Saturday, October 24, 2009

Alpha Xray

It's often said that hell was invented to keep people in line. The threat of eternal torment keeps people on the straight and narrow: a stick to go with the carrot of eternal life. I've no doubt that there's some truth in this: I know people who are genuinely terrified of going to hell and I have every reason to suspect that it modifies their behaviour. But I've always found it a bit weird. If I believed in a perfect afterlife - I mean really believed - I wouldn't need threats. I'd do everything I could to get there. I can say this with confidence because for me to believe in heaven, I'd need to have incontrovertible evidence. I'd know that heaven existed and how to get there. It surprises me that so many people who claim to believe in heaven 100% seem to emphasise the idea of hell so much when they talk to people.

All that aside, I think there's another reason hell was invented. It's makes a good excuse to convert people to believe what you believe. It's needed. Humans tend to have a strong desire to have others think the same way they do, but they also seem to have a resistance to forcing others to do so. It doesn't always seem that way, but look at the prevalence of religious 'accomodationism' at the moment. Accomodationists are non-religious people who get upset when atheists mock religion or even when they publically proclaim their atheism. They seem to feel that we shouldn't rock the boat and people's beliefs are their own business. Ironically, of course, accomodationists often tell atheists what they ought to believe, but my point is that they seem to be motivated by a reluctance to tell people what to think. When there's a reason to modify people's behaviour, however, we have no such qualms. We tell our children not to do dangerous things, for example. We teach scientists how to think about evidence and use logic and so on.

So perhaps this is what the idea of hell is for. A belief in heaven would seem to be sufficient to ensure spreading of the word. If you believed in heaven, why wouldn't you want to tell people about it so they can go too? But is it enough to make someone actively try to convert people? For most people, I suspect not. Trying to convert someone must be quite an uncomfortable experience for both parties and people tend to resist situations like that. Certainly, it makes you wonder why Jehova's Witnesses seem so keen to convert everyone, when they believe that there are only 144,000 places in heaven. You'd think they'd want to keep it quiet. But add the threat of hell in and it makes it easier to overcome that uncomfortable feeling. It makes it feel like you're doing it for their benefit, rather than yours. It's an appeal to the empathy that the non psychopathic among us share.

Well, it's just a hypothesis and a lengthy digression. It was prompted by an unpleasant experience I had today. I drove past the school in our village today and there was a sign up advertising The Alpha Course. I suspect that for my wife, the journey took a turn for the worse from that point. My blood, tears and piss were all boiling.

Let me tell you about the alpha course. You might have seen their posters. They read "Does God exist?" and there are three tick boxes marked "Yes", "No" and "Probably". Not "Maybe", or "Possibly" or "Probably not": it's a pretty loaded question. Comically, atheists have been 'vandalising' these posters by ticking the 'No' box and rather less comically, someone was arrested for doing this.

Anyway, the alpha course masquerades as an open-minded, skeptical organisation, which seeks merely to discuss the existence of god. In reality, it is a sinister organisation which uses psychological techniques to convert people to a quite narrow version of christianity. Needless to say, it is quite a fundamentalist view which is quite concerned about 'curing' homosexuality and making sure people can't have abortions and everything else you'd expect. It has been widely criticised by the religious and irreligious alike for its narrow views, it's non-inclusive stance and its out and out batshit creepiness. There's a review of it here, which makes for interesting reading.

The alpha course is more than spreading the god delusion, which would be bad enough. It's creepy brainwashing and the idea that a school would endorse brainwashing by hiring out it's premises to these whackjobs is a disturbing one.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Even I can't tell whether I'm making this up

Read this. READ IT.

There's a new law in Oklahoma forcing women seeking an abortion to disclose lots of personal information which will be posted on an official website. Plainly, this is intended to shame women into not having the abortion. The information they'll have to reveal includes:

• Age.
• Race.
• Marital status.
• Education levels.
• Number of previous pregnancies and abortions.
• The nature of the relationship with the father.
• The reason for the abortion.
• The area where the abortion was performed.

There are any number of reasons why this is horrific. There are practical ones, such as the fact that this data could easily be enough to identify someone. General privacy concerns aside, there are enough nutjobs out there to make this downright dangerous. The fact that you can’t determine for certain who the woman is just makes this worse. Vague information could just end up with more people being targeted. Your average murderous fanatic isn’t likely to care too much about checking their facts.

There are also ideological objections. The invasion of privacy this law represents is abominable. People are being singled out for public humiliation (and danger) because a minority of misogynistic retards believe they have a monopoly on morality.

But there’s a more sickening objection still. Oklahoma is treating women as less than human because they happen to be pregnant. What women want or need is no longer significant. The rights of the foetus are everything and her rights are nothing. Her sex life is suddenly everyone’s business, as are her reasons for wanting an abortion.

This is an attitude so alien to me that it’s hard to know even where to begin trying to understand it. Perhaps I don’t even want to understand it. But believe it or not, it could be worse.

Last month a judge struck down a state law requiring a doctor about to perform an abortion to carry out an ultrasound with the screen positioned in front of the mother and to then describe the developing limbs and organs of the foetus. The woman could not be forced to look at the screen but would have no choice but to listen to the doctor's description. The law required that the ultrasound be carried out vaginally if the pregnancy was in its early stages in order to get a clear picture. Rape victims were not exempted.

This law was defeated only on a technicality.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Reverend Archie Coates thinks that Brighton is the most godless city in Britain and it's inhabitants seem pretty pleased about it. Check out the poll, which currently stands at:

Is Reverend Archie Coates right to repeat the description of Brighton as "Godless"?

yes, and it's good he intends to help change this: 3%

no, it has its troubles but it is generally a good place: 2%

being described as Godless is a compliment: 95%

To be fair, this story was featured on Pharingula, which will certainly have skewed the results, but the third option was already at 72% before it was Pharyngulised.

There's a sinister taste to this story, however. It's hard not to speculate that Reverend Archie uses the term 'godless' as a euphemism for 'homosexual'. Well, he can do this if he wants. It's a free country and I'll defend Reverend Archie's right to say pretty much whatever he likes, however ignorant and distasteful. What bothers me is the fact that if he is talking about homosexuality, he's so weasely about it. He's telling people that they are filthy sinners and abominations in the eyes of god who will burn in hell throughout all eternity, but he won't say it out loud in case someone tells him off.

Talk about having the courage of your convictions. I hope I'm wrong about Reverend Archie because this leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.