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Which pope are you?

If you’ve been asleep or off-planet for the last day or so, you might have missed the news that the Pope’s resigned and Catholics everywhere are “shocked”. If you weren’t asleep, you’ll be sick to death of the news coverage and the ruddy awful jokes on Twitter. Anyhow, since it’s topical, why not do Christina Martin’s Pope quiz to pass the time ’til the next news bulletin?

Click here to start.

Victories for common sense

The recent European Court of Human Rights ruling on religious “discrimination” cases was just one of several significant victories. The Daily Mail, among others, reported that BA staff member Nadia Eweida had won her right to wear a crucifix to work, despite the fact that BA had already changed its uniform policy, but made less of the fact that the three other litigants, Chaplin, Ladele and McFarlane, were unsuccessful in claiming that UK courts had discriminated against them on religious grounds.

NSS welcomes European Court of Human Rights ruling on ‘religious discrimination’ cases

The Home Secretary Theresa May has agreed to accept a House of Lords amendment removing the word “insulting ” from Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. Section 5 has a low prosecution threshold and there have been prosecutions for ridiculously trivial remarks made in public, such as when a student was arrested for telling a mounted policeman that his horse was gay.

Victory for free speech

Latest news on the proposed Steiner and Maharishi free schools in Suffolk

Plans to open a Steiner free school in Suffolk are still being made by the people behind the Fullfledge Ecology School. The East Anglian Daily Times reports:

The Fullfledge Ecology School curriculum would incorporate aspects of the Steiner approach, which is already practised at state-funded schools in other countries like America, Canada and Australia, but bidders say it would not be designated a “Steiner School”.

The same news story mentions that plans for another free school from the Maharishi Free School Trust are also being re-submitted to the DfE.

Last year, the BHA was a signatory to a letter in the Guardian on Steiner schools, Anthroposophy, and Maharishi schools. BHA Education campaigner Richy Thompson explained,

Anthroposophists believe that they have an objective, scientific way in to the so called “spiritual” world. Children with their innocent sense of wonder are particularly well connected to the “spiritual” world, and the motivation for Steiner schools is to nurture this connection. The reason that SWSF schools do not teach children to read and write before the age of 6/7, or use computers before 13, is because anthroposophists believe that to do so damages this connection by quashing this naivety and playfulness. In reality, all it does is damage children’s education.

For more information about Steiner schools, type “Steiner” in our search box.

Fight evil

Fight evil, read books

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Saturnalia, atheists take the blame (again), and will the world end tomorrow?

Contrary to what Christian leaders have been claiming for a long time, the “real meaning of Christmas” isn’t their nativity story. A midwinter festival has been celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere for thousands of years (it’s pre-Christian in origin). The Romans had a festival called Saturnalia, which the BBC website details – Did the Romans invent Christmas? The answer is, no, they didn’t; the early church high-jacked the Roman festival of Saturnalia, when it became clear that no one was going to stop having a good time at around this time of year.

Originally a one-day feast at the end of autumn, Saturnalia gradually moved to later and later dates, with longer celebrations, throughout the Roman period.

By the time of Christian conversion it was running into and incorporating a number of festivals. These included the Opalia – the festival day for Saturn’s consort Ops – on the 19 December and the Sigillaria- the day of present-giving – on the 23 December. The 25 December was dies natalis solis invicti – the birthday of the ‘invincible’ Roman sun-god Sol.

Cancelling Saturnalia was unthinkable, so Christian Rome converted it to a Christian holy day instead.

American atheists have a lot of invective aimed at them by ignorant Christian fundamentalists. One extreme example, this week, was in response to the school massacre in Connecticut; a Tennessee Baptist pastor told his congregation that the number of mass shooting were escalating because of schools were government “mind-control centers” that taught “junk about evolution” and “how to be a homo,” and that “humanism” in schools taught Lanza (the shooter) that he was God and “he can just go blow away anybody he wants.” He wasn’t alone in blaming atheists and atheism for the massacre. Former US Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said that the shooting was a result of having “systematically removed God from our schools” (ignoring the fact that America is constitutionally secular).

David Niose, President of the Washington-based American Humanist Association, writes,

It’s great that many Americans, even those who are religious, find the statements of Huckabee and company objectionable, but it’s unfortunate that the objections focus on the wrong issue. Rather than argue about whether God is jealous and vindictive or loving and compassionate (or at least in addition to that argument), Americans should be calling out fundamentalists for depicting nonbelievers as agents of evil.