Speak up for humanity
Once again the bullying tactics of Christian Voice are frighteningly evident.
The group, which previously gained notoriety for bombarding the BBC with 47,000 complaints about the screening of [i]Jerry Springer The Opera[/i] (an impressive figure, though not beyond the capability of one technically adept person with a computer), has now turned its crusading attention to Maggie's Centres, a non-aligned charity which aims to support all those who have been affected by cancer. Christian Voice's threat to picket Maggie's Centres if it took money from a gala performance of Jerry Springer The Opera has repulsed freethinking and religious people alike. Jerry Springer star David Soul rightly pointed out that cancer is not a Christian issue, and that this selfproclaimed 'prophetic ministry' has no right to interfere in the good intentions of the show's producers and the charity. If, as now reported, Christian Voice plans to step up protests against abortion clinics on behalf of 'Christians', then this will only further prove the insidious nature of the group.
This raises a broader issue: how can Christian Voice, a fundamentalist fringe group, claim to speak for all Christians, most of whom were far more appalled by the intimidation of Maggie's Centres than by the content of a West End show? Similarly, how can the Muslim Association of Britain claim to speak for every Muslim? Did the Sikhs who used violence to shut down a play speak for every member of their religion? Does the conservative Board of Deputies speak for every Jew?
When communities are defined solely by religious backgrounds (and for many, it is a background, not a chosen path) it is inevitable that the most literalist and dogmatic among them will claim to be their true voice, leaving the moderates who make up the majority ignored by politicians and maligned unfairly by society. It is time the government stopped defining minorities as 'faith groups' and realised that a secular approach is the only way to guarantee an equal representation for all.
Of course this is not something that can be achieved in the short term. But speaking out against the ideology and tactics of Christian Voice, and donating money to support the work of Maggie's Centres, would be a start. Visit their website (www.maggiescentres.org) to find details on how to help.
Here's a question for the Home Office and the Department for Education to consider: when does a belief become a faith? Members of the National Front sincerely believe that white people are superior to blacks, Asians, Jews, and anyone else who isn't them. What if they wanted to establish schools which would teach these beliefs? Is this any different from Muslim schools which teach that apostates are hellbound, or creationistfunded schools teaching that evolution is 'just a theory'. Once we allow for these, is it impossible that even more extreme examples will follow?
A leading member of the British National Party (BNP) argued in a recent pamphlet that faith schools were a good thing because they would "undermine the cults of multiculturalism and consumerism which seek to impose secular humanism and miscegenation onto all children". Put differently, the BNP favours faith schools because they would promote ethnic segregation and the development of a white supremacist mindset among 'indigenous' children. Is this what the government had in mind when it lauded the 'success' of faith schools?
The centenary of Einstein's special theory of relativity has so far been a tremendous success for science, with television and radio programmes, books and magazine articles (including p28 of this issue) celebrating his achievement.
It is wonderful to see science and the pursuit of knowledge celebrated. Let's hope the trend continues:
Just two years from now will be the bicentenary of Charles Darwin's birth. As Richard Dawkins pointed out at the British Humanist Association's recent Darwin Day lecture, Darwin is one of the most important people ever to have lived. His theories have enabled us to understand what we are, and why we are here, without resorting to the supernatural explanation which dominated before the publication of On the Origin of Species. We must hope that the great man's achievements will be acknowledged fully around the world in 2007.
Our cover story this month concerns the upcoming UK elections. If our research, and Nick Cohen's expert opinion, leave you still unsure who to vote for, we'd like to recommend some excellent resources. The first is http://www.theyworkforyou.com Here, simply by entering your postcode, you can find out everything you need to know about your MP: every speech, every vote, every outside interest which may concern you they're all there. At http://www.publicwhip.org.uk, you can trawl through parliamentary records of votes, and easily find out which MPs vote which way on the issues that matter to you. When you've found this out, you can go to http://www.writetothem.com, from where you will be able to contact everyone who represents you, from local council to European Parliament.
Resources like this should make it easier to interact with representatives, and easier to hold them to account. We should use them. Remember, democracy's too important to be left to the (s)elected few.