Andy Crowe's blog

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Corrie finds humanism!

I have always appreciated how Coronation Street has touched upon current issues in a sensitive and often amusing way (compared with the brute force and gloom of East Enders) and so given that there has been a surge in support for humanism it was hardly a surprise that the subject would be mentioned, eve if it has taken nearly 50 years.

Entirely predictably the mention of humanism caused a storm of protest from religious fascists. Much was made of the fact that it occured over easter, though I dare say that there are plenty of other times of the year to take offence. In fact I felt it was a pity that Ken was displaying his humanism at the same time that he was thinking about betraying Dierdre - it implicitly associates humanism with a lack of morals, which every independent piece of research seems to contradict. But I don't have the oversensitivity and defensiveness of the god squad and felt that the average intelligent viewer would not suspect that there was any connection to be drawn. Nor did I object when one of the younger charcters found god! Or that Emily Bishop has been a churchgoer since I was in nappies!

However there is clearly a group of religious people who feel that alternative opinions should not be aired. I can see a parallel here between their views and those of the Muslims who objected to the cartoons of Muhammed in the Danish press - intolerant and bullying. I am pleased that you are standing up to them and look forward to positive portayals of the role that humanists play every day in the diverse society in which we live.

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A Thought for Easter

Easter is a hugely important time of the year for millions of people.

Throughout the country they will be meeting together to offer praise, give thanks and offer comfort.

I am of course talking about the climax of the football season. At the cathedrals of football, with names like St Andrews and St Marys, thanks will be given to the teams that reach the promised land of the Premiership , while thousands will express despair at their own team’s descent into the hell of League One.

Now some people will think that this is all a bit trite and religious people might even consider it disrespectful. And, of course , spending large sums of money on an unpredictable and often disappointing football team, as I do, is as irrational as praying to an god for which there is no scientific evidence. But to be irrational is to be human and there are many activities which seem strange to much of the population, but which to its enthusiasts can provide a form of leisure and the basis of a community. Humanists will normally draw the line where beliefs and activities are imposed upon others and express justifiable anger where they are harmful.

My thought for the day is that for many people football plays an important and positive part in their lives. Football clubs provide a community of interest that is as strong as any religion. As the back pages of every local newspaper and the regular features on Football Focus amply demonstrate, local clubs and players play an important and positive part in their wider community. Football clubs have led the way in the fight against racism and it is very rare indeed that you hear a racist chant these days. When one of my own club’s supporters complained about such behaviour, the club gave his family free corporate hospitality at the next game and plain clothes Police officers took their seats. The culprits were arrested, cautioned and the activity ceased.

Football grounds now have much more diverse attendees, with women forming a substantial proportion, as well as womens’ football being the biggest growth sport in the United States. Football still has some way to go – homophobic chants recently led to arrests and bans of Spurs fans – but the important point is that the football authorities do not tolerate such acts of hatred, whereas women are still expected to remain second class citizens by the major religions and homosexuality is still portrayed as an evil by senior church members, who should know better.

So as we reach the end of another football season, as humanists we will celebrate the skills that human beings have developed in football, sports, the arts and so many other areas of activity. These skills come as a result of years of evolution, exercise and plain hard work; not as part of some supernatural design.

We should give ourselves more credit.

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The Perfect Marriage?

The parliamentary debate over a future King or Queen being a catholic is an interesting marriage of one archaic institution with another. It may modernise the monarchy but only in the sense of bringing it into the early twentieth century, and only by being more inclusive towards the members of a church whose dogma remains footed in medieval times. Of course it still leaves other religions , atheists, agnostics and humanists out in the cold – that might take another hundred years.

The move to allow women equal access to succession is another positive move and, quite frankly when our current monarch has shown that women can do the job as well as, if not better than, most men it would be bizarre of Parliament to stand in the way of this. Even staunch republicans recognise that HRH has done most to maintain public support for the institution, even though she heads up a family that is so dysfunctional that, were it born into a different class, the social workers would be calling.

But how will one partner, committed to equality and diversity, get one with another for whom women, gays, lesbians, atheists and assorted others remain second class or non-citizens? Though most churchfolk now recognise that all that stuff in the bible about slavery and the murder of children is a bit embarassing, we are going to have to wait a lot, lot longer for a female priest, bishop and pope-ess.

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Why does the Catholic Church behave like this?

The news that a Brazilian archbishop has excommunicated the mother of a child rape victim who helped her to secure an abortion makes me wonder just how many own goals the Catholic Church is capable of making.

This heartless act will add to the guilt and grief of the nine year old victim, who had allegedly been raped since the age of six by her stepfather. Why does the Church behave like this? Because it puts the value of the 'soul' - something that has never been proven to exist - ahead of the life of a living, suffering young girl.

Life is of course an incredibly precious thing - it has taken us 13 billion years to get where we are, on a lonely planet for a fraction of time and space - but is there really a place for religious dogma when it patently causes so much grief? As ever, the main victims in all of this are ordinary women. And how many ordinary catholics will bury their heads in the sand and try to ignore what is going on?

The schism between the views of ordinary Catholics and the hierarchy of the church is likely to grow as people throughout the world become more educated. How many pious catholics give willingly to cancer research when it is stem cell research that is increasingly producing the solutions? How many pious Catholics will start to question what they hear on a Sunday? Hopefully more and more as long as the Catholic hierarchy continues to exacerbate hurt and embarrass its followers in this way.

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The Matrix can be good for you!

By Andy Crowe

With complaining a national pastime, we often hear that ‘children watch too much television’ with the assumption that it will lead them to a life of laziness and immorality. Frank Arnold recently picked up on this in his STFTD entitled ‘The Matrix’. I think it is time to see television – literally - in a better light and recognise that it can often be the basis of a morality that is as good as anything we can hear on a Sunday morning or Friday afternoon.

People like me grew up on a diet of Thunderbirds, where the innocent were saved by a bunch of youths, who clearly had better things to do than rob old ladies. Then came Star Trek, where the rights of all creatures, not simply human rights, were respected and protected. Star Trek is famous for the first inter-racial kiss shown on television. How shocking and revolutionary that was, at a time when segregation still held sway in the southern states of America and had many years left to run in South Africa. A federation of planets shared a policy of non-interference in the lives of other planets, contrasting sharply with the real life events taking place in Indochina and Central America in the 1970s and 80s. At the same time we had the brilliant ‘Cosmos’ series in which Carl Sagan could barely conceal his awe and love of the universe that we inhabit.

The writers of these television series are the ‘prophets’ who have most influenced my life and it is worth noting that Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, and Carl Sagan were long-time atheists. Now these ‘prophets’ don’t have long beards or the perceived gravitas that being worshipped for 2000 years or more can generate, but their messages are clearer and less open to misinterpretation and abuse. Perhaps we should start talking about Thunderbirds values rather than Christian values.

Of course television is not all good and too much of anything can be bad for you. It saddens me to see the BBC pandering to the selfishness and prejudices of people like Jeremy Clarkson. I struggle to understand why the most respected broadcaster in the world seems to be bent on self destruction with ‘reality’ programmes which promote bullying.

But at its best television can be inspirational, accessible and remain entertaining. Perhaps the best job that parents can do is to direct their children to those programmes that both entertain and embed positive values of tolerance and a respect for the universe that we live in.

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