Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The one that loses me friends!

I am an atheist. I do not believe in any form of god, higher being, spirits, ghosts, karma(In the spiritual sense), reincarnation, fairies, pixies, elves, leprechauns , trolls, mermaids, bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. Some of them are characters in great stories and even better books that are very interesting and enjoyable. This does not make them real. No matter how much you want them to be.
For me, the biggest problem is a complete lack of real, credible and testable evidence for any of them. Before anyone starts shouting and screaming at me about their religious book being a credible source of evidence I suggest this.  Go away; find out the dates that the earliest surviving copies were written down. Now, ask yourself, “Would I trust someone recounting events that happened that long ago (Time between supposed events and when they were written down) and expect me to take their version as 100% correct?” Then ask yourself. “Is there any contemporary, physical evidence?”  The thing I don’t understand is why events and stories like the Battle of Thermoplyae, the siege at Troy, Robin Hood etc are given full balanced review and exploration. Using evidence based facts and theories whose credibility are acknowledged based on the quality of the evidence available. However, when it religious “history”, everyone is expected to take large swathes of “fact” based on hearsay and second hand accounts without any form of primary or contemporary evidence. Whenever I discuss this with anyone (Internet or in person, which I prefer) or I watch it being discussed, there always comes a point in the discussion when someone says something akin to “It’s called faith for a reason” For me this is a nonsense statement. To me what this means is this: I have no evidence to back up what I’m saying or believe and rather than acknowledge the consequences of this I’m going to carry on regardless. It seems to me that a lot of religious and spiritual belief relies on people doing this rather than questioning the accepted version of the “truth”.  I think that you need reliable and testable evidence, data, call it what you will. Without that how can one start to use these facts or knowledge to inform the way they behave or the things that they do. Think about it.
When it comes to why people believe what they believe I think that several factors come into play. They are not the same for everyone and I think they work on a social level as well as a personal one.  I am also sure that people could add to this list. In no particular order.
1.       Peace of mind. It is nice to think that everything is happening for a reason. Someone is looking out for us. It’s all part of God/Thor/Allah/Jehovah’s plan. It also gives a nice easy answer to “Why are we here?” This way we don’t have to face up to the reality that things just happen. Not because they’re preordained. Not because it’s fate. But simply because they do. This means that when life is rubbish or going badly, it just is. It’s not a test or a punishment. The same when it’s going well. It’s just life.
2.       Devolution of responsibility. This is sort of the same thing as peace of mind but I extend it to ideas such confession, crusades or Jihad. The idea that one can behave in certain way but it’s OK because it’s sanctioned or forgiven by a god of some description. Continuing belief allows people to continue to behave in, quite frankly, at times an appalling way and all because it’s done under the banner of belief.
3.       Habit and community. I know lots of people who follow a spiritual path simply because their parents or the society they grew up in do. Again it’s nice to be in a place where everyone agrees and believes in the same thing. To some people it never occurs to them or they are afraid (That’s a whole other blog!) of choosing something different. I’ve read some great stories of people who have led their entire lives simply following what path their parents and the people around them do who one day suddenly realise. I can choose this for myself.
Now, on one hand I don’t have a problem with someone having belief. It makes some people very happy. I don’t agree with it. But, we don’t have to agree. I personally don’t understand why people in this day and age do but, there it is. My big problem with religion comes in three parts.
1.       Pushing those beliefs on to others. I include in this, forcing religion on youngsters(I have to agree with Richard Dawkins here and say they way it is done in certain sectors of society is tantamount to child abuse) , pushing religious agendas into public sector and government policies (I believe all government, schools and public sector industries should be secular), using guilt to get people to behave in a certain way or do certain things and everybody’s favourite, knocking on peoples doors and lecturing them in their own homes. There are more examples but I think you get the picture
2.       Using people’s beliefs and subsequent fears to afford you some form of power. Be it power over people, money, politics, the law power comes in many forms.  As an example of this I highlight the behaviour of the Catholic Church in Europe over the last 1,500 years or so. Not because I have anything more against them than anyone else, and plenty of other religions behave in a similar way, but because they demonstrate this point quite well and it’s an area (European history) that I have a great interest in. Wars, crusades (including against other Christian groups simply because their version of Christianity differs to theirs, for example the Cathars), policy of silence during the holocaust, the Inquisition, killing, imprisoning and torturing those who disprove parts of the bible, hushing up of child sex abuse cases involving priests, persecution of homosexuals, pushing the non contraception agenda in a continent with a huge AIDS problem, the list goes on. The sad fact is that most religious groups have their history littered with such crimes against humanity. It’s all done under the banner of religion so apparently that makes it OK. Unless of course the religion doing it is different to yours, then it’s not OK.
3.       Enforced respect. For some reason religious belief comes under some odd social etiquette  that states that it’s rude to question it. Yet my “belief” as an atheist seems fair game. As an example, when I got married I did so at a registry office, then we had a big party at a 15C coaching inn. It was very nice. The ale was great, my wife was beautiful, and everyone had a good time. However, more than once I have been told by some religious people things like “It’s a shame you didn’t do it at a church” or “I would have preferred it if you’d got married at a church” and for some reason I am expected to keep quiet about this criticism of my wife and I’s big day. Actually, I didn’t, but that’s another story! However, if I was to tell someone that they shouldn’t have gotten married in a church because it’s all rubbish..........can you imagine the response? Why? If you use your belief to question someone’s moral judgement or decisions then in my eyes you open yourself up to the same scrutiny, so deal with it. But some reason when it’s done under the guise of religion we’re supposed to accept it and smile sweetly.

So, I am an atheist. I’m proud to be an atheist. I think that the idea of belief in the supernatural in this day and age is not in keeping with the progress made by the human race in areas such as technology, science and medicine. I believe that the world would be a better place without religion in it. If you need religion to be good, it’s time to question yourself and your morals rather than those of others.  I’m going to quote John Lennon. “Imagine there’s no heaven........... no hell below religion too, imagine all the people living life in peace” Imagine  a world with no crusades, no Jihads, no 9/11, no war in the Baltics, equal rights for women across the world, gay marriage, every child receiving a fair and well rounded education, no cults, no Waco massacre, no people protesting at soldiers funerals. I call for an end to mysticism and superstition, guilt and control. Take control of your lives because no one else is. The human race will be better for it. We have been held back for thousands of years when it comes to understanding ourselves, science and the universe by enforced doctrine. Let go. It is time to move on.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

What does it mean to be British?

Originally I was going to write my posts on here in a particular order. In the order of my “labels”. However, given recent events in Britain I’m going to attempt to talk about “Britishness” and its relation to the very sad events in Woolwich. It was a horrendous crime committed by a man who clearly has some very serious problems. It has left a family husbandless and fatherless and the effect on anyone who was there will last forever. That young man survived a war zone and should have been able to enjoy some well deserved downtime at home; instead he had to suffer a sickening death at the hands of a madman. I can’t imagine how anyone could even begin to justify that mans actions, religious motives or not I hope he faces the full force of the justice system and is one of those cases where I think he should never be released from prison. It’s not really that that inspired my thinking but the reaction of certain people and certain sectors of the British press.
There has been a lot of racism thinly veiled as patriotism thrown around. Two things; making racist comments whilst waving a Union Jack or St Georges cross doesn’t make you a patriot just racist and an embarrassment to the rest of us, putting “It’s not racist to...” before some slightly racist statement does not negate the racism. Talking to some of my new French friends, they think that Britain is an example of successful multiculturalism. In places we are. Drive or walk around North/Central Bristol and you’ll see multiculturalism at work and it’s great to see. A good barometer  of a culture is food, for me the best/easiest (Not a surprise to those who know me!), and the range available in a small area in this little corner of Britain really shows what is possible. There is some work to do in Britain. On both sides I think. More needs to be done in terms of integration and the almost ghetto-esque conditions that prevail in some British cities needs to be addressed. All it does is serve to add fuel to the narrow minded right wing “us and them” mentality that prevails in certain sectors of British society. Perhaps next time these people throw race based hate around they should bear in mind that in all humans’ DNA is at least 99.5% the same.
Current findings show that the earliest humans in Britain migrated from the Balkans and ultimately the Middle East. The British Isles is a land that is made up of immigrants. Celts, Anglo Saxons, Romans, Vikings, Normans, People fleeing the Wars of Religion in Europe, India and Africa (The last two as a result of us invading countries on the other side of the world. Sound familiar?) The only thing that has changed is that people can now travel further to migrate. If people really want immigrants to "go home" then pretty much everyone in Britain needs to pack up their bags and leave as we are all descended from immigrants. Think about it.
We can be proud of Britain, and ashamed at times. We are generally a multicultural success. We have a rich and varied history and our influence on world history has been immense. Not always for good reasons mind, perhaps now is the time to consider our behaviour towards the indigenous populations in places like America, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa (Where we were the first people to use the concentration camps) to name but a few. None of these are our finest hour. We have great food and even better beer! Despite the weather our food production is among the most varied in the world. We are home to the greatest rugby team in the world (England, in case you’re wondering. There are some others in Britain but I don’t think we need to go into that here!) You can worship, or perhaps more importantly, chose not to worship whoever and whatever you like. There are not a lot of places in the world where you can say that.  Everyone can vote and go to school, what we should be ashamed of is that so many do not. The health service is free to all. You can listen to whatever music you like (unfortunately), watch (within reason) whatever you like and read whatever you want. We are hugely culturally diverse - Cheese rolling in Gloucestershire, Haggis in Scotland, the choirs in South Wales, Cockney music in London. The list is endless. Add into this food from India, music from Jamaica and all sorts of different influences from all over the world. We should be celebrating how diverse we are rather than picking on the current convenient scapegoat group based on the actions of one or two clearly sick individuals. Diversity is great. A bit of rivalry derived from it is great as well. Everyone loves the banter thrown back and forth at the six nations for example. My Granddad is Welsh and we’re always at one another, especially during rugby matches! Another reason Britain can be great, our local rivalries generally keep themselves within the sporting arena or a bit of friendly banter rather than going to war. There is a thin line between banter and joking around and racism but I think it’s mostly to do with intent and knowing when to stop. We are not perfect and there’s a lot to work on but generally it’s pretty good.

Am I proud to be British? On the whole yes. Despite the fact I’ve chosen to leave, which actually has more to do with house prices and space to live this strange self sufficient lifestyle we’ve chosen to live! As I have stated elsewhere the current cultural influences at play in Britain are also a disappointment to me. Our obsession with celebrity and the choices the media make in who they “force” upon the public as icons leave a lot to be desired. We do have an issue with patriotism and it does sadden me that the English and British flag have become the symbol of certain right wing thinking groups. I feel it’s time to take them back and, in particular the English flag, use them as they do here in France and in Wales and Scotland. As a symbol of where you are and where you’ve come from and not as a symbol you wave around when you want to disguise your racism as patriotism. I don’t like the direction we appear to be headed in but it’s not too late. There are far worse places in the world to live. There are some lessons we could learn from across the channel, and in the other direction, but that’s a discussion for another time. I’m not ready to be hounded out yet! So remember, we have some things that are great, some that are not so. On the whole I think I can sum up Britain with one phrase that to me seems typically British. We do alright, don’t we? Now put the kettle on and have a nice cup of tea.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

An Introduction.

I am not new to blogging. I keep one telling about my family's move to another country to try and live a more a more self sufficient  lifestyle. I try to keep it informative as to what we are doing at our house and the things we do with our animals, garden and eco living. However, the first entry I wrote I laid out some opinions on why we left Britain. Listing some reasons to do with culture and attitudes in Britain at the moment and how disappointing I find some aspects of it. I wont repeat them here. I really enjoyed writing opinionated material. I have quite strong political and "religious" views (Well, opinions on religion) and I often feel the need to vent and let off stem about different issues. I don't want to do it on my other page which is more of a story/diary. So I've created this one for just such a purpose. Will anyone read it? I don't know so perhaps it will just be a way for me to put down on "paper" things that concern me and will therefore no longer concern me. I hope you will read along with me, agree, disagree and debate with me. Note, any silly OTT comments, that sadly seem to be commonplace on social media, threatening me, my family or other people and their opinions will be removed. Debate should be civilized even when you disagree and very controversial matters. If I offend you, I haven't done it on purpose, it's just my opinion and despite what some people will try to tell you your opinion can't be wrong. Facts can be wrong Opinions differ.

So, just so you know what you're dealing with I'll label myself for you. We humans love labels and tribes and such things so we all know where we stand! Speakers always introduce themselves and tell you about them, so here goes.
British (English/Welsh mixed with some Scottish and Italian way back in the bloodline)
Sort of socialist (I never thought I was until someone told me that's what I was, I voted Green last time round!)
Atheist (..and proud and a strong defender of my "beliefs" However, I cannot abide this new breed of atheist who think it is their right to simply go round being downright aggressively rude to all religions, religious people and religious beliefs simply because they see it as the thing to do at the moment. We are ment to be the voice of reason in the face of mystisism and superstition, act like it).
Humanist. If we work together people, we can do it.
I have a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology so one could argue I'm a scientist although it's not my job.
I've worked in education as a teacher all my life although I've now left, people still seem content to label me as such.
A strong believer in equal rights for all but also strongly against positive discrimination.
Environmentalist, but also a realist. Some progress is good and necessary.
Depressed. Diagnosed a while ago now. Thought I was better, turns out I'm not! Currently trying to see if I can get through without medication, other than herbal (St Johns Wort, camomile. that sort of thing) so we'll see how that goes.
I think that's it! Thanks for sticking with me. Suggestions for things to chat about welcome but thinking I might go for some religious opinion, pondering about Britain from afar, general ranting about culture (Books, TV/film and music mostly)