls. Pretend they are helpless calves.

And finally, the periodic table of atheists… chuckle.




Al-Akhbar Newspaper Seeking freelance translators (Arabic to English)

Just spreading the word…

Al-Akhbar Newspaper is a left-leaning daily newspaper, launched in 2006 by prominent Lebanese journalist Joseph Samaha. Its website (, currently the most visited Lebanese newspaper site, is launching an English edition, featuring translations from its daily Arabic edition as well additional original content. The English edition will target international readers with a broad interest in independent news and analysis from Lebanon and the Arab World Freelance translators will be assigned translation jobs from Arabic to English according to their time availability, topics of interest, and expected turnaround. Applicants must have a strong command of both Arabic and English. Applicants should have a demonstrable knowledge of, and interest in, the wider Middle East. A background in journalism, research, or a specialist field is a plus. Please send your CV and a cover letter to: before July 5, 2011, indicating the number of hours (or words) you would like translate per week. This is a freelance position; applicants are expected to work remotely.

Oh-Dearism, Atheistic Thought, Humanitarian First-Class Stamps and the Arab World

I have finally had time to go through a bunch of my emails from the past few weeks, and here are a selection of the best links so far:

Snippets from interviews with youth across the Arab World

An excellent history of the idea of ‘humanitarian interventionism’

Newswipe’s take on ‘Oh Dear-ism

And the more light hearted: Members of the British Public attempt to guess the price of a First-Class Stamp

Finally, a plug for a lecture happening in London tomorrow night: Atheism Explained:  The Evolutionary Origins of Atheistic Thought

Atheism is many things to many people.  Within this diversity, the phenomena of non-theism and strong atheism stand out.  In this lecture, Lanman will describe non-theism and strong atheism as they exist in several countries and, using the theories and methods of the social and cognitive sciences, explain their individual origins and international distributions.

The lecture will be held at St Mary’s College University in London, at 6pm on Tuesday 5 April 2011 (drinks from 6, lecture from 6.30pm); please see attached for further details.

The event is free and open to all, but to attend you do need to register by emailing Leonora Paasche at

To whet your appetites, Jon had an article outlining his argument in last week’s New Scientist: It promises to be path-breaking, provocative stuff…

An un-Christian message on an ‘anti-Christian’ policy from Cardinal Keith O’Brien

Whilst eating my breakfast, I was watching BBC Breakfast News, and picked up on the following story: “Cardinal brands UK aid foreign policy ‘anti-Christian’”

Essentially, Cardinal Keith O’Brien ‘has attacked plans to increase aid to Pakistan to more than £445m, without any commitment to religious freedom for Christians.’

The key points of his argument, as reported by the BBC, are as follows:

Cardinal O’Brien said: “I urge William Hague to obtain guarantees from foreign governments before they are given aid.

To increase aid to the Pakistan government when religious freedom is not upheld and those who speak up for religious freedom are gunned down is tantamount to an anti-Christian foreign policy.

“Pressure should now be put on the government of Pakistan – and the governments of the Arab world as well – to ensure that religious freedom is upheld, the provision of aid must require a commitment to human rights.”

He said the report’s [see article] estimate of persecution against Christians was “intolerable and unacceptable”.

“We ask that the religious freedoms we enjoy to practice our faith, will soon be extended to every part of the world and that the tolerance we show to other faiths in our midst will be reciprocated everywhere,” he added.

Now, I am not suggesting that any form of religious persecution is a good thing… it isn’t… it’s very bad. But, from my limited understanding of the basics of Christian teachings I am pretty baffled by the language utilised by the Cardinal… and the fact that he has made this statement at all.

One of the core teachings of Christianity is not only to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins et al commonly reduce it to – attacking Christianity for having an inward looking love), but is, in fact, to love your enemy. Take some of the following cherry-picked teachings from the New Testament (NIV translation):

Matthew 5:42-44

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Romans 12:19-21

19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

People may attack me, saying that these are cherry-picked… but they are quite simply summations of universal core teachings of Christianity.

Persecution was seen in the early church as a prime sign of faith, and something to be celebrated:

2 Thessalonians 1:4

4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

Those believers whose faith withers in the face of persecution are castigated in the famous parable of the sower:

Matthew 13:20-21

20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

I would counter Cardinal O’Brian with the following: it might just be that Britain’s foreign policy is too Christian for your diluted, decadent twenty-first century Western Christianity. I would maintain that the policy of giving aid to countries where Christians are persecuted is a supreme example of the Christian virtue of loving your enemy.

Personally, I wouldn’t be giving aid to a country which actively, systematically persecutes any people… and, personally, I think the government probably shouldn’t either. However, I am cynical, secular, and don’t have much faith in humanity’s ability to change without a bit of a push.

I would have expected a more ‘Christian’ response from a prominent leader of the Catholic church.


Public Lecture: Combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases

Today I received a notice of this public lecture, happening at the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh.

Combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases

You are warmly invited to a public lecture by Dr Liz Grant on Combating HIV / AIDS, Malaria and other diseases. This is part of the ongoing series of events on the Millennium Development Goals. This will take place on Thursday 13 January 2011 at 5.30pm in the Martin Hall, New College. All are welcome.

Only two of the Millennium Development Goals use the language of war. Goal 1 to eradicate poverty and Goal 6 to combat disease. In this lecture Dr Grant will interrogate the use of this language, exploring the ways in which diseases create cycles of economic, social, and emotional poverty. She will also consider the role that faith communities play in tackling both the consequences and causes of these diseases.


Dr Liz Grant is a Senior Lecturer in Global Health and Development, in the University of Edinburgh’s Global Health Academy and leads the international palliative care research strand in the Primary Palliative Care Research programme in the Centre for Population Health Sciences.

She is currently bringing forward new Distance Learning Masters programmes on the Global Burden of Chronic (Non Communicable Diseases)  specifically aimed at supporting health personnel in low income countries engage with the dynamics of the chronic disease burden  while remaining in situ and in their working environments. Her research interests are in international palliative care, health workforce in low income countries, HIV care and rehabilitation, and the interactions between religious beliefs and health systems.

Dr Grant works part time for NHS Lothian coordinating NHS Lothian’s partnership with Zambia, and has carried out a number of consultancies in Sub Saharan Africa in the field of HIV/AIDS, cancer and palliative care.  She sits on the Scottish board of CBM and HIV Scotland.  Previously Dr Grant was the Health Advisor to the Scottish Government’s International Development team.  She worked in Kenya for a number of years as a Community Health Advisor at Chogoria Hospital with responsibility for young people’s sexual health and for palliative care services.  Her PhD studies (at the CSCNWW, New College) were based in Sierra Leone and explored the interconnection between traditional beliefs and Christianity.


More on the series:

In 2000, 189 countries signed the UN Millennium Declaration, a historic commitment to pursue the eradication of poverty, and set eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which required progress in specific areas by 2015.

To help investigate progress towards the goals the Centre for Theology and Public Issues at the University of Edinburgh, the Centre for International Development at Glasgow University and Christian Aid Scotland have organised a series of eight public events in late 2010 and early 2011. This is the fifth event in the series entitled: The Millennium Development Goals: So Near and Yet So Far.

The Italian Trojan Camel

I tried for a while to find this image online, but I was unsuccessful. When I get back to Edinburgh I may attempt scanning it in, but for now you will have to make do with a really bad photograph of a quite small colour printout. Essentially this image was brought to my attention today and I thought it was worth highlighting, just as an illustration of a particular political position.

I am going to quote a scholar here, but because I have not asked them yet whether or not it is okay to identify them, or even for me to put this up, I shall simply refer to them as “them”… According to “them”, this image comes from the cover of Il Borghese del Nord 9/2010, which is

“the leading journal of […the] Italian Northern League. It shows a Trojan Horse (in fact a “Trojan Camel“) with the face of the leader of the National Alliance Party (now also called Party of Future and Freedom) Gianfranco Fini, who is most popular in the south of Italy. The Trojan Horse has the description “Immigrants“.

Make of this what you will…

The Chilean Miners’ Rescue: Three Less-Conventional Thoughts

This is just a quick post to vent a few grievances which have been mounting during the past few days’ news coverage of the rescue of the 33  miners in Chile. Right from the outset I want to get across that I am as ecstatic about this as everyone else seems to be. I think it is a great thing and I praise the ingenuity of everyone involved in the effort, and the great way in which people all over the globe seem to have come together in an atmosphere of mutual hope and thankfulness.

That being said, I have three niggling gripes…

1. Israel

Obviously I don’t mean to tar the entire country with the same brush as Benjamin Netanyahu, I am simply looking to be controversial :P

However, has everyone seen this news article published on Haaretz on 13th October? Apparently:

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Netanyahu himself had predicted the collapse of the Chilean copper and gold mine, where 33 miners had been trapped for 69 days until their ultimate rescue.

The article continues, stating:

The statement [from the Prime Minister’s Office] goes on to mention that “Netanyahu predicted such an event – a mine disaster – in his book Terrorism: How the West can win from 1987.” Quotes from the book were sent to reporters in addition to a scanned page from the actual volume.

Whilst it should be acknowledged that the article adds that important caveat – “It is not clear whether it was Netanyahu himself who asked his office to publicize the quotes, but it is very likely that he approved their release – the sheer audacity of using such an event for some sort of political one-upmanship is mind-boggling. I mean, it’s fairly obvious that the Chilean President has been using the event to his advantage… and that’s a debate that I do not want to get into at this stage… but that any leader of any country could detract from such an amazing humanistic act by making such outrageous claims just seems to fulfill all my negative expectations of politicians. Grr!

2. CNN

I watch an awful lot of BBC News. Far too much. It is mostly because I don’t like most programmes on the TV and am stuck with the option of washing dishes in silence, or with BBC News 24 in the background. I like it… I know the accuracy of most of the reporting varies enormously [for me, personally, see ANY story on religious issues], but it generally provides a pleasant, informative background noise. However, every so often, they decide that it is a great idea to go “live” to a press conference, or to parliament, or to a street where they “think” an important individual may be just about to arrive. This results in 20 minutes of utterly spurious ramblings from press officers/parliamentarians, or a poor news reporter having to fill in the uncomfortable silence whilst we wait for the rapidly-becoming-less-interesting event to occur. The same thing was happening ALL DAY when the miners were being rescued… “here we are at the mine, where any minute now we are expecting the 14th miner to reach the surface… look there’s his wife… he’s been down there for ages… he must be thrilled… can you imagine what it would have been like?… I wish I had had more for breakfast…” etc. So, faced with this I decided to flip channels and realised that I had CNN… “I haven’t watched CNN in a while” I thought… so on it went.

I constantly read in various books for my research about how America is more “religious” than Europe, but I very rarely see tangible examples. CNN proved to be just such an example! They, too, were reporting on the Chilean mine rescue, but what was noticeably different from the BBC was that they continually referred to the faith of the trapped miners. Mario Gómez has been hailed as the “spiritual leader” of the miners, apparently leading them in prayer and building an altar deep in the mine. I am not getting into whether this is a good thing or not – their personal faith is up to them – and I am not criticizing this appearing in a news report. However, it seemed to me that this collective Christian faith, of seemingly “everyone” in Chile, was one of the main thrusts of the news report. Unfortunately I do not have the report, or any sort of official statistics on “numbers of references to religious faith” or anything like that, but the major subjective impression that I got from seeing the report was that religion was a major theme in the CNN report, and non-existent in the BBC report. I wonder if anyone has done a study comparing the pervasiveness of religion in the media? I know I’d like to read it…

3. Chris de Burgh

It is my secret shame that I actually like Chris de Burgh. There probably is no rational reason. One of his albums was on a couple of old cassettes that my dad handed to me when I was eight (including Pink Floyd – Meddle… leading to a lifelong love of Pink Floyd) and I have ever since thoroughly enjoyed listening to his overly sentimental, cheesily OTT music. So, obviously, CdeB is not the point of this rant. However, he has, of late, joined Facebook… and because he was listed in my favourite music I now receive all sorts of bizarre philosophical observations from the man himself (or from someone pretending to be him).

Whilst this particular one smacks of his trademark soppy sentimentality, it really did sum up a lot of my feelings on this current media phenomenon:

So the Alien looks down from space at the jubilant scenes in Chile, and marvels at the saving of 33 lives…and thinks,”then why do humans devise weapons to kill billions? Very strange…”

Disregarding the almost infinite criticisms one could make of such a statement, this did just bring home to me how bizarre the human race is. Somewhere in the region of 20,000+ people die every day from hunger and poverty (see here and here) and according to this BBC Report, 2 people die every minute on average due to some form of conflict situation happening around the globe.

What is it about the human mind that allows the entire world to be transfixed and jubilant at the amazing rescue of 33 hardworking men from the depths of a mine, yet allows the vast majority of us (including myself) to passively ignore the 27,000+ deaths happening every day due to human action and inaction?

I am very pleased that all the miners were rescued safely, and I am very pleased that the “entire” world seemed so jubilant about it and that it may have served as a small catalyst to take us one step closer to the ultimate goal of worldwide “peace” and “harmony” etc etc. I can only hope, however, that this event will awaken the world, especially the West, to our own entrenched hypocrisy, and that it will truly make a difference to the unknown millions who die every year and never receive any media attention.