Archive by Author | Recovering Agnostic

Be very careful when reading political messages into Eurovision voting

If you weren’t watching Eurovision on Saturday night, you missed a man in a hamster wheel, twins on a see-saw, some more men on a trampoline, a circular piano, someone rollerblading in the background for no apparent reason, plenty of ridiculous outfits and a winning performance by a drag act singing what sounded like a rejected 90s Bond theme. So just a typical year, really.

I’d like to note at this point that the winning act, Rise like a Phoenix by “bearded lady” Conchita Wurst, fits my theory of how to win. It stood out, not particularly because no one else was singing a similar song (although outright power ballads are definitely less common than they were), but because of the performer, and the surrounding controversy. This brought a lot of attention, and I strongly suspect it would not have won if the same song had been sung by Shirley Bassey. Among 26 songs on the night, it was clearly different, and received its reward. Read More…

How to Win at Eurovision

Eurovision Small

It’s Eurovision time again, and I do love me some Eurocheese, so like last year, it’s time to address another of the great unanswered (and mostly unasked, for obvious reasons) questions about Eurovision. This is a question that’s asked particularly in the UK, when we’re not complaining that the voting’s all rigged anyway: What sort of song is most likely to win?

Everyone has their own theory, generally based on analysis of previous winners or a memory of the sort of song that was common or did well over the previous year or two. Maybe it was a strong drum beat, or wistful songs to folk instruments. Perhaps it was unabashed cheese, or epilepsy-inducing trance. Power ballads never seem to go completely out of fashion, and nor do costume gimmicks or key changes. There must be a magic formula in there somewhere!

Before getting too deep into that argument, though, committing yourself to a preference for serious or camp, hard or soft rock, drums or strings, I’d like to ask you to pretend you’re a game theorist. Read More…

Everyone should be able to appreciate Rev

Embed from Getty Images
I’ve waited a long time for this – on Monday, Rev returns to our screens, probably for the last time. It’s one of my very favourite shows, but I’ve always found it hard to summarise its appeal for the benefit of those who haven’t watched it. It’s very frustrating to like something without being able to explain why, so it’s about time I had a proper go here.

First, it’s easiest to say what it isn’t. Rev isn’t really a sitcom, although it is funny, but nor is it a straight drama. It walks a delicate line, portraying the reality of inner-city church life as accurately as any series I’ve seen and allowing the humour to flow naturally from the absurdity of situations that many churchgoers will recognise – the plots and ideas are meticulously researched and typically based on real events, however unlikely that may seem. Read More…

Religion isn’t a special case, but that cuts both ways

Minaret 3Since I wrote about Katy Perry and the Dark Horse video, I’ve been involved in quite a lot of discussion about the subject in various places, which I’ve found helpful in crystallising the issues, and where any disagreement might lie. Ideally, I would have liked to cover these areas in the first place – blame fatigue and lack of time – but I think this is a topic that’s worth covering on its own.

One subject that appears to be at the root of a fair amount of disagreement is the sincerity or otherwise of the complaint. Was it a respectful request, or was it cynical rabble rousing? I favour the former, though the latter is definitely a possibility. I’d prefer to err on the side of assuming good faith, especially as none of us can know either way, but it’s an open question, and potentially has a bearing on how it should be responded to. However, this also ties up with a bigger issue. Read More…

Katy Perry was right to edit her video, but I wish she hadn’t

Poor Katy Perry. It seems that whatever she does, she’s doomed to upset a handful of religious extremists, with nothing but lots of media coverage and record sales to show for it. Fresh from her controversial performance of Dark Horse at the Grammys, she’s stirred up a whole new fuss over the video for the same song, managing to offend Muslims this time instead of Christians.

It appears that someone was watching the video and noticed that if you looked closely and paused the video at just the right time, a man appeared to be wearing a pendant bearing the Arabic “Allah” before he was turned to dust. Now, I’m not an expert in Arabic, but seeing how often people claim to have seen “Allah” spelt out inside a tomato or by any number of strange objects, I suggest that it isn’t trivial to demonstrate that this meaning was either intended or even really there. But let’s assume that it was. Read More…

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Gold RingsFresh from his trip to Africa to persuade Johnny Foreigner to be a bit less nasty to those awful gays, Justin Welby’s been hard at work demonstrating exactly how it should be done, issuing a “pastoral letter” which combines woolly “oh, it’s all so complicated” blather with incongruously bald, dogmatic statements that marriage is our special word, not for the likes of you, all backed up with some staggeringly backward views from the House of Bishops.

We all know that the church doesn’t easily shift its position, but it’s notable how often this statement – even more conservative than the ridiculous Pilling Report – supports its arguments with variations on “we’ve always done it this way”, including frequent reference to current Canon Law and multiple appeals to the Book of Common Prayer, a document that dates back over 350 years. Reconsidering your position: You’re doing it wrong!

The church’s position has been messy for a long time, riddled with fudges and contradictions, but this takes it to a new level. The church “should not exclude” gay married couples or enquire about their sex lives, and it is recognised that those marriages can embody crucial social virtues, but there will be no formal liturgy to affirm those acknowledged virtues, and any informal prayer must be accompanied by “pastoral discussion of the church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it” – how welcoming!

WeddingIf you think that’s bad, the clergy’s situation will make your head spin. They can be civilly partnered, but only if they remain celibate. However, they can’t enter a same-sex marriage whatever they get up to in bed, because that would be “at variance with the teaching of the Church of England” on account of using their copyrighted word. Clergy can freely disagree with that teaching in good conscience, because the church is a broad one, but may not live in accordance with that conscience. Makes sense.

The church is very good at saying that everyone is loved by God, and how bad homophobia is, as it does again here, but actions speak louder than words. When considered alongside their actions, the message is rather less friendly. “Homosexual persons… are loved by God” – yes, God even loves them! Condemning “irrational fear of homosexuals” – we prefer rational hatred, discrimination and marginalisation.

It seems incredible, but in the time since I had enough of being associated with this ridiculous bigotry, the church seems to have started talking a better game while acting even worse. A few more years of this, and the CofE will be a reactionary rump, left behind by the rest of society.

Images courtesy of ollycb and costi, used with permission

As a parent, I don’t want more new powers

I don’t generally write about education, but this is something I feel quite strongly about.

ClassroomThis week, Labour leader Ed Miliband launched a series of plans for public service reform, the most eye-catching of which promised parents the ability to call in “a specialist team” to sort out their school if they believe it’s not doing well enough. This is closely related to the issue that’s been occupying so much of my time for the last few months, but although I’ve been working hard to get parents’ views taken into account in that context, this latest initiative is not the answer. Read More…

Atheism could do without the naturalistic fallacy

Baby

An atheist yesterday?

I hear a lot of atheists laying into religion (well, duh), making the claim that atheism is the natural default we’re born with, and religion only exists because people are indoctrinated to believe it. I like that idea, and it rings true on several levels. We find it so easy to bring children up believing religious doctrines that are wild guesses at best. And we teach them these things as fact, not only introducing fables but loading them with emotional significance to ensure that they aren’t easily challenged and dismissed.

Unfortunately, this belief in “default atheism” is simplistic at best. Babies and small children don’t have any kind of comprehensive answer to major life questions, but I think the early tendency to see one’s parents as perfect, infallible paragons can fit into the most basic definition of theism without too much squeezing and breathing in. And even adults with no interest in religion can still be led down a theistic line of thought by a certain stirring at the wonders of nature, for example. Read More…

Creationists are the dung beetles of science

CreationReading that title back, it sounds rude and abrasive, but it isn’t meant to be. In fact, quite the reverse. In the wake of the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about Young Earth Creationists (YECs), typically from a highly negative viewpoint. Columnists and bloggers despair of the distortions of leaders, the ignorance of followers, and the special pleading of a nakedly religious claim being presented as science.

I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, I’d say the same myself all the time if it wasn’t so blindingly obvious. But despite all this criticism, and although YECs are reality-denying ideologues who are either dishonest, indoctrinated or just too lazy to check out the evidence, they do serve a purpose. If you can forget about all the lying, distortion and fabrication – and it’s a big “if” – there’s a tiny glimmer of something valuable buried deep in the bowels of YECism, something we should all appreciate. Unlikely as it may seem, they do perform a genuine scientific function.
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Who’s your ugly friend, Justin?

Justin WelbyI used to think that it was just a student cliché to go on the pull with an ugly friend to make yourself seem more attractive in comparison. But it seems that Justin Welby’s pulling the same trick on behalf of the Church of England, during his tour of Africa, standing next to outrageous homophobes to invite flattering comparisons.

Let’s be clear – despite occasional flashes of self-awareness and a few woolly compromises, the CofE is no friend to gay people. Even last year’s Pilling Report, the latest in a long history of attempts to restate the church’s position on sexuality in more palatable terms, makes that starkly obvious. More on that another time, perhaps. But despite that, they end up looking like the rational, tolerant ones. Read More…

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