River Wissey Lovell Fuller


January 2007

Ron leaps on his soapbox to berate several recent events

Religion in the 21st Century

When my parents were children in the first decade of the twentieth century, the large majority of the population were practising Christians. The Church was all powerful, the local priest was seen as a direct link to God, you would not offend him because that might be offending God, and he dispensed wisdom to all and sundry. Most of those who had doubts were genuinely afraid to voice them for fear of the reaction from others.

The combination of improved education and the first world war with its terrible carnage caused more people to question in their own minds the teachings of the Church. Even so, when I was a child in the 1930s, the majority would still have claimed to be Christian believers and churches were well supported with sizeable congregations but the proportion of the population that were regular churchgoers had fallen considerably. The Church remained a power in the land, however. Sundays were as dead as the dodo with no cinemas, no sporting events and no shops open, other than newsagents for a few hours in the morning. Since then, as we are all aware, there has been a steady decline in the influence of the Church and numbers regularly attending church services have fallen such that many churches have been closed, sold off for other purposes or left derelict. More people than at any time in the last one thousand years are questioning the existence of God, dismayed by the lack of any real evidence of His existence, and many either express doubts or a total disbelief. Some have remained faithful to their Church, however, and many, whilst no longer accepting the authority of the Church, still retain a belief in a God and, perhaps more in hope than in expectation, a belief in an afterlife.

Until recently I do not think there has been much in the way of direct attack on the Church, people have been content to go their own way and let those who wish to stay stay, with no serious attempt to dissuade them from their beliefs nor to challenge the position of the Church in the establishment. In the last few years, however, more writers have been accusing believers of believing in a superstition, recently and most notably Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford has published his book The God Delusion and established a 'Foundation for Science and Reason' to support rational and scientific education and to oppose the subversion of scientific education by the teaching of creationism. The Foundation will also sponsor research into the psychological basis of unreason. Richard Dawkins wants to make it socially unacceptable to label children according to the religion of their parents.

The religious and the organised religions will fight back, of course. It would be nice to see them fight back by reasoned argument but the religious bigots will never do that, they will use intimidation if they can, as has been seen by some followers of Islam and they will use their political power where they can, this also is most evident in Muslim states, especially countries like Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia et al. The use of political power is also evident in the USA and in the UK where the Christian Churches exert considerable political influence. Here in the UK we have Cherie Blair, a strong Catholic, and Tony Blair a Christian and apparently neo-Catholic, Ruth Kelly, a devout Catholic and member of Opus Dei, a very senior member of the government, along with many other practising Christians in the House of Commons, and there are 27 Bishops in the House of Lords (goodness knows why). The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster have the ear of leading decision makers and exert considerable influence. This power base has succeeded in helping to defeat the 'Assisted Dying Bill', in encouraging the establishment of state funded specialist faith schools and in influencing decisions on school curricula. They are opposing the proposed law to protect gays which aims to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. This law is being introduced in Northern Ireland but Ruth Kelly, who is responsible for seeing it through parliament is trying to hold it back. They have fought to introduce a law against inciting religious hatred which many feared would prevent debate and stifle open criticism of religious beliefs. Although the Churches have steadily lost ground, they have fought all through my lifetime to try to keep Sunday as a religious day.

Over the last few Christmases there have been some secularists and PC adherents that have tried to remove the Christian element from Christmas, arguing that it could be offensive to those of other faiths, even to some atheists, and that it is not in keeping with modern society. Fortunately most people see such moves as misguided. At some point in the distant past Christians in Europe hijacked what was a widely followed winter festival and made it their own. Nowadays the Christian element of Christmas is embedded in the European psyche and most people in this country, of whatever faith or no faith, would join with the Christian churches in opposing any attempt to remove it even though it may not be of any religious significance to them. Similarly many people enjoyed the more relaxed Sundays of old and have supported the Church in opposing some of the changes that have taken place.

It is fine when the Churches are fighting for something that meets with the wishes of the majority but, whilst the organised religions are perfectly at liberty to preach against divorce, homosexuality, the use of alcohol etc, they have no right to try and impose their views and beliefs on others.

The Olympics

I failed to understand the euphoria that gripped the nation when it was announced that London had been awarded the opportunity to stage the Olympics. All the hype, all the effort and, above all, the cost implied for just two weeks of sporting competitions appals me. It is now clear that the cost is going to be far in excess of the original estimate of £2.4bn. All sorts of estimates are now appearing, the highest I have seen to date is that by Brian Coleman, chairman of the London Assembly, who suggested it would be no less than £20bn. I fear even that might be an under estimate. This is a huge sum of money, almost £400 each for every man woman and child in the country, £1600 for a family of four, and I fail to see what benefit families around here, and in most parts of the country, will obtain from their expenditure. The government will be scratching around trying to find this money, they have already stated their intention to raid the lottery fund, thereby depriving many 'good causes' and, no doubt, they will be burdening future tax payers with debt by further borrowing. With so many demands on the public purse; hospitals, schools, roads, railways etc, it seems nothing short of a crime to spend such a vast sum on some games. It is true that some money will flow back when the visitors arrive and London will gain some redevelopment and, but surely they could have obtained better and more appropriate development at a much lower cost without the games and all the disruption that they will bring.

Appeals Procedures

It is right and proper that there should be some procedure for appealing against decisions made by those in some position of power, be it planning authorities on the one hand through to verdicts and sentences passed by the courts on the other. To my mind, however, the whole business of appeals has got out of hand; there is less and less willingness to accept decisions by appointed bodies and appeals are made too often when the decision is not to the individual's liking, be it a private individual or an organisation or business. Those that can afford it or can get assistance from public funds appeal to higher and higher levels of authority, going through panels and/or courts, to the House of Lords and then to European courts. Appeals by such large organisations as Tesco against planning decisions have got to the point where councils are forced to yield in order to avoid the ever escalating legal costs.

Now we have appeals by pupils against examination results that are not to their liking; a few may be justified but most are not. Allowing these appeals will encourage more and more to appeal such that the whole system could be overwhelmed. One could never have imagined such a thing in the past.

Something needs to be done or the process of obtaining decisions in so many fields will take so long that everything will slowly grind to a halt as lawyers get richer and richer.

Ron Watts

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