14 thoughts on “Rev Dr Giles Fraser, St Mary’s Newington

  1. He rescued it at the end, I suppose, ascribing equal sense to laws against homosexuality and laws against beards. But I don’t think he entirely got the rest of it right. What he described as “identity politics” was (and is) in fact simple social control. It has been the tactic of those with power to disseminate it through methods easily identified. It is difficult to arrest someone for holding an idea, much easier to arrest them for not having a beard or sleeping with someone of the same sex.

    (It’s a bit like the story of Van Halen’s touring contract, which in clause 79 required that a bowl of a thousand or so M&Ms was placed in their hotel room, but with all the brown ones taken out. The idea was that by a quick rummage through the bowl they could see if clause 79 had been adhered to, and hence have a pretty good sense of whether the other 100 clauses had been followed also.)

    The fact that religion is involved in this process is a demonstration that what they are about is power and control, not anything nice. Find a religion that insists on a hair style and you will find an autocracy hell bent on holding and maintaining power. And the same goes for hats, underpants, sexuality and foreskins.

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    1. What else can religion be about other than ruthless control by the few over the very many? Tell people they are sinful and in line for hellish punishment if they don’t conform and repent and then brutally punish those that don’t, or worse, stir up resistance and dissent. Either way the very real risk of a severe temporal beating or immolation or lynching or some other hideous torture, delivered in public to subdue the masses, or the threat of the same in the hereafter, is the way of the pious.
      And still today people cannot see through it. The mind boggles.

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      1. What else can religion be about other than ruthless control by the few over the very many?

        Well, quite a lot I would say. For the vast majority of religious people in the UK, religion has nothing whatsoever to do with power and control – it is a personal preference that fits their worldview and provides a degree of comfort and community. Several friends of mine, and my wife, are churchgoers, and they would never dream of either imposing their religion on others, or being enslaved by theirs.

        The history of religion is like the history of nations – primarily about the quest for power by a few wealthy individuals and families. It is a mistake to see these histories as the whole story. For a villager in Lombardy, the Fall of the Roman Empire would have barely changed anything. People have been both enthused and threatened by wealthy families in pursuit of that power. Your Country Needs You actually means Your Ruling Class Needs You to prop itself up – the tools being overtly threats, shame and exaggerating the virtues of patriotism. But just as life in Britain or France is not fully defined by the nature of the ruling family, so life in a religion is not fully defined by the nature of the Bishops.

        A friend of mine who is very ill has recently come back to her childhood faith (Catholicism), and it gives her a huge degree of comfort at an extraordinarily difficult time. It’s not something I understand, but there’s lots of things that I don’t understand. What I do understand is that it makes no difference whether she is right or wrong, and the questions of power and control are as far away from her view of her religion as they are for the sad-faced supporters of the English cricket team yesterday (*).

        (*) Me.

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  2. Yes but religion under the threat of force has taught people to be credulous and wrong minded. Humanity is only going to be saved from itself when humanism releases the shackles from the hoards of consipated minds many of whom quiety derive a flalse sense of comfort in the non existence divine. The little old lady who quietly attends church enables those who exert unwanted controls over the rest of us … resistance to assisted dying, homophobia, failure to control child rape, resistance to stem cell research, institutionalised mysogeny, genital mutilation of children, antivaxism, outlawing of abortion even to those women who are at risk of dying, carrying unviable or deformeded foetuses or victims of rape. I could go on. Thats what religion does these days. It retards and beggars in its determination to control others.

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    1. The little old lady who quietly attends church enables those who exert unwanted controls over the rest of us.

      Rubbish. What unwanted controls are you currently subjected to? Of your list of things, none of which are confined to religion, there remains only assisted dying, and anti-vaxism isn’t even a religious objection.

      The cause of secularism is not helped by hyperbolic ranting. Religions have much to answer for, as do (as we see in the USA) the concepts of patriotism and politics. They are all used by megalomaniacs to bind groups of people to their cause by defining the entire group under one simplistic label (We are all X, therefore we all reject Y). Buying into that, by assuming that all religious people are against abortion, for example, is helping their cause, not the secular one. It is giving them the monolithic block that they need.

      …constipated minds many of whom quietly derive a false sense of comfort in the non existence divine.

      Such hate, such sneering derision. Seriously, you should listen to yourself. If there is any false sense of comfort being derived, it is yours from simplifying religion into something you can understand. Religion can be a crutch, a comfort, a support, even if based in the non-existent divine. But ask yourself this. What sort of person goes round kicking away people’s crutches?

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  3. At the risk of stirring things up (and believe me I don’t want to stoke up a conflict), I think that some of the differences between Bill and Steve’s points lies in the distinction between faith and religion.

    For those who believe, faith can be a help (a crutch as Steve puts it); for those who don’t it’s an irrelevance (at worst it’s like junk medicine such as homeopathy when it stops people seeking real help – at best it has the placebo effect).

    People can be generous, altruistic, helpful and supportive; some organised religions encourage this but belief in a given IMF is not required – atheist and secular groups also exhibit this commendable behaviour.

    So much for faith.

    Organised religion on the other hand is a somewhat more sinister affair. It primarily exists to prop up a hierarchy and used the “us and them” approach of artificial division with the threat (overt or implied) that “if you’re not with us you’re against us”. The false dichotomy (with any third, fourth… options excluded) is a powerful weapon. Add in the view that the “not us” are either a threat to us or somehow less than human and you start imposing control and fomenting divisions and hatred. Religion is not alone in this; politicians do the same – as do leaders in crime and violent gangs.

    So faith and belief can be beneficial at best, in most cases neutral and in a very few cases bad [much like any other human endeavour]; organised religion can be OK but has the strong potential for imposing control and normalising/excusing violent and socially unacceptable behaviour.

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    1. So faith and belief can be beneficial at best, in most cases neutral and in a very few cases bad [much like any other human endeavour]; organised religion can be OK but has the strong potential for imposing control and normalising/excusing violent and socially unacceptable behaviour.

      I think that’s mostly fair – organised religion certainly has form for being generally controlling. But there are some things that it does well – food banks spring to mind. My wife doesn’t go to church on a Sunday, but she is there every Saturday running a coffee morning – cheap (dreadful, Fairtrade) coffee and a chat, generally full of older people who might otherwise be lonely. The involvement of organised religion in this is providing the building, and bringing together people who are so minded. I’m not sure there are many alternatives to this, although there are certainly some.

      Don’t get me wrong – there is much that is bad about religion, particularly (as you say) the organised variety. But it is a mistake to see it as a single thing, and doubly a mistake to throw cheap insults at all its adherents en masse. Secularism is about removing the influence of religion on those who don’t want it, not about destroying religion altogether. As secularists, we should concentrate on the specifics of what matters, not on the individual choices that simply aren’t my business.

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  4. I think we’re more in agreement than is first apparent Steve.

    I agree that organised religion can do good and bad. As you say it covers a multitude of variations and to lump them all together is just as silly and lazy as saying “all the French are…” or “all women do …”. It’s not the religions per se but the by-products of organisation that can lead to problems.

    Coffee mornings, soup kitchens etc. are run by various religious groups; they are also run by secular charities. My point was not that religions didn’t help – more that you can help but don’t need to be religious to do so.

    Similarly, as I intended to convey above, religion doesn’t have the monopoly on controlling behaviour, abuse or violence – there are plenty of governments and gangs who are just as bad, or worse. But… the controlling behaviour and divisiveness of religion does help to enable bad outcomes; they may not intend to and they may not want to but they can help facilitate truly unforgivable behaviours.

    As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t want to stop anyone believing what they want to and wouldn’t prevent like minded people meeting up to share their faith/delusion** BUT I do draw the line at such groups claiming privileges denied to others and imposing/inflicting their views on others.

    Live and let live (within socially acceptable bounds) is my preferred approach.

    I have no need of an IMF but if anyone else does and it gives them comfort, well that’s OK by me (and I wish them well, but their beliefs are their business and my ones are mine).

    This works well at an individual level – it’s only when organised, collective power is wielded that there is an issue — hence my division of faith vs religion. I can’t recall the original source of “individuals may be clever but crowds can be stupid” but a similar approach applies here; individual believers, and some groups of believers may be very kind, generous and tolerant but larger organised groups tend to lose these benefits and focus inwards on growing and protecting their ‘brand’.

    I have met very many people of several faiths [including none] whom I like and recognise as showing the best of human kindness – there seems to be little correlation between goodness and faith; I can also recall the troubles in Northern Ireland, the continuing misery in the Middle East, troubles in India/Pakistan, South East Asia… all of which are down to religious gang cultures.

    ** choose the word to suit your viewpoint : – )

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      1. That is a very good question, as always there are more questions than answers. I know that I have read many comments from people who were really glad to be rid of theirs.

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  5. Giles gave himself away right at the end. Having established that it was ridiculous to discriminate between people because of facial hair or lack of it, he concluded that ‘one day,’ ‘we’ will think it equally ridiculous to discriminate because of ‘race, religion, gender, or sexuality.’

    Don’t include me in that ‘we’ Giles, as I, like most non religious people have long thought it not only ridiculous but utterly unsupportable to discriminate because of those differences – even against religious people like you. Yet you yourself can’t say other than ‘one day,’ ‘we’ will find all discrimination ridiculous – which sounded very much as if ‘we’ referred to your church, Giles. And so indeed it might.

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  6. In so far as we do not discriminate on grounds of religion, at least in the UK, we mainly have to thank the National Secular Society. This freedom had to be fought for tooth and nail against the power of the CofE. Take note Giles, NSS the good guys, CofE the bad guys.

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