Demonic possession, John Gummer doesn’t hate anyone, plastic bags, and the planet
In case you thought we were fixated on religion, this post was going to be about ethical issues unrelated to religion, but there’s one story about bishops that I couldn’t resist, from New Humanist magazine. Stephen Bates used to be the Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent, but now he’s had enough.
Now I am moving on. It was time to go. What faith I had, I’ve lost, I am afraid – I’ve seen too much, too close. A young Methodist press officer once asked me earnestly whether I saw it as my job to spread the Good News of Jesus. No, I said, that’s the last thing I am here to do.
I knew, of course, about the bizarre beliefs of some on the lunatic fringes of religion – some of you might say that it’s all mad – but when an Anglican bishop says that people are possessed when a devil gets up their backside, you have to wonder whether the C of E is harbouring some seriously deranged people. Bates wrote,
… the Churchman‘s readership is pretty minuscule, but the vehemence even in the mainstream denominations could be quite startling and bizarrely tunnel-visioned. Graham Dow, the Bishop of Carlisle, has come to public notice for suggesting that the recent floods were God’s judgement on a sinful nation, but not only is he not alone – perhaps just naive to speak so openly about it to a friendly journalist from the Sunday Telegraph – but they are not his weirdest views. An earlier book he wrote on demonic possession shows he believes devils enter up the anus (something Freudian here perhaps) and the signs of possession include wearing black, inappropriate laughter, inexplicable knowledge, Scottish ancestry or relatives who have been miners. You may laugh – inappropriately – but Dow used to be an Oxford college chaplain, indeed once prepared Tony Blair for confirmation, and has risen to be a diocesan bishop.
So, if you wear black and laugh inappropriately, maybe you need an ecclesiastical enema? I shall sit firmly on my black-clad backside in case anyone gets any ideas.
Speaking of religious strangeness, I’ve had a letter from John “I don’t hate anybody” Gummer MP, who writes that Humanism “is an intolerant religion”. I’ve pointed out that this is doubly inaccurate. Having responded to his denials ad questioned his integrity, I think I’ll leave him alone now. However, like the Bishop of Carlisle, he appears to need careful supervision.
I spent Friday morning in a local high school, contributing to their annual marriage conference. I don’t attend the introductory session in the hall, when Year 10 are treated to a talk by a Christian motivational speaker (I think that’s what they’re called) because I find it hard to resist heckling. When I got to my classroom, a solitary young Jehovah’s Witness was there, waiting to learn where he’d spend the morning as his family had withdrawn him from religious education – some speakers were religious. He helped me set up the laptop and Power Point projector (I’m getting quite technically-literate) before disappearing. My presentation included some poetry, including a gem from Ogden Nash that Marie and I have used at weddings:
To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.
One young man said he didn’t see the point of this, as it was fun to rub it in when you’ve been proved right. If he finds a woman to share his life, I hope she can hold her own. Another young man asked if we’d conducted weddings for gay couple, and there was an outbreak of tittering. It seems that young people are generally uncomfortable about discussing homosexuality, which makes it especially difficult for those of them who are gay.
Did you know that –
The world uses over 1.2 trillion plastic bags a year. That averages about 300 bags for each adult on the planet. Or another way at looking at it is we are using one million bags per minute. On average we use each plastic bag for approximately 12 minutes before disposing.
I took this photo in a lane not far from my home in rural Suffolk. It was one of several plastic bags that had been thrown onto the verge. Elsewhere, plastic bags kill domestic animals and wildlife when they’re ingested or creatures become tangled in them. They waste resources and cause litter. There’s a plan to ban them in London. The town of Modbury in Devon was the first to ban plastic bags on May 1st this year, after a campaign launched by local film-maker Rebecca Hosking, who’d seen the damage the bags can cause around the world.
So, how about making a difference here in Suffolk?
Firstly, shun plastic bags. Take shopping bags with you to the supermarket. Tell retailers that you don’t want unnecessary packaging, and buy locally from people who don’t use it. There are plenty of sources of environmentally-friendly shopping bags, locally and on the web, including The Natural Collection, who have old-fashioned string bags that don’t take up space when not in use.
Secondly, how do you feel about allying ourselves with local environmentalists to campaign against plastic bags in Suffolk? Let us know.
The plastic bag issue is just one of many related to the environment that Humanists, who are supposed to live ethically, should consider. The biggest issue, brought into sharp focus by the tidal surge and resulting flood along our coast the other week (which fortunately wasn’t as severe as the one in 1953) is climate change and our effect on it. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was launched by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon this week after talks with UN scientists in Spain. He said,
I come to you humbled after seeing some of the most precious treasures of our planet threatened by humanity’s own hand. All humanity must assume responsibility for these treasures. Let us recognise that the effects of climate change affect us all, and that they have become so severe and so sweeping that only urgent global action will do. We are all in this together – we must work together.
Surely Humanists, whose philosophy is centred on our responsibility for our behaviour and how it affects other human beings, other species, and the planet, ought to take a high profile role in the campaign for change?