Tag Archives: Religion

Child Abuse and The Jehovah’s Witnesses

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How child abuse happens within the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as the Royal Commission in Australia goes public with what too many growing up in the Society experienced. They will continue to, until the public outcry causes Government to change the law.

From the age of nine to 14, once a week I had an hour bible study with an Elder, or a ministerial servant (one down from an Elder) from the local Jehovah’s Witnesses. We discussed bible stories, and as I neared my teens masturbation, sex before marriage, homosexuality, abortion, wet dreams, morning glories. These discussions happened on a one to one basis.

What should shock you, is that no background checks of the sexual offenders register were carried out by the organisation on people giving such bible studies to children. Nor are they required by law in the UK (I am happy to be proven wrong if it has changed), because they have been “invited” into the family home. As to training, this amounts to theological ministry – that is the art of recruiting, retaining and indoctrinating people in the faith.

The bit that should be making you shout far and wide. Child abuse is only recognised at the congregation level if there are at least two people to witness when the crime takes place. This is based on Deuteronomy 19:15

15 “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.

Further, they might be prepared to hold their own investigation as a spiritual matter, and feel no obligation to report concerns or allegations to the appropriate authorities. For the supreme authority is God, and the number one concern is the spiritual welfare of everyone while maintaining the word of God in this world.

The Royal Commission in Australia into sex abuse highlighted these particular concerns about the Jehovah’s Witnesses:

  • The two-witness rule. A rule within the religion that states officials cannot accept an accusation of child abuse unless there was a second person who also witnessed the abuse – something that rarely happens.

  • Women’s role (or lack of) in the congregation and judicial committee process. As a patriarchal religion, women are to view men as their head. They cannot be part of a judicial committee. In practise this means a young female victim must go into graphic details of her abuse alone in front of three older men.

  • The expectation that the victim confront the perpetrator as part of the process.

  • Not making it mandatory for elders to report accusation of abuse. While not being obliged to report accusations may be legally acceptable in some states, the Royal Commission identified that the judicial committee process meant that often elders would uncover actual proof of a crime, even a confession, but still not report it. At this stage, where it had moved from an allegation to proof of a crime, there was a legal obligation to report.

  • Not reporting allegations to the police. This practise was to protect Jehovah’s name, and was due to a general mistrust of people in “the world”. According to Watchtower: “While some contact with worldly people is unavoidable – at work, at school, and otherwise – we must be vigilant so as to keep from being sucked back into the death-dealing atmosphere of this world.”

  • Fear of psychologists, based on the belief that they may give advice that is not in line with Watchtower principles.

I have written a number of times about my childhood in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Mercifully, that does not include being abused. But it so easily could have done. Too many have written about their abuse, and the trauma they went through within the organisation.

They are a cult, one that destroys childhoods and families through abuse of all kinds. My hope, is when reading about our experiences, the cycle can be broken and no one else has to go through what we have.

Cartoon from this tweet.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Is Tim Farron A Secularist or a Fundamentalist Christian?

The new Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron refused to say whether homosexual sex was a sin according to his theological views, in an interview. Whilst his statements regarding secularism were welcome, it felt more like a smokescreen to obfuscate his own views on homosexuality. There are past statements of his, which I consider after looking at the interview, which strongly suggest he holds fundamentalist views regarding the Christian faith, from the efficacy of Christian faith healing to Christianity being the complete and only truth with no middle ground. It adds up to someone whose appeal was being outside the coalition government, but was not the right person to lead a liberal political party in modern Britain if he still holds these views.

Tim Farron should be used to questions regarding his views on homosexuality. He even chatted to me on twitter regarding them.


Cathy Newman Once, Twice, Three Times

Since then he has been duly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats on the 16 July 2015 – by one third of eligible voters. He went off message the next day, deciding to talk vaguely about what faith meant to him and accusing the media of fixating on him in a way other leaders had not been. Rather than hitting the floor running, he hit the deck on the evening Channel 4 News programme.

The question was whether homosexual sex was a sin. The wording is important; because some will stress being a homosexual is of itself not a sin (neglecting to say the sex is). He started well enough – religious views are one thing, but secularism and freedom mean they should not be imposed on others via law. As a political leader, his public liberal values matter more than his personal religious views – that is liberalism. A much stronger argument would have been sin is never a reason to legislate or how you should vote in parliament. It is the welfare and freedom of the people that should matter when voting. Not imposing your personal religious conviction via the law on others.

Cathy Newman pushes him a second time to answer the question personally as a Christian: is homosexual sex a sin? Warning lights should have been flashing in his brain – any answer he gives will still be seen as the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Isabel Hardman had already sounded the alarm that very morning, blogging on Farron’s Radio 4 Today interview with John Humphrys, regarding prayer:

“A sensible approach might be to assume, even if it seems unkind, that every worldview is worthy of suspicion and scrutiny, and that it’s not just some chap in the Lib Dems talking to someone who may or may not exist in the sky who should be grilled about his fundamental assumptions, but everyone who expresses an interest in making big decisions on voters’ behalf. Yes, we should be suspicious of Tim Farron’s Christian worldview – but only in so far as we suspect everyone’s funny jumble of beliefs and assumptions.”

Farron’s answer to Cathy was that as a Christian, whether you think someone is committing a sin is irrelevant given we all are sinners.  Matthew 7:3-5 is referenced:

 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

His answer also suggested that homosexual sex is a sin no more than other sins. Cathy Newman asks a third time her question, referencing Leviticus 18:22 how serious a sin it is:

“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is [an] abomination.“

This is the same bible book that also calls eating prawns and “every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth shall be an abomination; it shall not be eaten.”

They are literally abominable commandments, but you might be left thinking it is simply do not do – if you have not read it. The real kicker which Cathy Newman could have referenced in full is Leviticus 20:13:

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

Farron tries to distance himself from answering any particular verse in the bible, saying his Christianity is based on him believing what Jesus claimed to be. This leaves more questions regarding who Jesus is for Tim. Was Jesus the one to judge us, as he said, and how will homosexual sex be judged, even within the context of same sex marriage?  Or the one that said he did not come to break the law but to fulfil them, ones like in Leviticus?

When Newman counters, pushing for a third time the question, that Leviticus is not exactly Liberal values (it helps to mention why: because it says you must kill people for gay sex), Farron argues that a previous leader, the late Charles Kennedy who was a Roman Catholic, did not go through the sort of questions he is regarding his faith. I will mention in the next section he has himself to blame because he has made plenty of faith claims regarding public policy to make such questioning legitimate.

Regarding Charles Kennedy, he was absent for the repeal of Section 28 (which forbade the intentional promoting of homosexuality by local authorities, and forbade promoting the acceptability of homosexuality in schools) in March 2003. In 2008, he voted against a bill which would have boosted access to IVF treatment for lesbians.  He did though vote in favour of same sex marriage and equalising the age of consent. Both he and Tim Farron are considered to have voted moderately for equal gay rights, according to “They Work For You” website. Just as Norman Lamb, the other contender for the leadership this month, scored. Due to being absent from certain stages of the bill on Same Sex Marriage (Lamb away working in a Ministerial capacity, Tim Farron choosing to abstain having voted previously for Same Sex Marriage as wanted trans issues considered), their rating ended up being scored as moderate.

Farron ends his interview with Newman calling for religious tolerance, and that promoting liberal values is compatible with being a Christian. Thing is, as Hardman wrote earlier, we need to be suspicious about any underlying assumptions and beliefs politicians have. No one gets a free pass; maybe Charles Kennedy should have been asked about missing the Section 28 repeal vote (even Pink News misses mentioning that in their obituary of him).

Pink News have noticed what The Times claimed about “illiberal” Tim Farron: “An evangelical Christian since his teenage years, he believes that every word written in the Bible is literal truth, that God has a precise plan for all of us and that heaven and hell are physical entities to which all of us are consigned after death. … Mr Farron’s consistent failure to embrace the quintessentially liberal idea that every person has equal moral worth should trouble his party.”

Which is why presumably he did not want to focus on Leviticus – for every word is literally true. Why did Cathy Newman not mention those having gay sex “shall surely be put to death,” and asking was this sanctioned by the God Farron prays to? For what matters to me is not that the bible considers it a sin, or even an everlasting reason to be in hell.  It sanctions you being killed because of it right now.

We live in a world where Gay people are still killed, tortured, and imprisoned. This was a chance for Tim Farron to shout from the rooftops that no holy text can ever justify throwing gay people off them to their deaths. He failed miserably to do so, having said in his acceptance speech the day before about standing up for minorities.

I am not for one second suggesting Farron thinks gays should be killed – he has campaigned against Uganda’s treatment of homosexuals for example, and I think he has changed his political views on gay marriage possibly because of his liberalism (just in time for the leadership). This line of questioning all matters because of past statements by Tim Farron that suggest he holds Christian Fundamentalist views.

When Religious Views Impacts Politics

Abortion is wrong. Society has to climb down from the position that says there is nothing morally objectionable about abortion before a certain time. If abortion is wrong it is wrong at any time.”

“Christianity, I am convinced, is not ‘a bit’ true. It is either not true, or it is so compellingly utterly true, that almost nothing else matters … There is no middle way.”

You can read more statements like those above by Farron, that last one in 2013, in Catherine Bennett’s article  “When politicians do God, no wonder we have doubts” where she made the observation “Are liberals soon to be represented by a man who can make the average Anglican bishop sound like late-period Christopher Hitchens?”

It is a fair comment, when you consider that Tim Farron said that the Advertising Standards Agency should not rule on the efficacy of faith healers claims to heal the sick.

With two other MPs in 2012 he demanded: “the Advertising Standards Authority to produce ‘indisputable scientific evidence’ to say that prayer does not work – otherwise they will raise the issue in Parliament.” Read Martin Robbins for a thorough roasting of the MPs letter

The saving grace perhaps for Tim Farron is that he is not tainted by association with the coalition government of 2010-15. He called himself an outsider – to rebuild the party I still feel this gives him an advantage over Norman Lamb with the electorate. That is why I think he won despite all these things being mentioned during the leadership campaign. The problem is his past views place him on the outside of rationality. That calls into question his leadership on policy issues where his fundamentalist views may be at odds with those of a liberal party leader.

My twitter feed suggested a few secularists that had voted for Farron had been unaware of his past views. I must confess, it was news to me too, and I had not seen people discussing it on twitter till after the post election interview with Cathy Newman. Maybe Lamb would have benefitted from a longer campaign, but he was unable to bring it up himself without countering Farron’s charge that this was intolerance of religious people in public life.

During the 2015 leadership, the question of Tim Farron’s Christian views came up on LGBT issues. Andrew Page asked:

“In January 2007 Tim Farron told the Salvation Army newspaper, “The War Cry” that “the Bible is clear about sexuality of all sorts” and “the standards that define my personal morality as a Christian are not the standards of public morality”. This seems to suggest that he thinks homosexuality is a sin, but that his personal view shouldn’t stand in the way of pro-equality legislation.”

Tim Farron:” I would say – for all minorities in the UK – equalities legislation passed in the last 10 to 20 years has been a huge step forwards. Whilst I am and will remain a committed Christian, I take the same approach as Charles Kennedy did – I hold my faith firmly but impose it on no one. I am running to be leader of the Liberal Democrats, not to be Archbishop of Canterbury (which is lucky given that I believe in disestablishment of the Church of England!).”

Norman Lamb: “…As liberals, we should always be consistent in arguing for the separation of Church and State – both structurally, and in the way we make our laws. As a political party, and as individuals, we must consistently champion liberal values – values which enshrine our freedom to worship as christians, as muslims, or indeed to believe in no god at all.”

In a tolerant and open society, individuals should always be free to talk about their faith (or lack of one) as long as they make very clear the distinction between their personal view, and the approach they take as a Liberal Democrat political figure. But in doing so, we should never imply that Christianity is somehow illiberal, or that Christians are not welcome in our party.”

A Born Again Secularist?

Norman Lamb raised treating distinctively a Liberal Democrat political figure from their personal Christian view, the wearing of two distinct hats at different times. The fear is wearing would be made easier by being two faced (Copyright Yes Prime Minister). How can you lead wholehearted on liberal issues when you personally are against them. I want someone that believes in liberalism, not someone that has to compartmentalise them before they can lead their party on liberal issues. It is legitimate to ask what someone in public life believes, for belief can shape the political agenda they will advocate and how they will react to one set by the government.

When I mentioned his past voting record on gay marriage and the need to prove himself, he replied to me “so I have since then to show through deeds too.” As the new leader of the Liberal Democrats he is now best placed to visibly show by deeds. He will need to do a lot better than that Channel 4 interview. The honeymoon period on his election is already over before the consummation of the marriage ever took place. Yet he still feels he has been screwed by a fixated media.

In “Liberal Democrats Do God” he stated “The kind of things we do to reject God’s rule over our lives differs from person to person, but the desire to push God out of our lives is the same for everyone.”  Will the same Tim Farron put his view of God to one side when pursuing a liberal agenda or does he still think faith healers can say they have the power by God to heal those gullible enough to believe in such charlatan claims?

The Liberal Democrats need a leader with a clear vision of promoting liberal values against a majority Conservative Government. They do not need a prophet, though they may well be hoping for a miracle come 2020.

Metaphorically Tim Farron will have to move heaven and earth, and show that he can resolve the two during his leadership.

The photo above comes from this Daily Mail article on Tim Farron in March. Tim informs us that God knows every hair on our head, as the bible tells us.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under British Politics, politics, Religion, Secularism

Round 2: Vatican Tries To Block Pope’s Punch – Too Late


This is the full quote about what the Pope said about punching someone:


As I remarked yesterday:

So if punching someone for mocking your mother is normal, than what of mocking someone you are told to esteem beyond your mother? A fatal knockout blow perhaps because you have to punch that much harder as it is not your mother, but Mohammed. Show the love.

The Pope did say killing in the name of religion is wrong, but his comment is the apology any fundamentalist needs to whitewash the bloodstains. …

Power is the right subject for satire. This is why religious figures are legitimate subjects. It is dangerous to suggest violence against this is normal, that insults lead to murder for those things we care passionately about. Honour killings, and persecution of other religions and sects are justified this way too.

Read Round 1: Pope Francis Violence At Insulting Faith Is Normal

Here are some quoted remarks from Father Thomas Rosica of the Holy See Press Office:

“The Pope’s expression is in no way intended to be interpreted as a justification for the violence and terror that took place in Paris last week,” said Father Rosica.

Noting that the Pope’s words “were spoken colloquially and in a friendly, intimate matter among colleagues and friends on the journey,” Father Rosica said that “his words mean that there are limits to humor and satire particularly in the ways that we speak about matters of faith and belief.”

The spokesman added:

“Pope Francis’ response might be similar to something each of us has felt when those dearest to us are insulted or harmed. The Pope’s free style of speech, especially in situations like the press conference, must be taken at face value and not distorted or manipulated. The Pope has spoken out clearly against the terror and violence that occurred in Paris and in other parts of the world. Violence begets violence. Pope Francis has not advocated violence with his words on the flight.” [Source]

What the pope has advocated is that anything perceived as an insult to religion is unacceptable, while violence in response to it is normal. You cannot unspin this. His stress and sympathy is with wannabe pugilists while restraining the right to lampoon, satirise and make criticisms of religion. Free speech should have limits – which fundamentalists and popes agree on.

Which probably explains why the Vatican has supported the OIC for blasphemy, while EU governments are committed to campaigning against such blasphemy laws (without a trace of irony about member states that still have them being mentioned).

Expect more ducking and diving by those supporting Pope Francis’ right to lay a hand on us, while expecting us to turn the other cheek. No way padre.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Myriam Francois-Cerrah: The Usurpation of Liberal Feminism


Myriam Francois-Cerrah has written a scathing review of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s book Refusing the Veil. Her article in The Newstatesman argues up is down: Yasmin has downplayed religious identity because of her middle class niche circle prejudices, that being against how some women dress is social conservatism, and that her racial heritage and anti-racism is diminished by her empowering anti-muslim prejudice.

The debate of how Wahhabism is growing as a movement in the UK with how women are viewed, treated and presented within Islam, deserves better than this article. Myriam claims that by a woman choosing to be a Wahhabist or Islamist, and dressing in the niqab/burka, there can be no question of misogyny if they identify it as empowering and their religion.

By the same reasoning, you can read feminist support for FGM as cultural traditional values which women choose for themselves and their daughters. Just do not dare to call it female genital mutilation you white liberal cultural imperialist.

Taj Hargey insists we call the face veil a face mask. The intent to hide away the facial expressions and appearance of women from society, to make such an observation the property of her husband, is one that should outrage feminists. For if this is not misoynistic, please do insist men as an expression of their faith and cultural identity cover their faces too. The view that if women must be in the public space, let them be hidden in plain sight, is not gender empowering.

Veiling is not part of social liberal feminism; the veil is a patriarchal response to male libido by suppressing the female form by misogynistic application. Social conservatism at its worse when it suppresses men and women when it fears sex by thought (the veil, segregation) or by deed (FGM). No matter how much you try to reinvent what these actions and dress mean you cannot escape the reason behind them.

A Vitamin D deficiency caused by excessive covering of the skin – take a supplement is Myriam’s response. Let us not even explore that our bodies require exposure to sunlight to be healthy, that Allah must have designed us this way but God demands an action that can lead to health problems.

Yasmin is accused, in the most scholarly way of avoiding the word, of being a coconut. Brown on the outside white on the inside. Difficult for a recent white convert to pull off, but Myriam does it rather well. Middle class views have made Yasmin betray her muslim heritage and racial identity; let alone the sisterhood. Worse, she is fuelling anti-muslim prejudice by critiquing the veil. That there can be an open debate by muslims regarding the veil is to be resisted because racists and bigots may jump on the bandwagon to suppress muslims because their skin colour is usually not white.

Myriam Francois-Cerrah has written a masterpiece in how to usurp liberal feminism in the cause of reactionary orthodoxism. The bottom line is no legal power should be used to coerce women to dress a certain way in a park. The French anti-veil law is communitarianism; claiming to make citizens equal by same identity of appearance. That is not in the same league as Saudi Arabia requiring veiling with extreme punishments. However, liberals should oppose banning the veil in a park – it is no business of the state sanctioning what you wear (or do not) in a public space as a crime.

The threat to Islam and Muslim women is the promotion, let alone tolerance, of reactionary and oppressive Wahabbism in the UK. That is why Yasmin is the liberal feminist here while Myriam has shown herself siding with the social conservatism of Islam.

Murdering language cannot disguise the attempt to usurp liberal values. Nor does undermining liberalism help in tackling anti-muslim prejudice.

(A more detailed essay on the niqab may be read here)

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under British Society, Religion, secular

Secular Conference London 2014: The Religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights

Imagine a conference where over two thirds of the speakers are women. From across the world. Artists, professors, authors, journalists, human rights activists. One who feared having children because of the threat to their lives.

You are told in no uncertain terms the consequence of colonialism, and how the war on terror has deliberately strengthened extremists. It happened during the Cold War. History repeats itself, with insanity expecting a different result.

That while attending the conference, you do not just deal with what hits the media. You hear about projects such as in Afghanistan, where women had to make their own centre (as no men would come near them to help work), yet their improvised skills were so good they were then asked if they would paint the mosque.

Moved when another recounts being abducted and held hostage the last time she attended such a conference as this; the fear from her voice pulling on your heart strings. Tears dripping onto your iPad as you blatantly tweet in your own name what is being said without a second thought of your own safety. That the song from a band in Indonesia called “Sister In Danger” is not lyrical invention. When protestors of a movie in Tunisia move their hand across their Adam’s apple in a slicing motion it is not just bravado.

A professor recounts hearing shots ring out on campus one evening. He rushed out to a former student who had become a faculty member. Bleeding to death, no other staff came to aid one of their own. There is no one else from the university either to join the professor at the mourning prayers. The assassinated man is Ahmadi, and even in death his blood can not wash away his heresy in a Pakistan State that declares them non muslims. He never was one of them after all, in life or death.

I did not have to imagine these voices – because Maryam Namazie gave them a platform. The conference was filmed and you can read my live tweets clicking on the tweet above, and following my timeline.

Please let me make this appeal. Regardless of what you think of God, how that manifests in your devotion or derision, humanity suffers too much in a brief time on earth. This is not an academic debate with timed responses. Celebrities on talk shows making points for applause or laughs.

The oppression done by extremists and religious nationalists is the concern of all humanity. It is by no means a complete solution to the hell on earth that exists. Only a beginning, and it starts with the idea that humanity is one and equal to each other.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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