Pharyngula

Those crazy Brits

This is just the craziest thing I ever heard. Politics where you can actually have politicians who don’t believe in god, and where you can talk about removing the privileged status of religion from the legislative body, and where all the major political parties have organized representation by freethinkers? Yeah, and they also have gumdrop trees and rivers of chocolate and beer volcanoes, too, I bet. Where is this magical place? Middle Earth, maybe? Nah, it’s called England — which I could be persuaded is also a mythical fantasy land.

There is a great tradition of free thought in the Conservative Party. Many leading Conservative thinkers have not required religious belief or superstition to define their lives or their political views.

The creation of the Conservative Humanist Association means that all three major UK political Parties now have associations aligned with the British Humanist Association. We hope that all UK political parties will now recognise that the majority of our people want a more secular political system.

There is an opportunity for Conservatives – with our focus on individual freedom and choice – to create a real dynamic for change in our civil society.

Can you imagine a statement like that from either of our major American political parties?

Comments

  1. #1 Tony Sidaway
    October 13, 2008

    Thanks. I feel a brief resurgence of national pride after my countrymen so badly fumbled the ball over creationism in schools recently.

  2. #2 Tony Sidaway
    October 13, 2008

    You should add, really, that “Conservative Party” would translated into American politics as “Pinko commie liberal socialized medicine-supporting party that just also happens to favor lower taxes”. Not that I’d vote for them.

  3. #3 ancientTechie
    October 13, 2008

    It is a mythical fantasy land. England was invented by Walt Disney. It says so on the Internet: http://www.poormojo.org/cgi-bin/gennie.pl?Rant+5 .

  4. #4 kai
    October 13, 2008

    … or an article this critical of evangelism: The power of the pulpit in Africa?

  5. #5 Katkinkate
    October 13, 2008

    Compared to the USA political spectrum, almost every other countries’ conservatives are left because USA doesn’t have a left wing main party at all. Just a centre-right and a far right. The rest of the world (except for a few extreme exceptions) tend to be centre-left, or at least in Europe. Get your postal vote in early, avoid the last minute rush.

  6. #6 CrazyFitter
    October 13, 2008

    It gets even stranger. If you Wiki the Anglican church you will find that the head of the church is the monarch, who receives advice and communication from the church via the prime minister. Both of these people could be athiests, and probably have been! In the old struggle for power and influence the notion of not believing in god seems to have been irrelevant.

  7. #7 Richard C
    October 13, 2008

    Indeed, one of the great American news anchormen in the 1960s is supposed to have said something along the lines of, “In Britain there are two political parties – Labour, or as you would call them ‘socialists’ and the Conservatives or as you would call them ‘socialists’.”

  8. #8 Burning Umbrella
    October 13, 2008

    You only need to look at a map to see how the americas are farther right than any other place in the whole plate of earth.

    On far left there’s communist China.

    Coincidence? You decide.

  9. #9 varlo
    October 13, 2008

    Does this mean that should McCain become president (hideous thought) that he will bomb, bomb, bomb London?

  10. #10 CrazyFitter
    October 13, 2008

    Bomb London? Ohh yes please

  11. #11 Kimpatsu
    October 13, 2008

    I wouldn’t be too happy; the current Tory shadow education secretary is in favour of expanding the church’s role in schools. (Get ‘em while they’re young, and all that…)
    Still, at least the Tories (and even more so, the Lib Dems) are committed to undoing the Labour Party’s authoritarian assault on civil liberties.

  12. #12 Bob O'H
    October 13, 2008

    The Church of England used to be known as “the Conservative Party at prayer”. How things have changed.

  13. #13 Lave
    October 13, 2008

    Sorry to be pedantic, but it’s actually called Great Britain, or the United Kingdom. England is just a part of it (the best part though).

    But yes, I don’t really think America really grasps how secular the UK is. If it did then its relationship with us would sour massively.

  14. #14 SEF
    October 13, 2008

    In the old struggle for power and influence the notion of not believing in god seems to have been irrelevant.

    Eg The Vicar Of Bray. It’s traditional. On the other forelimb-evolved-for-tool-using-dexterity, there’s still far too much deference towards religious nutters of all stripes in all areas of society. There’s also not enough slamming of lying politicians. As in the US, they tend to get away with it far too often in the UK.

  15. #15 AJS
    October 13, 2008

    Don’t forget that the Conservative (aka Tory) Party was the party to which Maggie Thatcher belonged. And some of us have long memories (Hands up who remembers: no prescription charges? free school milk? a manufacturing industry?)

    On the other hand, Blair and Brown have been no better. If you didn’t know that we had a (supposedly) Labour government, you could easily think that the Tories had stayed in power.

  16. #16 Ann
    October 13, 2008

    This makes me want to move to the UK

  17. #17 MaryM
    October 13, 2008

    This is a really old story but it is worth a gander

    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-the-tricky-question-of-gordon-browns-god-450712.html

    “All Western European politicians now blessedly follow Alastair Campbell’s famous injunction – “We don’t do God” – in public, knowing that even a hint of theism creeps out their secular electorates. ”

    So, I bet you Americans are jealous now eh? ;)

  18. #18 Svetogorsk
    October 13, 2008

    It’s also well worth noting that Dr Rowan Williams, the present Archbishop of Canterbury and therefore the most powerful religious figure in Great Britain, is regarded as a dangerous left-wing revolutionary in a great many circles for having the temerity to be open-minded and thoughtful about a great many things that his predecessors considered cut and dried. Shockingly, he’s in favour of female and gay equality, and he’s not a creationist either.

    On the latter subject, his response to whether he thought creationism should be taught in British schools was:

    “I think creationism is, in a sense, a kind of category mistake, as if the Bible were a theory like other theories … so if creationism is presented as a stark alternative theory alongside other theories, I think there’s – there’s just been a jar of categories, it’s not what it’s about.”

    And when the question was repeated, his reply was:

    “I don’t think it should, actually. No, no. And that’s different from saying – different from discussing, teaching about what creation means. For that matter, it’s not even the same as saying that Darwinism is – is the only thing that ought to be taught. My worry is creationism can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it.”

  19. #19 Ed Baker
    October 13, 2008

    ..and that’s our conservative party, you should see our liberals! One has an atheist for a leader…..

  20. #20 R K Bulmer
    October 13, 2008

    It’s also worth noting that the leader of the Liberal Democrats (the UK’s third party in effectively a three-party system), Nick Clegg, is an atheist.

    Then again, the UK’s upper chamber (sort of like the US’s Senate) has a number of seats that are given to members of the Church of England clergy. And there’s no separation of church and state.

    If only we could marry the vision of the founding fathers with the secular mind-set of the UK populous, and we’d have ourselves the least worst form of government ever.

  21. #21 MarkW
    October 13, 2008

    That’s probably the first good idea the Tories have had in a long time.

    AJS at 15, my hand goes up. “Thatcher Thatcher, milk snatcher.” And she still is a member of the Tory party afaik, she sits in the Lords.

  22. #22 S.Scott
    October 13, 2008

    ” rivers of chocolate and beer volcanoes”
    I am tempted! :-)

  23. #23 John S. Wilkins
    October 13, 2008

    Sort of makes you wonder why Dawkins is so worried about American fundamentalism, doesn’t it?

  24. #24 Matt7895
    October 13, 2008

    The Conservative Party here in the UK would be seen as commie liberals by the conservatives in America.

    And just have to say I’m damn damn proud that there is a Conservative Humanist association at long last. Let’s kick out the bishops and disestablish the C of E.

  25. #25 Svetogorsk
    October 13, 2008

    And she still is a member of the Tory party afaik, she sits in the Lords.

    You’re technically correct, but given the widely reported decline in her mental faculties, I doubt very much she’s taken advantage of that position for some considerable time. Or rather, if she did, I suspect that would be considered newsworthy in itself.

  26. #26 Philip Storry
    October 13, 2008

    We have many long-standing traditions in the UK, most of which are (when looked at impartially) quite silly.

    As others have pointed out, we don’t have separation of church and state because it’s traditional. We also still have a monarch, because it’s traditional.

    The thing about these traditions is that we’d change them – except that involves opening cans of worms.

    We’re not that dumb. When someone else comes along and opens cans of worms, we mutter “oh dear”, and get on with the change. Sexual equality, racial equality, and latterly age equality – we make the best compromise, and discard “traditions” when they’re no longer something we can just ignore and hope nobody mentions.
    We’ve even legislated against these “traditions” where necessary.

    But changing to a real secular state, with no monarchy – that would be a huge can of worms. So we ignore it and carry on.

    Even out most senior clergy are like this – I quite like our Archbishop of Canterbury, because for a loony he’s fairly reasonable. Certainly better than that Pope chappie, anyway.
    Plus he’s quiet, so I can choose to ignore him if necessary.

    The Conservative party are majority Christian, being pretty much the party of tradition & capitalism. (The tradition part is the Christian bit, they’re also for “traditional family values” and a bit homophobic etc.)
    But even they know that to kick off about it is to be a bit dangerous – it risks alienating potential supporters who just couldn’t care about religion. Or traditional families. Or whatever values the conservatives try forcing on them.
    Most of the Conservative’s “Christians” probably don’t make it to church more than once a week, if that!

    It ain’t perfect. But we sure don’t go looking for trouble – and because of that, I think you’d hate it here PZ! You’d die of boredom! ;-)

  27. #27 FishNChimps
    October 13, 2008

    It’s all Henry VIII’s fault, you know, and that hussy of his, Anne Boleyn.

  28. #28 wai
    October 13, 2008

    Oh, please. You guys are too smart to fall for this. Britain is now a total surveillance state where your every move is, literally, watched and they are continuing to institute MORE controls and monitoring. Is that your idea of a secular paradise? What do you think they intend to use that infrastructure for?

  29. #29 Matt7895
    October 13, 2008

    Wai, did you get that off an Alex Jones website?

  30. #30 bernard quatermass
    October 13, 2008

    I’m just waiting for a beer-befuddled Amurrican to stumble in here and proclaim how this kind of godless fag thinking is only one reason why Reagan had to invent the H bomb to save Limey asses from Japanese Muslims in World War II.

  31. #31 Mrs Tilton
    October 13, 2008

    where you can talk about removing the privileged status of religion from the legislative body

    To be fair, in addition to atheists/agnostics/humanists/secularists (not to mention adherents of religions that don’t enjoy the benefits of a connection to the state!) wanting to end church privilege, there has always been a strain within the Church of England itself (and, generally speaking, these are people who take their Christianity very seriously) that advocates disestablishment. They deserve respect for that position, at least, and they deserve political support as well. “The state doesn’t interfere with your church, and your church doesn’t interfere with the state” — that’s something I think we can all get behind.

    Lave @13,

    to be pedantic … it’s actually called Great Britain, or the United Kingdom

    To up the pedantry a notch, only part of it is called Great Britain; the UK is the only name that refers to the state as a whole. Northern Ireland is British (a political designator), but it’s not in Great Britain (an island).

    England is just a part of it (the best part though)

    Yes, well, gwell fy mwthyn fy hun na phlas arall, as I believe our Welsh friends say.

  32. #32 MaryM
    October 13, 2008

    Sorry – OT but FFS have you read this crap???

    http://christopedia.us/wiki/Negroid

    Negroid
    From Christopedia, the Christian encyclopedia

    A female Bushman.Negroid is a racial classification for a dark-skinned race originating from sub-Saharan and central Africa. They are known as Negroids, Negroes or Blacks. A female of the subspecies is a Negress. In the United States, the current politically correct term for Negroes in America is African-American.

    Is this a joke or does someone need a good thump?

  33. #33 Jeffrey
    October 13, 2008

    Many thanks for the support. I’m the Chief Crazy I suppose as I’m Chair of the Conservative Humanists. Our launch meeting at Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago was one of the most popular at Conference…we had over 150 attendees and about the same number was unable to get in to the room! Needless to say, this was partly because Richard Dawkins was our guest speaker. But it’s great to get your support from across the pond. And anything we can do to help establish similar organisations in the Republican and Democratic Parties…well just ask.

  34. #34 Pyers Symon
    October 13, 2008

    A few years ago there was a comedy show of near-genius (“Yes Prime Minister”) which described the relationship between the (Prime Minister Jim Hacker) and his senior civil servants (In this case Sir Humphrey Appelby) and in one of the shows there was this exchange:

    Hacker: Is there anyone in the church who doesn’t believe in God?

    Sir Humphrey: Yes, most of the Bishops.

  35. #35 Jonathon
    October 13, 2008

    Oh, England! Home of my ancestors, home of my soul. How I wish that I were there instead of stuck in the Bible Belt.

    There is hope for us yet. Remember, England’s democracy is much older than our own. Yes, there is all that nonsense with the Queen and all, but insofar as being a government that is representative of the people, the UK has us beaten by miles.

    I guess I know where I will be headed if McCain/Palin steal this election. McCain will croak within a few months post election and we’ll be stuck with Palin. Makes me wish we had that nice “vote of no confidence” thing in our system. We could have rid ourselves of Dubya a long time ago!

  36. #36 Matt7895
    October 13, 2008

    Leave the Queen alone! She does a good job as an ambassador and figurehead. She plays no political role.

    All we need to do is secularise her by dis-establishing the C of E, and our monarchy will be on par with others in Europe.

  37. #37 Julian
    October 13, 2008

    The great irony is that Britain has an established church where the monarch is the head of the church and bishops sit in the upper chamber of government, yet religion plays very little part in politics. Very few British people, I’m sure, would cast their votes along religious lines, even if they knew the beliefs of the candidates, which usually they don’t.

    In the US, where there is constitutional separation of church and state, it is virtually impossible to run for high office and be an atheist.

    It is a great mystery to me why this is so.

  38. #38 Jonathon
    October 13, 2008

    Oh, England! Home of my ancestors, home of my soul. How I wish that I were there instead of stuck in the Bible Belt.

    There is hope for us yet. Remember, England’s democracy is much older than our own. Yes, there is all that nonsense with the Queen and all, but insofar as being a government that is representative of the people, the UK has us beaten by miles.

    I guess I know where I will be headed if McCain/Palin steal this election. McCain will croak within a few months post election and we’ll be stuck with Palin. Makes me wish we had that nice “vote of no confidence” thing in our system. We could have rid ourselves of Dubya a long time ago!

  39. #39 MF
    October 13, 2008

    Ah, yes, our perch is a lofty one. Get with the times, America!

  40. #40 Svetogorsk
    October 13, 2008

    Yes, there is all that nonsense with the Queen and all, but insofar as being a government that is representative of the people, the UK has us beaten by miles.

    Er… only up to a point. The first-past-the-post electoral system is ridiculously slanted in favour of the two major parties (the Liberal Democrats regularly poll roughly a quarter of votes in general elections, but have less than a tenth of the parliamentary seats, and other parties do even worse), nobody outside his constituency voted for our present Prime Minister, and the present government has majority representation in Parliament on the basis of just 35% of the votes.

    Also, frothing right-wing types complain that the three main parties are largely indistinguishable these days, and while I’m not remotely sympathetic to their politics, I have to admit that they have a point: they’re all free-market socially and economically liberal parties with far more in common than otherwise.

    It would be interesting to see who would end up as Prime Minister in the event of a US-style voting system – I’m willing to bet John Major and Gordon Brown wouldn’t have got anywhere near Number 10 Downing Street, though Blair probably would have done.

  41. #41 Emmet Caulfield
    October 13, 2008

    To up the pedantry a notch, only part of it is called Great Britain; the UK is the only name that refers to the state as a whole.

    I find that pointing out that Great Britain is just the name of an island, not the name of any political entity, and the the full name of the UK is “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” seems to clear up most of the confusion, followed by the fact that the island of Great Britain is divided into England Scotland, and Wales. The only remaining confusion is whether the constituent parts of the UK are really countries and the UK is some kind of supranational political entity, or if the UK as a whole is the country and the four (major) bits are some kind of sub-national division more like provinces. I suppose it depends on how one defines “country”.

  42. #42 Ian Gould
    October 13, 2008

    Australia is much the same but with the following added advantages:

    1. The weather’s better;
    2. the beer is colder;
    3. while we share the embarrassment of Betty Windsor as head of state, she and her appalling are generally kept at a distance of roughly 10,000 kilometres.
    4. One of our former PMs was not only openly atheistic, he was also a world champ at beer drinking.

    Yes I mentioned beer twice.

    I like beer.

  43. #43 Donalbain
    October 13, 2008

    Well, lets see who would have been PM with a US style election..
    Now, first we will need an electoral college.. it wouldnt make sense to make them the nations of the UK as there are too few.. so given we need a few hundred to match the US system, lets say we could use constituencies…

    Now.. each of these constituencies would have one electoral college seat which magically works out as the same number of seats they have in the House of Commons. So, it seems that our system is not that far away from the US system after all and would give much the same results for PM if we switched.

  44. #44 Svetogorsk
    October 13, 2008

    Australia is also led by a man named Kevin, which I think is a breakthrough of sorts.

  45. #45 Dave Godfrey
    October 13, 2008

    I find this especially interesting because there is a fairly strong “flag and faith” section of the Tory party- which recently hit the news during the vote on the Embryology Act, by attaching amendments concerning abortion to it. Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science” blog and column has quite a bit of information concerning Nadine Dorries, one of the more high-profile MPs on the religious right, and her unsurprisingly deep ignorance of science.

  46. #46 David Marjanovi?
    October 13, 2008

    Sort of makes you wonder why Dawkins is so worried about American fundamentalism, doesn’t it?

    I don’t understand. When there are too many politically active fundies in the USA, they elect one of their own president, and we all have to live with the consequences. “We all” as in “world population”.

    Oh, please. You guys are too smart to fall for this. Britain is now a total surveillance state where your every move is, literally, watched and they are continuing to institute MORE controls and monitoring. Is that your idea of a secular paradise? What do you think they intend to use that infrastructure for?

    Hah. That’s just to tell the electorate “look, we’re doing something against crime”. Do you really believe anyone is paid to watch all those years and years of utterly boring video?

  47. #47 CrazyFitter
    October 13, 2008

    Matt7895.
    ‘Leave the Queen alone! She does a good job as an ambassador and figurehead. She plays no political role.’

    I used to think that but then I read John Pilgers book ‘A Secret Country’ which explains exactly the opposite, About Australia in this case but its a big subject and she cannot be just dismissed so lightly.

    I remember talking to a couple of vicars once (both married with families) and the subject of the queen came up and one said of the other, ‘The only interest he has in the queen is that she’s got a vagina’. This is the kind of irreverence I love.

  48. #48 Tony Sidaway
    October 13, 2008

    Svetogorsk | October 13, 2008 8:53 AM #18

    Creationism (at least, of the virulent American “Young Earth” variety) hasn’t been considered a respectable position within the Church of England for many decades–perhaps more than a century. Anglican clergymen were some of the foremost dabblers-in and exponents of science during the nineteenth century, mainly because of the way our universities were set up and managed, so unlike the scientifically illiterate like the American fundies the anglican clergy has always had a highly educated, scientifically literate faction.

    For similar reasons the Catholics have also tended not to back creationism.

    On the distinction between United Kingdom and England, I think it really is necessary to single out England and Wales (which contain about 90% of the UK population). Scotland and Northern Ireland have distinct religious traditions, largely presbyterian, and some presbyterians seem to have annoyingly thick skulls when it comes to science.

  49. #49 David Marjanovi?, OM
    October 13, 2008

    I suppose it depends on how one defines “country”.

    Germany and Austria are “federal republics” composed of “countries”…

  50. #50 Katkinkate
    October 13, 2008

    Wasn’t USA settled originally mostly by ultra-religious pilgrims? And that the separation of church and state was mandated in the constitution in an effort to prevent the ultra-religious sentiments taking over the country? So then UK became more secular over time, because they sent their most religious wackos to the Americas and USA are still under the influence of the said wackos and the separation issue has become just a formality as the government increasingly pandered to them instead of trying to control their excesses.

  51. #51 Tony Sidaway
    October 13, 2008

    MaryM | October 13, 2008 9:40 AM #32

    “Negroid” is an
    i obsolete
    anthropological term.

  52. #52 scooter
    October 13, 2008

    I call Bullshit. Britain has an anti-blasphemy law that criminalizes saying bad things about Jews and Sihks, soon to be extended to Muslims no doubt.

    More here:
    http://acksisofevil.org/audio/inner85.mp3

  53. #53 Tony Sidaway
    October 13, 2008

    scooter | October 13, 2008 10:35 AM #52

    Britain has no such law.

  54. #54 Iain Walker
    October 13, 2008

    Jonathon (#35):

    insofar as being a government that is representative of the people, the UK has us beaten by miles.

    I’m not sure this is true – historically, it certainly isn’t. For most of the 19th century, American democracy was rather more advanced (in terms of franchise and constitutional protection of civil liberties) than that in Britain, and the British establishment tended to regard the United States much as West used to regard the Soviet Union – as a politically radical regime bent on exporting dangerous revolutionary doctrines.

    British liberals and radicals on the other hand looked to the US as a beacon of hope and inspiration.

    Hence the way British support for the two sides in the American Civil War tended to split along political and class lines – the aristocracy and anti-democrats supporting the South (since they wanted to see democratic forms of government fail), and liberals and radicals supporting the North (since they wanted to see democratic forms of government prosper).

    In short, your country was once justifiably held up as a beacon of progressive ideals. Although I’m not sure whether this thought will be a source of comfort or rubbing of salt in the wound.

  55. #55 Dianne
    October 13, 2008

    Australia is much the same but with the following added advantages

    While I’m sure you’re correct about all the advantages you listed and that there are even other advantages to Australia (interesting wildlife, further from the US), it lacks one critical advantage that England does possess: proximity to France.

  56. #56 Tony Sidaway
    October 13, 2008

    And before somebody says it: we’re not being taken over by Muslims either. There are only about 2 million culturally muslim people in the UK (3% of the population) and even then they are somewhat under-represented in Parliament and most other institutions.

    Dunno why but I see that claim, mostly from American Christians, a lot.

  57. #57 Josh
    October 13, 2008

    This makes me really want to move to the UK…

  58. #58 Daniel
    October 13, 2008

    ‘”Oh, please. You guys are too smart to fall for this. Britain is now a total surveillance state where your every move is, literally, watched and they are continuing to institute MORE controls and monitoring. Is that your idea of a secular paradise? What do you think they intend to use that infrastructure for?”

    Hah. That’s just to tell the electorate “look, we’re doing something against crime”. Do you really believe anyone is paid to watch all those years and years of utterly boring video?’

    I wish it were not true, but the UK is indeed becoming a surveillance society. See the following article from The Times, which outlines the plan of the UK intelligence services to monitor ALL electronic communications made within the country.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article4882622.ece

    Unfortunately this outrageous scheme has been overshadowed by the current economic crisis.

    We British are sleep-walking into a police state.

  59. #59 Matt Penfold
    October 13, 2008

    On the distinction between United Kingdom and England, I think it really is necessary to single out England and Wales (which contain about 90% of the UK population). Scotland and Northern Ireland have distinct religious traditions, largely presbyterian, and some presbyterians seem to have annoyingly thick skulls when it comes to science.

    Do not forget the non-conformist movement in Wales, which has played a significant part in left wing politics (and Welsh nationalism) over the years.

  60. #60 Tony Sidaway
    October 13, 2008

    The function of the monarch in the UK is almost completely ceremonial. The best reason for keeping a constitutional monarchy is that the Prime Minister and his cabinet can then exercise almost despotic powers in the name of the monarch, but we get to kick them out every four or five years. Which works reasonably well.

  61. #61 scooter
    October 13, 2008

    Tony Sidaway @ 51 Britain has no such Law

    Then it was recently repealed.

    Rowan Atkinsan spoke in front of the Parliament, and handed Tony Blair the first defeat in his career over extending the anti-blasphemy law to muslims.

    I covered it as it happened: http://acksisofevil.org/audio/inner85.mp3

    try google

  62. #62 Matt Heath
    October 13, 2008

    scooter #52 , Tony Sidaway #53:
    Tony is right that no blasphemy law in Britain has ever given special protection to Jews or Sikhs. There are on the other hand resrtisctions on public speech that wouldn’t be possible in the US.

    I think scooter is thinking of the law on inciting racial hatred which classes the jewish and sikh communities as ethnic groups. (IANAL but I think this was done through case law not statute).

    Basically, calls to beat up Jews or Sikhs are treated as racism and calls to beat up Christians, Muslims or atheists aren’t (which makes some sense because membership of the former two groups is very strongly correlated to ethnicity and membership of latter three not).

    There was a new law bought a while back restricting the right to say “Beat up members/non-members of religious group X” (and the old (disused) blasphemy law protecting the established church was dumped).

  63. #63 James
    October 13, 2008

    One should never forget Michele Bachelet, the atheist who is also the elected President of Chile

  64. #64 Matt7895
    October 13, 2008

    Scooter, who is ‘Rowan Atkinsan’? I’ve never heard of him.

  65. #65 Matt Penfold
    October 13, 2008

    Rowan Atkinsan spoke in front of the Parliament, and handed Tony Blair the first defeat in his career over extending the anti-blasphemy law to muslims.

    Scooter, you have your laws mixed up.

    The law you are talking about covers incitement to racial hatred. There was an attempt to introduce a law covering incitement to religious hatred, which was defeated.

    The laws regarding blasphemy only ever covered Christianity, and not even all denomination of that. It had seldom been used in recent years, and was repealed earlier this year.

  66. #66 SimonG
    October 13, 2008

    I’m not much interested in my MP’s religious views. (I’m not sure what they are or even if I could find out easily.) Politicians who talk about their religion tend to make us feel rather uncomfortable.
    I’d like to see disestablishment of the CofE, but I’m not going to lose much sleep over it. I can see it happening eventually, if only to prevent other faiths from seeking similar privileges.
    I’d also like to see the monarchy done away with, ideally, but it just isn’t important enough to bother with. (Apart from the idiot son, Charles.)
    Like any good Englishman I save my energies for important matters, like cricket.

  67. #67 Matt Heath
    October 13, 2008

    scooter: ahh you posted again while I was posting.
    It wasn’t actually extending the blasphemy law. It was replacing the crime of blasphemy with this “Incitement to religious hatred” thing.

    It probably wasn’t to clever because puts religion in a special place in law and gives a chilling effect on religion trashing while the things it was meant to do (topping people from inciting others to beat people up on grounds of religion) could well have been dealt with under public order law.

    But it’s not blasphemy. You can tell peoples prophets and messiahs to eat the dicks of forbidden animals quite legally now in Britain as long as there is no threat to the followers.

    Also for what it’s worth, the cases I’ve heard about it being used for have mostly been against imans calling for the murder of kaffirs.

  68. #68 Iain Walker
    October 13, 2008

    Dave Godfrey (#45):

    I find this especially interesting because there is a fairly strong “flag and faith” section of the Tory party- which recently hit the news during the vote on the Embryology Act, by attaching amendments concerning abortion to it.

    And many of the Tory front bench (including party leader David Cameron) voted to lower the permissable time limit.

    The fact that the Tories have a decent showing of secularists and social liberals within their ranks is certainly to be applauded, but shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the fact that the Conservative Party still tends to be the natural political home of our worst religious reactionaries, and that they are not without influence within the party.

    Incidentally, and apropos of nothing in particular, last year a survey was done of British MPs’ summer reading habits. The title being most widely read by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats was a biography of William Wilberforce. The title most widely read by Labour MPs was The God Delusion.

  69. #69 Matt Heath
    October 13, 2008

    Matt Penfold @65: Oh that’s right. It was even defeated. (I’ve been out the country a while, I forget things).

    So was Abu Hamza convicted for inciting racial hatred, in the end or just inciting violence? I know they hit him with one of those laws?

  70. #70 SteveM
    October 13, 2008

    Scooter, who is ‘Rowan Atkinsan’? I’ve never heard of him.

    comedian, actor:
    Black Adder
    Mr. Bean

  71. #71 Muzz
    October 13, 2008

    I have little to add of use, but must say:
    ” Posted by: Pyers Symon
    A few years ago there was a comedy show of near-genius (“Yes Prime Minister”…”

    near genius? Yes Minister/Prime Minister was utter genius.

  72. #72 Muzz
    October 13, 2008

    I have little to add of use, but must say:
    ” Posted by: Pyers Symon
    A few years ago there was a comedy show of near-genius (“Yes Prime Minister”…”

    near genius? Yes Minister/Prime Minister was utter genius.

  73. #73 Ross_S
    October 13, 2008

    Pyers @ 34,

    I remember it well but the other classic Yes, Prime Minister line re the C of E was as also from Sir Humphrey:

    “The Queen is inseparable from the Church of England. God is an optional extra”

  74. #74 Matt Penfold
    October 13, 2008

    So was Abu Hamza convicted for inciting racial hatred, in the end or just inciting violence? I know they hit him with one of those laws?

    If I recall correctly it was both, with incitement to murder thrown in as well. In fact it was the incitement to murder that got him the longest sentence I think.

  75. #75 SteveM
    October 13, 2008

    Yes Minister/Prime Minister was utter genius.

    Yes, though I thought Yes, Minister was the better of the two. Nigel Hawthorne (Madness of King George) was particularly brilliant as Humphrey.

  76. #76 Penny
    October 13, 2008

    In Europe, religion in public is about as acceptable as sex in public. It draws gasps of semi-amused disapproval. Like when I was in Germany and an American family got their poor daughter to say grace in public in a restaurant. The whole room gasped and stared. Many were put off their lunch.

    And Europe really is secular: religious demographics in my high school were something like: Atheists/agnostics >85%, ‘Traditional’, i.e scarcely believing Christians c.9%, Slightly religious or secular Jews c.4%, Hindus 1 (individual), Real Christians 1 (individual), Muslims, Bhuddists and Other 0

    I wish PZ hadn’t told everyone about the beer volcanoes though.

  77. #77 Walton
    October 13, 2008

    For once, I agree with Professor Myers’ remarks for the most part. As you know, I’m British and an active member of the Conservative Party. I know plenty of British conservatives who are atheists/freethinkers of some description. I don’t think there’s one simple explanation as to why our countries’ attitudes to religion in politics are so different.

    Aside from Britain being a less religious country (which it is, statistically, in terms of church attendance and the like), it’s also the case that religion plays a rather different role in our society, compared to that in the US. Overt religious sectarianism (“my beliefs are right, yours are wrong”) is not usually viewed as socially acceptable by most people in the UK, and religion is kept out of politics to a much greater extent. Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, is an avowed atheist; as to David Cameron, leader of my own party, I don’t even know what his religious beliefs are, nor am I particularly concerned.

    We do, of course, have some political issues that are inevitably argued along religious lines (abortion, stem cell research, etc.), but those issues tend not to be partisan. The Conservative Party has some very religious, socially conservative politicians (such as Anne Widdecombe), as does the Labour party (Ruth Kelly), but in both parties they are a minority. Issues such as abortion tend to be free votes (i.e. non-partisan) in Parliament.

    I do think our political culture is preferable to that of the US in this respect – religion should be kept out of politics – but it stems, in the end, from a cultural difference, and any short-term change in the system won’t affect matters, IMO.

  78. #78 Matt Heath
    October 13, 2008

    Thanks Matt (#74).
    OK, now this thing about blasphemy laws is cleared up I’d like to say “Fuck the Tories”.

    It’s nice that lack-of-religion is now no issue in the Tory Party and that they have openly gay MPs and that the mainstream of the party has tacked to the centre on social issues but screw them. David Cameron is still the policy advisor who wrote most of the furthest right manifesto they ever stood on and his “nice chap” act does nothing to change that.

  79. #79 Barnard
    October 13, 2008

    The brilliant thing about the repeal of the blasphemy law, was that it was partly due to crazy christians calling for the law to be applied to Stuart Lee for writing Jerry Springer the opera.

    Lee said that they didn’t prosecute due to it not being the middle ages, im paraphrasing slightly there, really funny and intelligent guy though and an atheist to boot.

  80. #80 Snarla
    October 13, 2008

    Would anybody have a link to a good article contrasting the US political spectrum to the rest of the world’s? Specifically, that both major US political parties would be considered right-wing by everybody else? Thanks in advance.

  81. #81 Mrs Tilton
    October 13, 2008

    Emmet @41,

    I wish it were that easy here; Germans constantly refer to the UK, even in quite formal documents, as Grossbritannien. I suppose that if Northern Ireland’s nationalists get what they want some day, the Germans will thereafter become serendipitously correct (unless the Scottish nats also get what they want).

    Though the Germans are very bad about this, they are not, of course, as bad as the English. (For example, if you ever find yourself in All Saints’ churchyard in Sutton Courtenay, check out Asquith’s gravestone to see what country his family imagined him to have been prime minister of.)

    As for your more metaphysical question at the end, obviously E, S, W & NI are countries: each has its own football association.

  82. #82 yago
    October 13, 2008

    “Politicians who don’t believe in god, and where you can talk about removing the privileged status of religion from the legislative body, Where is this magical place? it’s called England”

    Sorry to rain on your little parade but the British Government has instituted Sharia (Muslim) courts:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article4749183.ece
    “ISLAMIC law has been officially adopted in Britain, with sharia courts given powers to rule on Muslim civil cases.
    THE GOVERNMENT HAS QUIETLY SANCTIONED the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence.
    Rulings issued by a network of five sharia courts are enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court. ”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2957428/Sharia-law-courts-operating-in-Britain.html
    “Five sharia courts have been set up in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester and Nuneaton, Warwickshire. THE GOVERNMENT HAS QUIETLY SANCTIONED THAT THEIR RULINGS ARE ENFORCEABLE WITH THE FULL POWER OF THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM, through the county courts or High Court. Previously, the rulings were not binding and depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims”

    Guess the good professor doesn’t read the papers.

  83. #83 Matt Penfold
    October 13, 2008

    As for your more metaphysical question at the end, obviously E, S, W & NI are countries: each has its own football association.

    This is complicated by the fact that when it comes to rugby, the whole island of Ireland has one association and one team.

  84. #84 Graeme Elliott
    October 13, 2008

    @75

    I prefered Yes Prime Minister. The fact that Hacker knew more of how the system worked meant he had better chances to wrangle his way around Sir Humphrey, leading to increadibly(sp?) funny concequences. As evidence I submit ‘The Smoke Screen’.

  85. #85 MarkW
    October 13, 2008

    yago: @#82 From your link to the Telegraph:

    The rulings [...] are binding in law, provided that both parties in the dispute agree to give it the power to rule on their case.

    (My emphasis)

    I think that the bolded part is the crux of the matter. I would suspect that some Muslims will be pressurised into accepting the rulings, which is certainly a cause for concern, but it’s certainly not the case that Sharia Law is being foisted on the non-Muslim majority.

  86. #86 Matt Penfold
    October 13, 2008

    I think that the bolded part is the crux of the matter. I would suspect that some Muslims will be pressurised into accepting the rulings, which is certainly a cause for concern, but it’s certainly not the case that Sharia Law is being foisted on the non-Muslim majority.

    Whilst I strongly oppose this move, it should be pointed out that the Civil courts will have the power to intervene in any case where it thinks human rights legislation is being breached, or where one of the parties was not a willing participant or had not been informed they had the right to reject a Sharia hearing.

  87. #87 SteveM
    October 13, 2008

    Graeme, don’t get me wrong, the whole series was brilliant and if I may be allowed to continue this little tangent, the episode of Yes, Prime Minister that is my particular favorite was “The Key”. Masterful play on words and fun seeing Humphrey outwitted for a change.

  88. #88 Alan
    October 13, 2008

    They may be atheist Tory bastards, but they’re still Tory bastards.

  89. #89 Richard Carter, FCD
    October 13, 2008

    Yes, but…

    The Church of England is often (only semi-jokingly) referred to as the Conservative Party at prayer.

  90. #90 Peter Ashby
    October 13, 2008

    I rather fear that in the current climate far from disestablishing the CofE to stop other religions whingeing we will instead get Moslem, Sikh, Hindu and Jewish clerics in a reformed House of Lords. There are strong proposals of that sort doing the rounds in fact and achieving it is one of the reasons of those who are against a wholly elected upper house. Bear that in mind when you decide what HoL reform to back when you write to your MP.

    Fully elected is the only way we will get rid of the religious in parliament. If Rowan Williams or John Sentamu want to sit in parliament and talk out Lord Joffe’s Assisted Dying Bill they should bloody well stand for election. Oh and retire the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas while we’re at it.

  91. #91 Peter Ashby
    October 13, 2008

    @SteveM
    Yes ‘The Key’ is my favourite Yes PM too. Was saying to that effect to the edest just the other day in fact.

  92. #92 Mrs Tilton
    October 13, 2008

    Yago @82,

    Guess the good professor doesn’t read the papers

    Guess the bedwetting islamophobe doesn’t understand the concept of private arbitration, or realise that a sharia court’s decisions are no more nor less binding than those of a beth din or the London Court of International Arbitration, and for precisely the same reasons.

    Now be off with you to Gates of Vienna or wherever it is you usually hang out.

  93. #93 Matt Heath
    October 13, 2008

    #89: And Labour were always said to owe more to Methodism than Marxism. The class and cultural differences between “church and chapel” are still rattling away in the background of British politics.

  94. #94 dveej
    October 13, 2008

    SteveM @ #70, and scooter, and any other spelling Nazis such as myself: Rowan Atkinson’s surname is spelled with an ‘o’ in the last syllable, not an ‘a’. Thus Matt7895’s rhetorical question: “Who is Rowan Atkinsan?”, posed by someone who probably does know who Atkinson is, and who wishes to call scooter on misspelling.

    David Marjanovi? (sorry, not sure if it’s -vi? or -vi??): Saying that Germany is a federal republic consisting of countries is problematic, and depends on how you translate the German word “Länder”. I think most German-to-English translators would either say that, for example, Rhineland-Palatinate (English for “Kurpfalz”) is a “state”, or else they would use the German term “Land” in the English together with some explanation. After all, both Germany and the UK are “countries”, when you’re attempting to explain what they are to an English-speaking six-year old.

  95. #95 Matt
    October 13, 2008

    Indeed. I find it amusing that, when I asked who ‘Rowan Atkinsan’ was, I was told it was the comedian from Blackadder and Mr. Bean I thought Rowan AtkinSON who was in those excellent tv shows.

  96. #96 john hackworth
    October 13, 2008

    Check out: http://www.freethinker.co.uk/ for lots of good stuff about the UK. And Wales. :)

    There is a very strange dynamic going on between left and right (whatever those things mean right now) here.

    Basically: the atheists / freethinkers on both sides hate the ‘political correctness’ (a term I usually despise) that gives special pleading to religions. (Thanks, Tony! We liked your war, too). The word ‘Libertarian’ springs to mind.

    We were *that* close to joining Scandanavia et al as a secular nation. Then came Islam. Joy.

  97. #97 Emmet Caulfield
    October 13, 2008

    Oh and retire the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas while we’re at it.

    Leaving aside the WWI name changes and tiff with George VI, wouldn’t it be Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg now?

  98. #98 Nova
    October 13, 2008

    Lave:

    Sorry to be pedantic, but it’s actually called Great Britain, or the United Kingdom. England is just a part of it (the best part though).

    I’m afraid I just can’t resist out pedanting you, Great Britain merely refers to the island of Scotland, England and Wales and is not synonymous with the United Kingdom, which include Northern Ireland. This can be seen in the the official name of the state: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

  99. #99 Mrs Tilton
    October 13, 2008

    Matt @83,

    complicated by the fact that when it comes to rugby, the whole island of Ireland has one association and one team

    Yes, the reasoning does break down if we drag rugby into it, hence I limited myself to the other code.

    As an all-Ireland game, though, rugby does contribute importantly to the fudging needed for two communities to share an island in peace. Nationalist fans can imagine the island is a single unified country, whilst unionist fans can imagine it’s still 1915.

  100. #100 ajay
    October 13, 2008

    Indeed, one of the great American news anchormen in the 1960s is supposed to have said something along the lines of, “In Britain there are two political parties – Labour, or as you would call them ‘socialists’ and the Conservatives or as you would call them ‘socialists’.”

    A neat inversion of what Peter Cook said: “There are two main political parties in the USA. There is the Republican Party, which is the equivalent of our Conservative Party; and there is the Democratic Party, which is the equivalent of our Conservative Party.”

    In the UK, Barack Obama’s political beliefs would make him too right-wing to be electable. (No national health service? Unthinkable!)

  101. #101 kjn
    October 13, 2008

    Number 82 really has to get a grip on his American-style frothing hatred of Islam. Sharia law has not been passed in Britain, contrary to what endless US right wing web sites shriek at each other. Arrangements have been made for two parties to consent to arbitration based on Sharia if that is what they both consent to – very much like the procedure valid for Jewish Beth Din disputes.

    There is NO danger of my local pub being closed down by gangs of rampaging “terrists” screaming “death to America”.

    Don’t tell lies about things of which you know nothing. Being a US Republican doesn’t work in Britain. Thank gods.

  102. #102 stoat100
    October 13, 2008

    Nova @98,

    Surely ‘out pedanting’ is hyphenated? :)

  103. #103 David Lewis
    October 13, 2008

    kjn@105,

    I’ve always considered the “free-market” wing of the Conservative party to be a good match for the more Libertarian-leaning Republicans. Likewise the Conservative Cornerstone Group, emphasising “Faith, Flag and Family” match up pretty well with the more Nationalistic and Socially Conservative Republicans IMHO. But yes, the “One-Nation” Conservatives wouldn’t fit in the GOP. They’re more like Conservative Democrats, I’d say.

  104. #104 Ian Robinson
    October 13, 2008

    This is great news. So much so in fact that I’ve just renewed my membership of the Conservative Party by joining the Northern Ireland Conservatives. Cheque for the Conservative Humanist Association will go in the post tomorrow…

    Thanks to Jeffrey at #33 for chairing the Association. Hopefully I can help in NI.

    Ian Robinson – Belfast – UK

  105. #105 Ian Robinson
    October 13, 2008

    This is great news. So much so in fact that I’ve just renewed my membership of the Conservative Party by joining the Northern Ireland Conservatives. Cheque for the Conservative Humanist Association will go in the post tomorrow…

    Thanks to Jeffrey at #33 for chairing the Association. Hopefully I can help in NI.

    Ian Robinson – Belfast – UK

  106. #106 Cujo359
    October 13, 2008

    Can you imagine a statement like that from either of our major American political parties?

    In a word, no.

    Conservative politicians are rejecting religion? How can British society possibly survive this? The end times must be near.

  107. #107 SteveM
    October 13, 2008

    Indeed. I find it amusing that, when I asked who ‘Rowan Atkinsan’ was, I was told it was the comedian from Blackadder and Mr. Bean I thought Rowan AtkinSON who was in those excellent tv shows.

    My aren’t you just so clever for jumping all over a single spelling error, and aren’t I just such an idiot for not noticing it.

  108. #108 Nentuaby
    October 13, 2008

    Burning Umbrella:

    Actually, all the maps I’ve ever seen show the Russian Confederation at both the far left and far right. And you have your directions reversed, unless you’re a die-hard Australian patriot.

  109. #109 Nentuaby
    October 13, 2008

    Burning Umbrella:

    Actually, all the maps I’ve ever seen show the Russian Federation at both the far left and far right. And you have your directions reversed, unless you’re a die-hard Australian patriot.

  110. #110 Muzz
    October 13, 2008

    Can’t we just agree that Rowan Atkinsan is merely Mr Rowan Atkin visiting Japan.

  111. #111 Cath the Canberra Cook
    October 13, 2008

    Dianne @ #55: We may be further from France, but we are closer to New Zealand (wine, glaciers, skiing, hobbits), and we make excellent wine ourselves. And Our Kev is known for being a bit of a brainiac who speaks fluent Mandarin.

    And we have preferential voting, which is brilliant. In the local elections coming up for me this weekend I can vote for a small party. If they don’t make it, my preference will flow on to the major party of my choice.

  112. #113 Kel
    October 13, 2008

    and we make excellent wine ourselves

    werd to that! We have some fantastic wines here.

  113. #114 Ian Gould
    October 13, 2008

    Dianne @55:

    “While I’m sure you’re correct about all the advantages you listed and that there are even other advantages to Australia (interesting wildlife, further from the US), it lacks one critical advantage that England does possess: proximity to France.”

    That’s where Noumea comes in.

  114. #115 The Chimps' Raging Id
    October 13, 2008

    In the UK, Barack Obama’s political beliefs would make him too right-wing to be electable. (No national health service? Unthinkable!)

    Indeed, I find it hilarious that rabid Rethuglicans try to paint him as some sort of socialist or out-and-out Communist when his politics are, by the standards of the non-American world, at best centrist or centre-right. It’s surprising how how many Americans don’t realise how far to the right of the rest of the world their nation’s political centre of gravity lies.

  115. #116 Last Hussar
    October 13, 2008

    What Mrs Tilton et al said. The whole ‘Sharia’ thing is blown out of proportion (By the US and UK Right). It was a comment by the ArchBish, and was basically to do with allowing a sub group to live their life without government interference (which is something the US and UK right say they are in favour of). It puts them on an equal footing with the Jewish Beth Din (and there are less Jews in Britain).

    UK Civil courts love private arbitration before appearance in front of them, it saves their time and money and less lawyers get involved (which as Sellers and Yateman would agree is a GOOD THING). Much of what will be rubber stamped is private business transactions, or Wills for the deceased. The courts do not have to approve of any agreement if they believe there has been coersion.

    One of the chief reasons Williams was talking about it was the way Muslims pay mortgages. It is not Halal to charge/pay interest, so a strict Muslim can not get a regular mortgage. What happens is an Islamic bank will buy the property, say at £200k, and sell it on at £400k, with the person paying that INTEREST FREE loan off over 25 years. In the UK there is Stamp Duty Land Tax. At the moment the Duty would be £2000 on the first transaction, and £12,000 on the second- the £12k being extra. This of course disadvantages strict Muslims for no other reason than their religeous belief. Williams was asking this to be looked at.

    Don’t forget the Queen is also ruler of ‘and Berwick’ (YouTube ‘QI Berwick’ for an explanation)

    Cameras. A lot of those, in fact a majority, are in private hands- shops mostly, though some people have CCTV security. Schools tend to have them too (to stop ‘perverts’). The ones on the street are run by the council. The ones on major roads (painted blue) are for Traffic monitoring. The council ones tend to cover shopping areas (not private malls- they have their own) and public parks/playgrounds, or sometimes places with higher petty crime rates. The government run ones are in prisons, or military camps etc. The biggest threat to UK privacy is the NSA and CIA with their monitoring posts. Don’t tell me these are not also in the US- I won’t believe you (somethings are always exempted from ‘Freedom of Information’)

    Its was almost impossible to get a blasphemy conviction. Religeous hatred laws stop incitement against followers particular religeon, not from blaspheming against their beliefs. Its just that a small number of Muslims tend to want to take rather direct action.

    British beer is better.

    “Surely ‘out pedanting’ is hyphenated?” Brilliant- having all the attributes of the element “Fe”

  116. #117 Claudia
    October 13, 2008

    Can I just ask, then, why my TV license fee is still funding “Songs of Praise”? :D

  117. #118 Claudia
    October 13, 2008

    Can I just ask, then, why my TV license fee is still funding “Songs of Praise”? :D

  118. #119 Ian Gould
    October 13, 2008

    Remember folks: Proclaiming that the degenerate weak-kneed Eurotrash are soon going to overrun by the dark-skinned Muslim hordes (every single of whom are psychotic blood-crazed fanatics) isn’t bigotry.

    It’s actually supporting tolreance and religious and social freedom.

    Never mind the “facts” such claims are based on are horse-shit just retreat to “Well if you believe in freedom you should be CONCERNED”.

    Because you know if you don’t want to ship people back to the countries their grandparents came from you obviously don’t “believe in freedom”.

  119. #120 Adam
    October 13, 2008

    Removing the monarchy would be a very bad idea, I understand why people dislike hierarchy, especially when it’s inherited, but removing them would leave a void which would be filled by an elected president. Look how well that’s worked out for certain other nations. A near powerless head of state is a good thing.

  120. #121 Joe@flaneur.org.uk
    October 13, 2008

    I’m amazed nobody has mentioned this yet, but we even have Darwin ON OUR CURRENCY –

    http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/banknotes/current/current_10.htm

  121. #122 Mrs Tilton
    October 13, 2008

    Last Hussar @116,

    UK Civil courts love private arbitration before appearance in front of them

    I have never heard of a court that doesn’t love arb clauses, for precisely the reasons you state. There’s a good reason they’re highly enforceable.

    As for Islamic finance: it’s not only Islamic banks doing it. Right now there are Gulf-state SWFs with, quite literally, money to burn, and many of their vehicles are keen on shari`a compliance. I have colleagues who are emphatically not Muslims but who have made themselves expert in the field. (It’s not as though the deals themselves are governed by shari`a. They’re standard English-law, or sometimes New York-law, contracts. The transactions are simply structured so that one can obtain a fatwa, i.e., a legal opinion, stating that they do not violate shari`a.)

    Structuring deals to work under shari`a is actually quite interesting as an intellectual exercise. The problematic bits are purely practical: in some jurisdictions, as you note, observant Muslims are (with no ill will on the part of national taxing authorities) financially penalised for choosing the structure. What’s more, the Islamic legal scholars from whom one must obtain the fatwa are the worst sort of rent-extracting, transaction-cost-inflating oligopolists. But if Muslims are willing to bear those extra costs to salve their consciences, that is their own affair.

    What really annoys me about Islamic finance is that, if I were Allah, I’d find it highly insulting to my intelligence. I mean, really: instead of buying a house by taking out a mortgage at x% from a bank, the bank “buys” the house at y and “resells” it to me at y+z? How stupid do they think their God is? I’m reminded of the Swabian Christians in Germany who, constrained to eat no meat in Lent, concealed it inside their (extremely delicious, BTW) Maultaschen or, as they nicknamed them, Herrgottsbscheisserla — “little God-cheaters”. The Christian God, it seems, is no cleverer than his Muslim counterpart.

  122. #123 Joe
    October 13, 2008

    I would be very grateful if the above comment could be deleted pronto as I’m not keen for that email address to appear on the web – goddam autocomplete!

    I’m amazed nobody has mentioned this yet, but we even have Darwin ON OUR CURRENCY –
    http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/banknotes/current/current_10.htm

  123. #124 Mrs Tilton
    October 13, 2008

    Joe @123,

    actually, a fair few regular commenters here bear the noble honorific FCD (even if not all of them bother appending it to their sig). Those from outside the UK, having visited that website, will be well aware of how Chuck D. got onto the 10 pound note.

  124. #125 llewelly
    October 14, 2008

    Australia is much the same but with the following added advantages:
    [snip]
    2. the beer is colder;

    Do people really drink Foster’s in Australia?

    It’s so terrible I tell people here in America that the brewers have to export it because it’s not legal to sell in Australia.

  125. #126 Wowbagger
    October 14, 2008

    llewelly,

    I guess there must be people who like Foster’s in Australia but I haven’t seen anyone drink it for years. My father used to drink it but switched to mid-strength as he got older.

    Heck, it mightn’t even be that bad; I can’t remember what it tastes like. But since there are plenty of beers that I know do taste great here – Crown Lager, James Boag’s, Cascade, Cooper’s, Little Creatures, James Squire’s, Beez Neez – I can’t say I’m that inclined to bother.

  126. #127 Kel
    October 14, 2008

    I guess there must be people who like Foster’s in Australia but I haven’t seen anyone drink it for years. My father used to drink it but switched to mid-strength as he got older.

    Apparently it’s still available in Melbourne bottle shops, but I haven’t seen it anywhere else.

    With the exception of Crown Lager, nice list there. If you add other Matilda Bay beers (other than Beez Neez), that’s pretty much a list of everything I drink. IN fact, I think I’ll have a Beez Neez now.

  127. #128 Peter Ashby
    October 14, 2008

    And Our Kev is known for being a bit of a brainiac who speaks fluent Mandarin.

    Must be something in the Southern Air since Aunty Helen over the ditch speaks fluent Spanish. It is a large part of why we get on so well with Chile and Ecuador on the the other side of the pond. They have quite taken to her.

  128. #129 AJS
    October 14, 2008

    I was with you about Australia until you said the beer was colder.

    Taste buds are temperature-sensitive, so cold things don’t taste as strong. If you think that being cold is a positive advantage for beer, then it evidently isn’t very good beer.

    (I’m writing this from the valley where began the most significant event in human history, ever; more than 200km. from London, but within 20km. of Burton-on-Trent. Before the fag-ban we had a thriving pub scene here.)

  129. #130 Tony Sidaway
    October 14, 2008

    Matt Heath | October 13, 2008 11:03 AM #62

    Scooter describes a non-existent “anti-blasphemy” law that “criminalizes saying bad things about Jews and Sihks”.

    There is no law criminalizing saying bad things about Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, or Christians, or their religion. There was until recently such a law applying to Christianity.

    The government introduced a bill to extend that law to other religions. People like Rowan Atkinson (and many other professional comedians) did rightly get worried and speak up. Even the bishops opposed it.

    The bill was amended in the House of Lords. The Racial and Religious Hatred Act, 2006, as it is called, criminalizes intentional incitement to violence on racial or religious grounds.

  130. #131 Tony Sidaway
    October 14, 2008

    yago | October 13, 2008 12:15 PM #82

    If you actually read the full article you’ll see that the sharia courts are basically identical to various other tribunals (such as the industrial relations tribunal) to which people can turn voluntarily for enforcable adjudication. The great advantage is that the expense and longwindedness of a formal court case is avoided.

    You can’t be taken to a sharia court unwillingly. If you don’t want to participate, you can simply decline to be involved. Similar Jewish Beth Din courts have operated on the same principles for over a century.

    I don’t see any problem with this. It’s an entirely voluntary system.

  131. #132 Kel
    October 14, 2008

    I don’t see any problem with this. It’s an entirely voluntary system.

    You don’t feel that women are going to be forced into partaking in this system through social expectations?

  132. #133 Tony Sidaway
    October 14, 2008

    Australians (and Americans) need their beer to be very cold because it isn’t really very nice when drunk at higher temperatures.

  133. #134 Kel
    October 14, 2008

    We need our beer cold because it’s 40°C in the summer outside and the colder the better for drinks!

  134. #135 Notkieran
    October 14, 2008

    To Marjovic:

    >Do you really believe anyone is paid to watch all those years and years of utterly boring video?

    Actually, it works out quite nicely, because when a crime _is_ reported, the cops use these amazing abilities called “search” and “rewind”, where they check the records of the cameras in the area of the crime committed.

    I once saw it at work, when a bloke at my uni was mugged on Oxford Street at 3 in the morning, and the cops were handcuffing the woman in question at 11 the morning after.

  135. #136 Tony Sidaway
    October 14, 2008

    Kel | October 14, 2008 6:33 AM #132

    The existence of such social coercion would be a point to raise if someone tries to enforce an unfair ruling in court.

    One factor most commentators miss, I think, is that the vast majority of culturally muslim Britons do not take the religion seriously and are becoming extensively secularized. The pull of social expectations is likely to be extremely weak. Most of the kids are being educated in British state schools, not madrassas, they expect to choose who they will marry and their lifestyles are as secular as anybody else’s (which in the UK is very secular indeed). The core muslim communities are in this sense just touchstones, acting to provide a little social cohesion.

  136. #137 Wowbagger
    October 14, 2008

    Australians (and Americans) need their beer to be very cold because it isn’t really very nice when drunk at higher temperatures.

    Definitely. The colder the better; I’m not sure if there’s anything in what AJS said upthread about taste buds, but there’s nothing more horrible than drinking ‘our’ kind of beer warm. I’m not so well-informed about American beers, though – I’ve tried a few and been disappointed. Canadians, on the other hand, know beer.

    But, as far as I can recall, the ‘warm’ beer you get in the UK has to be that way ’cause that’s how it becomes (and stays) beer – it’s the chemistry. It’s not like they import beers from other places and warm them up to drink them.

  137. #138 Ginger Yellow
    October 14, 2008

    “What really annoys me about Islamic finance is that, if I were Allah, I’d find it highly insulting to my intelligence. I mean, really: instead of buying a house by taking out a mortgage at x% from a bank, the bank “buys” the house at y and “resells” it to me at y+z? How stupid do they think their God is? ”

    Interestingly, there’s been a bit of a backlash over the last two years among some scholars of Islamic finance against the most blatant imitations of haram aspects of traditional finance. For instance, purchase price undertakings, which were traditionally used to underpin the “principal” part of the finance were once standard but are now very much frowned upon, as Islamic finance is supposed to involve the sharing of risk in a venture. Given how young the field is, I suspect in a few decades the products will be a lot more respectable, from an Islamic intellectual point of view.

    Still, as a financial journalist, I find it very weird to see analysis of deals based not on the credit quality of the assets, say, but on the Hadith. Trying to apply purported principles from a thousand year old text to the specifics of modern finance is insane. Why would Allah care about currency swaps one way or the other?

  138. #139 Wowbagger
    October 14, 2008

    Trying to apply purported principles from a thousand year old text to the specifics of modern finance is insane.

    I – and I doubt I’m alone here – consider that apply purported principles from a thousand-year-old text to the specifics of most modern disciplines – especially science – is insane. And yet, that’s what every adherent christian, jew, muslim, hindu etc. does every day when they thank their gods for creating the world with them in it.

  139. #140 Marcus
    October 14, 2008

    Nobody drinks beer warm – it should properly be, depending on the type of beer, anything from “cellar temperature” (8 or 10 C) up to room temperature. Lager, on the other hand, can be drunk cold, as it doesn’t taste of much in the first place. Seriously, I don’t know how anyone can claim with a straight face that any country produces better beer than the UK.

  140. #141 Ian Gould
    October 14, 2008

    “Do people really drink Foster’s in Australia?
    It’s so terrible I tell people here in America that the brewers have to export it because it’s not legal to sell in Australia.”

    Hardly anyone drinks Foster’s here.

    In the early 70’s it was the only Australian beer exported to the UK and this somehow led to it having a much higher profile overseas than within Australia.

  141. #142 Ian Gould
    October 14, 2008

    “I was with you about Australia until you said the beer was colder.

    Taste buds are temperature-sensitive, so cold things don’t taste as strong. If you think that being cold is a positive advantage for beer, then it evidently isn’t very good beer.”

    Australian beer is designed to be drunk cold – and British beer is designed to be drunk at room temperature.

    The carbonation, flavoring, hops, head etc in each case are selected with the intending serving temperature in mind.

  142. #143 Nix
    October 14, 2008

    Stop! You really don’t want to disestablish the Church of England. Disestablishment brings *competition*. We don’t want US-style hyper-vigorous religious competition over here in the UK, thanks.

    (Indeed the Anglican Church’s modern role, post-1690 or thereabouts, has been to be sufficiently syncretic that anyone vaguely Christian could fit in, and sufficiently tolerant that non-Christians are left alone. We’ve done the whole religious war thing over and over. It sucks.)

    Oh, and Nadine ’12 weeks is late abortion’ Dorries is my MP, emergency-selected when the previous one was deselected for blatant corruption. *sigh*

  143. #144 Tony Sidaway
    October 14, 2008

    I remember drinking the imported Fosters in the seventies. It came in oversized seamed thick steel cans that appeared to have been constructed out of scrapped cars. It wasn’t so bad after you got over the slight “pear drops” aftertaste, and if you collected enough cans I guess you could use the material to build a tank or something.

  144. #145 Tony Sidaway
    October 14, 2008

    I think the “been there, done that” thing about culture wars pervades British society from top to bottom. Possibly because we’re a tiny island and there aren’t so many of those huge geographical tracts into which a religious sect can wander and get isolated from the rest of society, social change tends to happen to everybody at about the same time. I think it’s mainly geography, particularly since the advent of rail travel which put us all on the same page.

  145. #146 Daniel N
    October 14, 2008

    Marcus: Well, the belgians give you some serious competition, though the stereotypical belgian beer is a rather different style than what I’d normally expect from the UK.

    Oh, and I can only agree that a state church is a good thing. Norway has one, and I’m quite sure it’s one of the reasons we’re now a rather secular country. When there’s no need to fight for or about your religion, it becomes a routine thing, and after a few generations of that most people don’t care anymore.
    Incidentally, we also have a king, and I’d really rather keep him and the family in position as well. They’re a definite anachronism, but also quite harmless and less likely to be annoying than an elected president. Besides, a president would be in a better position to ask for some non-symbolic power (being elected and that), and that’s not really a direction we’d want to go.

    … I’ve just argued that a state church is a good thing for secularists, and that a king is a good way to avoid having one annoying guy getting too much power. Oh well, it does seem to work for us.

  146. #147 Pyers Symon
    October 15, 2008

    There is a basic rule about beer in Britain: if it says on the tin “Brewed under license” it normally has absolutely no resemblence to the foreign original……..

  147. #148 Sili
    October 15, 2008

    Yes I mentioned beer twice.

    I like beer.
    Ian Gould | October 13, 2008 10:07 AM

    Then why do you live in Australia? You know, there’s a reason you invented the fridge down there.

  148. #149 Walton
    October 15, 2008

    Nix: Oh, and Nadine ’12 weeks is late abortion’ Dorries is my MP, emergency-selected when the previous one was deselected for blatant corruption. *sigh*

    You live in mid-Bedfordshire? I’m from Milton Keynes originally, and have friends who live in Nadine Dorries’ constituency. (She also had something of a feud with my university Conservative Association, bizarrely enough; I’ll post the link at some point if I can find it. It’s quite amusing.)

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