Religion for Atheists – Review

Alain de Botton’s recentalain_de_botton book Religion for Atheists is a bold proposal for a secular religion that embraces the best parts of tradition while avoiding embarrassing logical fallacies.

De Botton subscribes to the new-atheist belief in the importance of discarding unscientific notions. However, he also feels that our society should rethink secularism and reintegrate some socially useful aspects of faith traditions.

‘The thesis is not that that secularism is wrong, but that we have too often secularized badly – inasmuch as, in the course of ridding ourselves of unfeasible ideas, we have unnecessarily surrendered some of the most useful and attractive parts of the faiths.’

Read on.

‘I don’t repent’, says Farooq, who accused imams of ‘mind-boggling banality’

Farooq Siddique-1

Farooq Siddique. Photo by Paul Blakemore

A CRISIS of leadership in British Islam is causing violence and encouraging ‘cults’ among Muslims.

A ‘desperation for guidance’ is driving ordinary Muslims into the hands of groups whose sole aim is to gather more adherents, says a Bristol businessman.

Farooq Siddique, Bristol Post columnist, who complained of the ‘mind-boggling banality’ of local imams’ concerns had a paving slab thrownthrough his car windscreen earlier this month.

Continue reading.


Hunger Strike in Central London

photo Wilf Merttens

photo Wilf Merttens

On Exmouth Market in central London, there is a blue tent by the side of the road. Look closer and you will see that the side of the tent is daubed with the words “Jesus, help me”. Crowds bustle by on their way to and from work. But if you stuck your head inside, you would be greeted by the earnest face of Abdul Rahim Dehdozorgi.

Dehdozorgi has not eaten for more than 30 days. He is hungry. His movements are slow and deliberate. If you doubt his resolve, then look closely at his lips. They are sewn together with fishing wire.

Read the entire article here

A version of this piece was also published here:


Is Mormonism a cult?

ann romney

‘BUT WHEN did it dawn on you, that thing that you couldn’t tell them, couldn’t tell anyone?’ Vernon’s eyes are fierce behind his glasses as he asks his friend this.

I am talking to two young men, both residents of Salt Lake City, Utah. Both ex-Mormons.

They have had very different experiences. This is the first time Vernon has become impassioned like this, even as he has detailed his upbringing in a small and very Mormon Utah town, his rejection of the church, and the subsequent severing from his family.

‘They wanted you to pray to see “The Truth”, which means they want you to verify their truth.’ He laughs, pushing his glasses up his nose.

‘Do you know that when Joseph Smith [the 19th century founder of Mormonism] claimed to have found the golden plates [from which he read the Book of Mormon] he “showed them” to his disciples, and when they didn’t see them, he told them they needed to go pray until they did? I felt like them.’

‘I did pray, only I always prayed to find the actual truth, not Joseph Smith’s. Maybe my prayers were answered, because I study science now.’ He smiles, but is not joking.

Rationalism has been a refuge for Vernon, and leaving the church was a veritable conversion.

‘The way I look at it is it kind of a mind virus that infects people. It is definitely a cult. Cults try to cut themselves off from society.’

Read the rest of the piece here:

Homeless in San Francisco

We are on a tight budget, Mon insists.

$25 a day. We have been doing free things, such as wandering around the streets.

We chatted to a homeless guy the other day. His name was Darryl. He served in both Iraq wars. He said that they were awful. He now lives on the street with his wife.

I asked him what he would do if he was president and he said “America should stop sticking its nose in other people’s business and start caring for it’s own.”

San Fransisco is full of homeless people, over 10,000 apparently. They trundle about with carts, picking up rubbish, which they can get money for at recycling plants.

Lots of the homeless are black of course, seeing as so many black people are so poor here.

Darryl said that life at the bottom is so hard that it is very easy fall off the last rung and end up on the streets. Once you are there it is easy to give up and start getting high/drunk whenever possible.

Many housed people seem to believe this sequence happens in reverse: people get addicted drugs/drink then they slide to the bottom rung and onto the streets.

A recent report on homelessness on the west Coast urges a change in thinking. Solutions to homelessness are often built on the assumption that homelessness comes about due to biographical factors, but really, this report argues, the problem is not about individual failure, rather it is due to ”systemic and broad structural causes” and that the omission of these from public discussion and policy responses is ”nothing short of a collective deception”

The report analysed the available data, and found that homelessness sky-rocketed after the huge cuts to subsidies encouraging affordable housing made in the 1980’s and thus advises that spending on homes for the poor be dramatically increased.

Darryl’s solutions were more short term. He said that there should be more facilities for homeless people, for lack of drinking water and access to toilets was a real problem. He also said that there should be shelters and half-way houses. We asked him what him and his wife receive in benefits and he replied that they get $67 a month between them.

We told him about our dear old NHS (at least what is left of her), and encouraged, he added that access to health-care would be nice too. Well we had ourselves a regular little Party meeting, I was just about to suggest that we start singing ‘The International’ when Darryl surprised us both by saying that he would vote for Romney.

You see, he is so very disappointed that ‘Obamacare’ is not producing what was promised that he was prepared to give Romney “a chance”. But wasn’t it Republican senators who tied the scheme’s shoelaces together anyway?

It struck me that voting is much less ideological and much more personal over here.

‘Ideological’ has become a bad word in recent years (not that I am aware of any years before the recent, as my good friend Stephen once said of me, “Wilf is so young that when he exposes himself to people in parks, THEY get arrested.” N.B. I don’t expose myself to people in parks).

But if we make our democratic decisions based on someone’s personality, aren’t we bound to be disappointed when their personality fails to alter the mighty flow of the socio-economic river of everything?

One person, however strong or good, and I do believe that Obama is a good person, cannot make such a difference.

Even truly exceptional leaders don’t so much turn the tide as ride the crest of a wave.

We saw an elderly Chinese woman out with her cart, all the different kinds of rubbish organised neatly inside. I watched her for a while. She seemed so sober, so ordinary. Just a normal grandma, selling rubbish to survive.

Like me and my imaginary wife, Darryl and his wife aren’t addicts who have given up on life, rather, they dream of having a farm.

Other homeless people here are less sane. They babble to dustbins, scream at passer’s by. Many of the old crazy black guys do one particular thing. They stand at the side of the street and wave on the traffic. As the headlights stream by they churn their arms, as if they are controlling the flow somehow.

They have given up trying to stop things happening you see. Once, like Obama, they tried, but now they have given up. Tragically, wisely, they have given up. Now, they tell it to pass, and they laugh at it’s passing. They don’t go with the flow, but, unable to change it’s direction, they show the flow they know where it is going.

Every night, short of a miracle, they are homeless. Every night, the traffic grinds by.

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