23 April 2007

An Open Letter to Archbishop Sentamu

Dear Archbishop,

I would like to take up two points from your recent speech in the House of Lords.


I find the conclusion you draw from your story about "the four atheist inmates" quite absurd. You say: "... all the inmates were offered the chance to go to worship. The four young men with no religion declined the offer, ... The prison officer, not wanting the four men to remain locked up in their cells, asked them to clean the toilets ..."

Clearly the four unbelievers were being punished for their irreligion by being made to clean the loos. The proper equivalent to them going to the chapel would be for them to be allowed to go to the library to study, or to the garden for quiet contemplation.

"The following Sunday, our four non-religious young men took up the offer to go to worship. The prison officer was puzzled why they had opted in this week. ..."

OH NO HE WASN'T! He was putting on the old Mackay. [Mackay (played by Fulton Mackay) was the chief prison warder, known for his sarcastic comments, in the TV comedy series "Porridge".]

"The four replied, “Sir, we didn’t like the ‘No Religion’ place of worship”. Crudely as they put it, those four young men were saying in their naivety that we are all essentially religious."

I'm sorry, but it is YOU Archbishop who is being naive here! This reply by the four unbelievers was a witty response, worthy of Godber. [Godber (played by Richard Beckinsale) was the young often cheeky convict in "Porridge".] The idea of the conveniences being "a place of worship" is a clever JOKE.


The other, more serious, point concerns dogmatism:

"For me, religion is a narrative we all inhabit that makes sense to us of what would otherwise be nonsense. ... let us be clear: dogmatic assumptions also underline non-religious world views—"

I am happy to accept your implication that religious views are dogmatic! You then list:

"Marxism, Darwinism, Freudianism, capitalism, secularism, humanism and so on. Those are clear dogmatic positions."

Here there is no space to defend all of these, but at least "Darwinism" (the theory of evolution of species by means of natural selection) is most certainly NOT A DOGMA. It is a scientific theory based on a multitude of evidence. It has withstood nearly 150 years of rigorous scientific examination and is now far more strongly established than when Darwin proposed it in 1859.

I and my colleagues would be most obliged if you, and other prelates of the Church of England, would make a clear statement of your position on the scientific theory of evolution. There are many evangelical churches that have quite explicitly come out in support of the completely unscientific obscurantist ideas known as "Young-Earth Creationism". It would be very helpful if the Church of England distanced itself very strongly from these irresponsible and ignorant ideas.

Yours sincerely

George Jelliss

(a member of Leicester Secular Society)

P.S. I will be publishing this email as an "open letter" on our blog, the Leicester Secularist.

Link to the text cited: ''The place of people who profess no religion in Society'' - Archbishop of York's speech in House of Lords, 19 April 2007.

05 April 2007

Fact and Fiction, Conscience and Prejudice

I've recently sent two letters to the Leicester Mercury that were not published. The advantage of having a blog is that I can publish them here.

26 March
Dear Editor,

Surely it shows a serious lack of judgment to devote a large part of your "World View" page of international news to the goings on in Coronation Street? You do realise, I hope, that this is Fiction? You give more space to it than the Real murder of Bob Woolmer in the next column! On what basis does the TV story rate greater importance than the servicemen kidnapped by Iran?

(Although the above letter wasn't published I received a typewritten letter in response from the Deputy Editor, Richard Bettsworth, trying to justify the decision, but I remain unmoved. This is just dumbing down in action. There are other pages in the paper for entertainment news.)

29 March
Dear Editor,

Francisca Martinez (Mailbox 27 March) like many other people who have spoken against the Sexual Orientation Regulations, including the Archbishop of York, confuses "conscience" with "prejudice". Many people with religious convictions, including bishops, were supporters of slavery. Wilberforce and his colleagues were moved to reform because they became aware of the true facts about the conditions of the slave trade. Conscience based on outdated ideas is just prejudice.

Francisca asks what William Wilberforce would make of it all. If his views have not changed he would undoubtedly be appalled, since he was the Mary Whitehouse of his day, having founded a "Society for the Suppression of Vice", However, what he interpreted as "Vice" to others often meant free speech, and led to persecution of people such as Tom Paine, who called for the "Rights of Man", and Richard Carlile whose "What is Love?" promoted sexual education.

But times have moved on and society is now more enlightened. Thanks to reformers like Wilberforce, Paine and Carlile.

(I thought this was a balanced view, not too much anti-Wilberforce, after all his work against slavery was praise-worthy, despite the less worthy effects of his evangelicalism.)