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A fine mess

A fine messWhen will Messrs Gove and Pickles stop dismantling our state education and welfare systems, and handing them over to religious organisations? How will we ever put them back together again, when they’ve finished messing about with them?

In education, under Gove’s leadership, the changes are encouraging evangelicals. The Everyday Champions Church, based in Newark, wants to take advantage of Mr Gove’s free schools idea, to open a new school.

Something that climate change sceptics might understand

If you watched BBC Four’s Storyville, Meet the Climate Sceptics, last week, you may have been exasperated by the arguments put forward by leading climate change deniers Lord Christopher Monckton and Telegraph columnist James Delingpole. Monckton has been to the USA and Australia to talk to the climate change deniers on TV and at public meetings, where he’s been received with huge enthusiasm. Delingpole has also been to the USA, where he’s appeared on right-wing TV host Glenn Beck’s programme, rubbishing the science behind climate change. His scientific ignorance, as displayed on another BBC Four programme recently, Horizon – Science Under Attack, doesn’t inhibit him. He had the cheek to argue with Nobel prizewinner Sir Paul Nurse, President of The Royal Society, that he was wrong about climate change. These two ignoramuses, and others like them, attract a lot of attention in climate change sceptic circles because neither they nor their audiences understand the science of climate change, and they don’t want to understand it. Unfortunately, scientific ignorance is widespread, even among those who’d like to believe that the sceptics are wrong. For many, it’s just too difficult. This is why a video by US high school science teacher Greg Craven is so clever. You don’t need to understand the science. Craven offers a simpler argument about acceptable risk; which is the greater risk, economic damage or global disaster? Watch his YouTube video, and make up your own mind.

International aid funds used to pay for the Pope’s visit

The British Humanist Association reports that £2 million towards the cost of the Pope’s visit to the UK last year came from the Department for International Development (DfID), justified as a recognition of “the Catholic Church’s role as a major provider of health and education services in developing countries”. The BHA has dismissed this as “irrational and wrong”.

Pupil protest over hand-holding at St Benedict’s Catholic College, Colchester

Today’s Telegraph reports that students at St. Benedict’s in Colchester staged a protest after two were told off for holding hands. The headteacher, John O’Hara, said, “If we see students being overly familiar we always deal with it in an appropriate and tactful way.” Overly familiar? Can’t help wondering if this is about a fear of lesbianism? Girls have always been “familiar” with one another, with hugs and hand-holding. I remember photos of my mum as a teenager, arm in arm with her friends, or with their arms around each other’s shoulders. Displaying affection is normal, Mr O’Hara.

In Sweden, is it illegal to teach religious doctrines as if they were true?

The trouble with RE (or one of the troubles with RE – there are several) is that it attracts teachers who think religion is a good thing, and consequently are less inclined to encourage any sort of criticism. There is bias in the way that they teach the subject. You might argue that an atheist RE teacher (and yes, there are some) could show bias against religion, but any teacher who is doing the job properly should avoid personal bias. In Suffolk, the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) stresses that RE is to learn about religion, and to learn from religion. It’s the second part of this that worries me, as it depends how you interpret “learning from”. It’s assumed that, in general, religion is a good thing.

In Sweden, it will soon become illegal to teach any religious doctrine as if it was true. Andrew Brown, in the Guardian, reports:

The Swedish government has announced plans to clamp down hard on religious education. It will soon become illegal even for private faith schools to teach religious doctrines as if they were true. In an interesting twist on the American experience, prayer will remain legal in schools – after all, it has no truth value. But everything that takes place on the curriculum’s time will have to be secular. “Pupils must be protected from every sort of fundamentalism,” said the minister for schools, Jan Björklund.

If only this could happen here!

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Postscript: My thanks to someone on Twitter who pointed out that the Guardian article dates from 2007. However, it seems that Swedes did do what they said they would (pdf), though if anyone can shed any more light on this, please let me know.

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In answer to my appeal for an update, I had a message by email and Twitter from Shockwave, as follows:

My Swedish friend answered your question about Religion in schools.

http://sintrenton.tumblr.com/post/3028797783/is-it-illegal-in-sweden-to-teach-religious-doctrines-as

Hope that makes it clear(er).

Funerals: almost anything goes

The first time I conducted a funeral for a biker whose hearse was a motorcycle and side-car, a long procession of his fellow bikers roared through the town behind it. The conductor (the person in charge from the Co-op) rode pillion, wearing his top hat. The chapel filled with men and women in motorcycle gear and the sound of leather creaking as they moved about. Such events are no longer unusual, and the people who provide the motorcycle hearses are kept very busy.

Today, The Co-operative Funeralcare has released a report into changing funeral customs, The Ways We Say Goodbye, which shows that, among other things, “Half of today’s funerals (49%) are a celebration of life and one in ten includes no religion at all.” In a relatively short period of time, maybe twenty years, attitudes towards funerals have changed as most people have realised that a traditional Christian funeral isn’t compulsory, and has little relevance to the lives of a majority of people.

Click here to find out more about Humanist funerals

Click here for my Dead Interesting blog

Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship

You may already have heard of Kiva. You may already be a Kiva lender. But if you haven’t, this video explains how you can help women around the world, not with charity or gifts, but with a small loan. When it’s paid back (I’ve been lending a while now, and none of my entrepreneurs has defaulted), you can re-lend the money to someone else. A minimum of $25 at a time, adding more as you go on, and eventually you may have a portfolio of several $100. It’s the only way I’ll ever be a financier!