A bad day for revealed religion

Alan Rogers writes:

The 3rd February 2015 has been a bad day for Catholicism, Anglicanism, Islam, and Judaism.

First we had the Commons vote to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 and legalise mitochondrial DNA transfer. The Catholic Church and the Anglican Church opposed this amendment for reason of religious dogma although a fig leaf of concern for the “safety” of the procedure was offered. The vote was 382 to 128 in favour of the amendment. The religious may have a chance to block or render ineffective this amendment by exerting their undemocratic power in the Upper House. There are, of course, 26 Anglican bishops in the Lords who will, no doubt, vote as a bloc. A few Catholic Lords and a larger number of apathetic or geriatric non-attendees might overturn the will of the democratic House of Commons but we, as citizens, have no part in that matter.

The other two revealed religions Islam and Judaism confront a new battle over religious ritual slaughter of animals. Both these religions have an exemption from Common Law concerning the slaughter of animals which requires that they be stunned before slaughter.

Both Halal and Kosher ritual slaughter methods require that this humane method is not used. So after decades of struggle for the decent treatment of animals in abattoirs in this country our laws in this regard are trumped by religion.

A Halal slaughterhouse in Thirsk was filmed by Animal Aid campaigners. The law was seen to be violated (even within the relaxed code permitted for religious reasons). It was claimed by Animal Aid that no Ministry vet was present during the three days they watched and filmed the operations of the abattoir. Animals were severely mistreated and in contravention of the humane requirements, animals were slaughtered in full view of the sheep next to be “processed”. Worst of all the requirement that the animal’s throat be cut by a surgically sharp knife in a single stroke… the basis of Moslem special pleading to be exempted from stunning, was ignored as sheep were hacked to death by several cuts with a knife.

It must be stressed that this was a Halal abattoir and no evidence exists for abuse of the exemption from Common Law in the case of Jewish animal slaughter.

One has to admire the courage and resourcefulness of Animal Aid campaigners. At the very least the exemption for reasons of religion from a law which we otherwise all must obey should be reconsidered. While this is done, independent veterinary supervision of all ritual slaughter abattoirs (both Moslem and Jewish) must be increased. While Halal and Kosher ritual slaughter is permitted in the UK we really should demand labelling of meat with the method of slaughter (Secular, Halal, Kosher) so that the consumer may exercise “choice”, a principle so beloved by many of our political leaders.


The Archbishop of Canterbury Speaks on ISIL

Dr. Welby’s contribution to the Lords Debate on proposed military action by UK forces in Iraq

HANSARD: Column 1685 12.13 pm 26 Sep 2014

The Archbishop of Canterbury:

My Lords, the danger of this debate is that we speak only of Iraq and Syria, ISIL, and armed force. ISIL and its dreadful barbarity are only one example of a global phenomenon, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House mentioned. We will not thus be able to deal with a global holistic danger if the only weapons we are capable of using are military and administrative, and if we focus only on one place. It is clear, as the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition set out so clearly, that we need to take this action now. However, it is also necessary over time that any response to ISIL and to this global danger be undertaken on an ideological and religious basis that sets out a more compelling vision, a greater challenge, and a more remarkable hope than that offered by ISIL. We must face the fact that for some young Muslims the attractions of jihadism outweigh the materialism of a consumer society. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, implied, if we struggle against a call to eternal values, however twisted and perverted they may be, without a better story we will fail in the long term.

The vision that we need to draw on is life-giving. It is rooted in the truths of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, relying heavily in the Middle Ages on the wealth of Islamic learning and that of the other Abrahamic faiths, not necessarily enemies, and enriched by others, such as Hinduism and Sikhism, in recent generations. Religious leaders must up their game, and the church is playing its part. It is the role of the church I serve to point beyond our imperfect responses and any material, national or political interest, to the message of Jesus Christ and the justice, healing and redemption that he offers.

But in the here and now there is justification for the use of armed force on humanitarian grounds to enable oppressed victims to find safe space. ISIL and, for that matter, Boko Haram and others, have as their strategy to change the facts on the ground so as to render completely absurd any chance of helping the targets of their cruelty. It is clear from talking this week with Christian and other leaders across the region that they want support. The solidarity in the region is added to by the important statement from the Grand Imam of al-Azhar on Wednesday. The action proposed today is right, but we must not rely on a short-term solution on a narrow front to a global, ideological, religious, holistic and transgenerational challenge. We must demonstrate that there is a positive vision far greater and more compelling than the evil of ISIL and its global clones. Such a vision offers us and the world hope and assurance of success in this struggle, not the endless threat of darkness.

My Response to Dr. Welby’s speech – Alan Rogers

Dr. Welby displays a limited grasp of the history of religion. He offers a conveniently amnestic view of religion’s past. My previous blog on this site sketched the history of Christianity in what is now called Britain. My account began with the burning alive of Dr. John Rogers in front of his wife and ten children. https://secularwales.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/is-britain-a-christian-country/ Was the bishop who ordered this atrocity not a Christian? As my account shows a four hundred year effort was required to change the Christian country which is now the United Kingdom into the relatively civilised place it is today. Most of this effort concerned wresting power from the Church, eliminating the injustice and persecution brought about by enforced Christian dogma. The truth is that the communities where Islam is still dominant have still to make this journey. At present they face a choice between two evils, military dictatorship or theocracy. We have seen in Iran what Theocracy offers and it is chillingly like Sixteenth Century Christianity. Military dictatorship was what Colonel Gadafi and Sadam Hussein offered – a kind of brutal stability.

Dr. Welby seems to think young Moslems living in the UK decide to join Jihadist movements because they are bored with playing Grand Theft Auto and shopping in the town high street. If they had access to more religion all would be well. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry that such nonsense has appeared in Hansard.

The response of these young people shows the dangerous nature of religion. Some people will believe religion despite its irrational nature – perhaps even because of its irrational nature. It is an interesting scientific question to ask if this phenomenon is an evolutionary, inherited feature of the emotional make-up of the species H.sapiens. Once the young person is “converted” the priest or cleric has huge manipulative power over this individual. The Jihadi really, really believes his religion. There is no room for doubt, no scope for self criticism other than questioning if he is devoted enough to the belief system he now depends upon. [I use only the male pronoun because it is less cumbersome – there are of course equally committed females]. The Jihadi also has the false promise, common to Christianity and Islam, of an afterlife. Of course dedicated atheists may be prepared to sacrifice their lives in what they think is a justifiable cause. This tends to be a more altruistic decision however. Of the form – “I must risk my life so that my children and grandchildren will not have to live under this atrocious regime”. The Jihadi is promised paradise if he dies while killing unbelievers, the very opposite of altruism.

In some ways it is sad to watch a good man like Dr. Welby struggle to justify religion in the face of the manifest evil of an intensely religious group like ISIL. But he should not be allowed to deliver in our Parliament such a distorted view of the history of western civilization without challenge.

Could there be a better demonstration of the need to debate the removal of the 26 Lords Spiritual (Anglican bishops) from the United Kingdom Parliament?

Alan Rogers

September 2014

On the Use of the Term “Spiritual”

On the use of the term “spiritual”

Alan Rogers writes;

All religions of whatever variety try to find words which imply virtue and special qualities and which are accepted without question. Politicians do the same. American politicians use ‘America’ and ‘the American people’ in this way, as does Tony Blair use ‘family values’. The word ‘spiritual’ might once have meant simply ‘relationship to God’ but now it is a Humpy Dumpty word which means whatever the speaker wants it to mean. Thus, whenever someone uses the word ‘spiritual’ to me I have to ask, ‘What do you mean by “spiritual”?’

Dorothy Rowe

World-renowned psychologist and writer

Jeremy Rodell of the British Humanist Association wrote an article in August http://humanistlife.org.uk/2014/08/19/spirituality-and-humanism/ defending the use of the term “spiritual” by an atheist for describing emotional response to a variety of circumstances. I disagree.

Jeremy Rodell cites the experiences of looking at the night sky, seeing a superb mountain vista, being moved by great music and serving an ace in tennis as examples of spiritual experience. I struggle to see what these experiences have in common that requires an umbrella term and, if one must be used, why it should be the highly inappropriate word “spiritual”.

I am well aware of these experiences. I live in rural West Wales. We may not have many gin-clear nights but we are spared the far too prevalent phenomenon of light pollution. Looking up into that awe inspiring sight I am acutely aware of a sense of privilege. To be alive and aware at this time and place, to be the beneficiary of over 3 billion years of evolving life, to have received an education which allowed me to read the science which established the scale in space and time of the observable universe, such that I can see and understand what this spectacle means, is a privilege which I have done little or nothing to deserve. Where I live I am surrounded by beautiful scenery and have been fortunate enough to visit some of the greatest landscapes our planet has to offer. I enjoy music. The constructions in the syntax of melody, harmony and orchestration created by the greatest talents of my fellow man are pleasurable, joyous and often moving. To link these disparate experiences seems to me to be an artificial and unnecessary device. They each affect the senses and the mind in different ways. To name all these experiences with a word like “spiritual” conveys the impression that they are outside human mental processes. In fact there is little evidence of permanence or universality in these things. The night sky was once the source of superstitious fear. Some still follow the idiotic utterances of astrologers. Mountain scenery was, a few centuries ago, regarded as oppressive and ugly. Not until the Romantic Movement was established did the appreciation of such landscapes develop. Music too has its fashions. I know this myself since I appreciate virtually nothing written after Elgar and Holst. I simply do not understand the language, the syntax of modern composition.

So I think the need for a universal term is not demonstrated. Worse by far is the choice of “spiritual” for this unnecessary purpose. Let us firstly dispose of the homographs.

The phrase over the pub door “licensed to sell wine and spirits” does not mean that you will necessarily receive spiritual guidance within. The root of the word spiritual is “spirit” with the meaning of a supernatural presence within or without the human body. Inside, it is a soul. Outside, it is a free soul or a ghost. The concept of material body and supernatural soul (spirit) is called Cartesian Dualism by philosophers. In 1949 Cartesian Dualism was put to the intellectual sword by the Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle. In his book The Concept of Mind he proved methodically that Cartesian Dualism was bunkum. Subsequent research in neuroscience completely vindicates Ryle. The computational theory of mind has removed the need for a supernatural explanation of mind every bit as much as the theory of evolution has removed the need for a supernatural creation of the species. A modern scientific view of mankind is that we have a body including a brain and nervous system and that the mind emerges from the working of these physical components. The mind is what the brain does. We see the placebo effect and the possible benefits of holistic medicine because the body and mind are one integrated system – necessarily, since they evolved together.

The followers of received religion which affirms the possibility of an after-life have no alternative but to suspend disbelief and visualize an immaterial soul which can escape the physical body upon death. They need the concept of spirit and the word “spiritual” in order to sustain this self deception. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines spiritual as: Of spirit as opposed to matter; of the soul especially as acted upon by God, holy, divine, inspired… . It has recently become very noticeable that religious leaders find the word “religious” inadequate. They refer pompously to “the Religious and Spiritual Life of the Nation”. I think it would be unkind to steal this word from them at a time of their greatest need.

Jeremy Rodell admits that the word is ambiguous. I think that this is due to its use being stretched to breaking point. I will give what I think is an important example later. He quotes the Church of England opposing an Atheist/Humanist/Secularist contribution to Thought for the Day and seems to think that, if we can convince the C of E and the BBC that we have “spiritual” experiences, they will graciously allow us to contribute; that we must present our beliefs as quasi-religious. I think that is too high a price to pay for five minutes of air-time. I would rather we concentrated on getting Thought for the Day renamed as Religious Platitude for the Day.

But the most dangerous result of the use of “spiritual” from my own experience is its use in the NHS. Remarkably Jeremy Rodell quotes the NHS use of this term as a justification for the non-religious use.

The ambiguous use of the word “spiritual” has been seized upon by the College of Health Care Chaplains. Despite the impressive academic name the CHCC is a branch of UNITE the union. This is an example of the trick I mentioned previously of using Religious and Spiritual as a cover, a smoke screen, for justifying the extension of religious interference into a wider sphere than that of the dwindling number of Christian adherents.

As I mentioned earlier I live in Wales. In 2010 the Welsh Government produced a set of documents called Standards for Spiritual Care in the NHS Wales. In fact the documents were written by the CHCC (in fact mostly copied from the CHCC sister organisation in Scotland) and signed off by the Minister for Health in Wales. These documents contain the following “definition” of spiritual care. From the Standards for Spiritual Care in the NHS Wales 2010 we have an attempt at a definition of spiritual care.

Spiritual Care and Religious Care

The document Service Development for Spiritual Care in the NHS in Wales (2010) differentiated between spiritual care and religious care:

Spiritual Care is usually given in a one to one relationship, is completely person centred and makes no assumptions about personal conviction or life orientation.

Religious Care is given in the context of shared religious beliefs, values, liturgies and life style of a faith community.

Spiritual care is often used as the overall term and is relevant for all. For some the spiritual needs are met by religious care, the visits, prayers, worship, rites and sacraments often provided by a faith leader or representative of the faith community or belief group.

Spiritual care can be provided by all health care staff, by carers, families and other patients. When a person is treated with respect, when they are listened to in a meaningful way, when they are seen and treated as a whole person within the context of their life, values and beliefs, then they are receiving spiritual care. Chaplains are the specialist spiritual care providers.

Notice the sentence within the definition of Religious Care:- Spiritual care is often used as the overall term and is relevant for all.

From this point on there is total confusion about these terms Religious Care and Spiritual Care. When we use one do we mean both? In the end there is a further definition following “Spiritual care can be provided by all… “ and the whole thing simply becomes a requirement to be kind and empathetic. This should be in the job description of every health care worker in contact with the public and doesn’t need to be labelled “spiritual care”.

If we had only the definition of Religious Care “…shared religious beliefs, values, liturgies and life style of a faith community” and an expression of the need to treat patients with humanity and with empathy then a great deal of the nonsense about “spiritual care” could be eliminated.

In the past four financial years every chaplaincy post funded in the NHS Wales has been held by clerics. Of these 97.4% in Whole Time Equivalent terms were for Christian clerics.

The care delivered, at a total cost of over £5 million over this time, has been religious care. I hope chaplains are kind and empathetic towards all patients since that is (or should be) a responsibility for all NHS staff in contact with patients. The chaplains are trained clerics and are in hospitals to provide religious care. The use of the word “spiritual” is obfuscation. We really must not allow ourselves to be a party to this deception.

In the Standards for Spiritual Care Guidance document (2010) the Acknowledgements section is as follows (my comment in square brackets):-

Rosemary Kennedy, Chief Nursing Officer [A political appointee]

Rev. Peter Sedgewick

Rev. Alan Tyler

Rev. Chris Lewinson

Rev. Peter Gilbert

Rev. Cliff Chonka

Rev. Wynne Roberts

Rev. Edward Lewis

Rev. Robert Lloyd-Richards

Rev. Lance Clark

Imam Farid Khan

Carol English UNITE [The College of Health Care Chaplains is a branch of UNITE the union]

Steve Sloan UNITE

You will notice that the Standards for Spiritual Care Guidance have been prepared by clerics (as it happens, exclusively male clerics), their trade union officials and a political appointee of the Welsh Government. I can find no reference to a consultation with the public or with hospital patients. I understand that a letter was sent to the Royal College of Nursing (Wales) which received a brief, formal reply.

Could it be any clearer that hospital chaplaincy is about delivering religious care and the use of the word “spiritual” is an attempt to justify the use of tax payers’ money for this purpose?

In Wales we have a Charitable Chaplaincy Campaign intended to save annually £1.3 million of NHS Wales budget for nursing and medical use by encouraging organised religion to set up a charity to fund this service. Use of the Humpy Dumpty word “ spiritual” by the non-religious muddies the waters, allows it to be used unchallenged by organised religion and obstructs our campaign.

Alan Rogers

September 2014

Not Islam – Religion

Alan Rogers replies to Charles Moore The Daily Telegraph


A weak establishment is letting Islamists threaten British freedoms”

“Birmingham council and police must do all they can to uncover extremist subversion in the city’s schools. All Islamist schools of thought are hostile to democracy …….”


Under the above banner Charles Moore the Daily Telegraph columnist attacks supposed Muslim attempts to gain control of schools and other functions of the state. There is a deep irony in his case that is made clear by his final paragraph:-

“Most [Muslims] don’t [carry out terrorist attacks], but they do work to subvert – that is the right word – the institutions that we all need. They are organised in schools and universities. They infiltrate local government and public administration. They are expert at getting public money under false pretences. They are not “negligible”, but still we neglect the threat they pose”.

If, in this sentence, you were to imagine that Charles Moore is describing the activities of the Christian religion (Church schools, University societies, Council prayers, and the endless demands made for the tax-payer’s money) it fits David Cameron’s recently declared “Christian Nation” concept perfectly.

The problem, Mr. Moore, is RELIGION.

We have in the UK increasing numbers of sectarian schools, religious domination in local government, clerics interfering with the democratic process, an establishment based upon a religious hierarchy. In Wales we are at least spared the expansion of publically funded sectarian schools.

All religions behave in the same way. They seek to indoctrinate the young; they infiltrate public services and democratic institutions. They seek to enforce observance of their doctrines by defining laws imposed on all citizens regardless of their beliefs. They augment their finances from the public purse (by grants and tax-relief). If Christianity is more benign than Islam it is only because over the last two centuries secularists have slowly reduced religious infiltration of all the areas of public life that Mr. Moore lists. It is a long, hard battle and there are frequent reverses (in England the introduction of publically funded sectarian (a.k.a. faith) schools by the Blair government was the most serious in my lifetime) but we need to maintain the direction of travel in the face of both Christianity and Islam and new religions like Scientology. They all behave in the same way – for the good evolutionary reason that they survive and multiply by these means.

Sectarian Schools

Alan Rogers writes:-

We are fortunate in Wales that plans afoot for English schools will not directly affect our children and their parents.

Mr. Gove, Secretary of State for Education at Westminster seems determined to create a sectarian school system and the most recent plan is to transfer thousands of community schools to the care of the Church of England.


 Now the Daily Mail is not always the most reliable font of knowledge but on this occasion it seems to have a good grasp of Mr. Gove’s intentions.

In a statement, Mr Gove said: “I want the church to recover the spirit which infused its educational mission in Victorian times and support more new schools, especially academies and free schools, to bring educational excellence to the nation’s poorest children”.  

 So, in England, it is back to the future with Mr. Gove’s Victorian social engineering experiment.

Not everyone agrees with Mr. Gove.  A YouGov survey this year (using a weighted sample of 1750 respondents) showed in response to the proposition:-
Make all state schools secular and stop them having special links with the Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other religion.
Of  those surveyed – Total support 49% Total opposition 38%

State school Parents – (Primary) Supportive 42% Opposed 41% (Secondary) Supportive 47% Opposed 38%

At the very least this demonstrates that Mr. Gove probably has rather less than half of parents behind him in his experiment. Perhaps he only listens to parents who go to church. This policy is probably more about Mr. Gove’s religious beliefs than the will of the people.

Given the disaster which befell the Irish Republic when, after 1922, it entrusted the Catholic Church with education  and social services Mr. Gove’s adventure into sectarian schooling is either brave or foolhardy, Unfortunately it is not Mr. Gove who will be affected by the outcome two or three generations from now. Mr. Gove will, by then, be happily settled in his Anglican Paradise.

A senior academic, Professor William Shaw, was moved to write to the Prime Minister about this matter. I have the Professor’s kind permission to copy his letter below. He makes it clear that the views expressed are his alone. I think we would do well to let the Welsh Government know on every possible occasion that secularist deplore the current English schools policy and we support the establishment of an increasingly secular school system for Wales. Why not email your Assembly Member to make this point?

From Professor William Shaw:
I have written a letter to my MP, David Cameron, in response to the Gove plan to expand faith schools as reported in Newsline* last week. The text is below.

* The online publication of the National Secular Society. [Alan Rogers]

Dear Mr Cameron
I am writing to you as one of your constituents, and as an educator, to express my concern about Conservative policy on education in relation to religion both in Oxfordshire and nationally.

There is a wonderful document called the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It has been around for over four decades and the UK has consistently shown contempt for it. Article 14 states that “Children can believe what they want as long as their beliefs do not harm others”.

Tony Blair’s premiership, once there has been time for its proper historical appraisal, will be remembered for two great crimes. The first is the Iraq war. The second is his abhorrent creation of Faith Schools. The very concept is a clear violation of Article 14, and such schools set out to
(a) violate children’s rights to freedom of thought;
(b) undermine the proper teaching of science via the promotion of creationist drivel;
(c) promote bigotry against gays and people from other faiths;
(d) violate employment rights through the hiring and promotion of staff of the dominant faith.
(e) undermine the very concept of education, which is to teach a child how to think and to question, and replace it with the notion of telling them what to think and not to question.

They also destroy social cohesion through the notion that the school faith group is somehow superior, and create distance between faiths when there should be unity. The experience of Northern Ireland in promoting cohesion through secularising is an example to the rest of the country.

The misplaced popularity of faith schools with parents is probably nothing to do with faith and everything to do with a focus on discipline and a back-door selection procedure.

I am writing to you today because I have become aware of deeply disturbing remarks by Michael Gove, in an interview with the Yorkshire Post where he outlines Tory plans to expand faith schools. His remarks are utterly appalling. It is essentially a plan to have the Conservative party engage in the intellectual abuse of our children.

There is a minority of children at even greater risk from religious home tutoring, where their UNC rights of freedom of association and freedom of access to information are also violated. This should also be addressed, in a manner consistent with freedom of religion.

It is important to remember two very simple things:
1. The only difference between an evangelist and a paedophile lies in the difference between the abuse of a child’s mind and abuse of a child’s body.
2. The legal protection of freedom of religion should be about protecting the rights of people to believe, assemble and worship. It is not about giving people the right to ram their views down the throats and into the minds of others, particularly vulnerable children.

I call on you to sack Mr Gove as education spokesman and publicly commit the Conservative party to the abolition of Faith Schools. Otherwise your party will essentially be campaigning on a platform promoting child abuse.


“Why not email your Assembly Member to make this point?”

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Support For Bridgend School Challenged

An independent Christian school in Bridgend which teaches Creationism has received financial support from private industry, (Ford Britain Trust, EMI Music Sound Foundation, Benq, Roland, Andertons Music). Andy Chybya of Bridgend Green Party has been asking questions and received some strange replies Bridgend Green Party