Monday, December 31, 2012

An intolerant British feminist -- perhaps a Lesbian -- gets a reply

The president of the Girls’ Schools Association, Hilary French, has fired another broadside in the battle of the sexes. “We are still creating a generation of girls who think that the whole idea of looking after children is really the most important thing,” she complained to the Press Association. “We do still expect women to be at the core of the relationship, the homemaker, the person who brings up children.”

She cited a meeting between business leaders and schoolchildren. “One of the young entrepreneurs,” she said, “a lady, dared to say that she had probably put her business ahead of her son, and the sharp intake of breath from all of the girls was audible.”

It should be unnecessary to state that women absolutely deserve absolute equality. To every reasonable person, this is self-evident, as is the fact that gender equality is woefully lacking in certain areas of British life, especially in places like the boardroom and Parliament. The difficult question, however, is what having equality really means.

Many people feel that the rush to redress the gender imbalance has bankrupted traditional women's roles. This is no new concern. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph in 1972, the eminent author and psychiatrist Ann Dally put it very well: "The happiest women I know don't go around wondering what sort of women they ought to be. They don't worry about whether they ought or ought not to leave the children and they don't feel guilty if they prefer a life of total domesticity to the excitement of the big wide world. They're all very different, but they have one thing in common. They all understand what sort of people they are and make use of the opportunities that suit them. And they do not allow themselves to be influenced by people who say what women should and should not do."

Mrs French is the headmistress of Central Newcastle High School, an independent girls' day school. One of the school's stated aims is to allow every girl "the opportunity to become a confident, self-assured young woman". Herein lies the challenge: a young woman – and, for that matter, a young man – must separate the weight of social expectation and prejudice from her true sense of what will fulfil her. This will certainly require a great deal of "confidence" and "self-assurance".

Although women must of course have full access to traditional male roles, to see that as the only possible means of equality constitutes merely an inverted form of oppression. Ultimately, it deprives women – as well as men – of their ability to be equal and different; or to put at another way, to be equal on their own terms. The fact that women are prevented from pursuing highflying careers by society’s loaded dice is completely unacceptable in modern Britain. At the same time, however, it must be recognised that real freedom entails the ability to choose one’s way of life without stigma. If a woman wants to be a mother and homemaker, there should be no pressure against that, either.


Battle of the professors: Richard Dawkins branded a fundamentalist by expert behind the 'God particle'

Athiest campaigner Richard Dawkins was yesterday branded a 'fundamentalist' by one of his most eminent scientific colleagues.

The militancy of Professor Dawkins's attacks on religious belief mean he is 'almost a fundamentalist himself', scientist Peter Higgs said.

Professor Higgs, whose theory on the sub-atomic 'God particle' was recently supported by experiments at the Cern research centre near Geneva, is considered one of the world's leading scientists and is widely tipped for a Nobel prize.

Professor Higgs is an atheist and has said he doesn't like that the particle is nicknamed the 'God particle', as he believes the term 'might offend people who are religious'.

Dawkins' criticism of the teaching of creationism in schools has earned him the moniker 'Darwin's rottweiler', a reference to biologist T. H. Huxley, known as 'Darwin's Bulldog' for his advocacy of evolutionary ideas.

Professor Higgs has used his new status to pour scorn on 71-year-old Professor Dawkins, a champion of evolution and author of The God Delusion which argues that belief in God is irrational.

Professor Dawkins's contempt for religion has recently led him to suggest that being raised as a Roman Catholic is worse for a child than physical abuse.

But Professor Higgs said that Professor Dawkins has caricatured religious believers as extremists and ignored those who try to reconcile their beliefs with science.

In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, Professor Higgs, who is 83, said: 'What Dawkins does too often is to concentrate his attack on fundamentalists. But there are many believers who are not just fundamentalists.

'Fundamentalism is another  problem. I mean, Dawkins in a way is almost a kind of fundamentalist himself.'

Professor Higgs also told the newspaper: 'The growth of our understanding of the world through science weakens some of the  motivation which makes people believers.

'But that's not the same thing as saying they are incompatible. It is just that I think some of the traditional reasons for belief, going back thousands of years, are rather undermined.

Roman Catholic former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe said: ‘Dawkins doesn’t know what to say next to get attention. No sane person would believe that being brought up in a force for good, in the Ten Commandments, in the Beatitudes, and in the Gospels can be worse than child abuse.’

'But that doesn't end the  whole thing. Anybody who is a convinced but not a dogmatic believer can continue to hold his belief. It means I think you have to be rather more careful about the whole debate between science and religion than some people have been in the past.'

Professor Higgs added that a lot of scientists were also religious believers. I don't happen to be one myself, but maybe that's just more a matter of my family background than that there is any fundamental difficulty about reconciling the two,' he added.

The criticism of Professor Dawkins – who was Oxford University's Professor of the Public Understanding of Science from 1995 until 2008 – ends a year in which his determination to condemn religion has led to a number of abrasive arguments.


Christians have no right to refuse to work on Sundays, rules British judge

Judges have been accused of diluting the rights of Christians after a key judgment on whether they can refuse to work on Sundays.

A new ruling by a High Court judge - the first on the issue in nearly a decade - says that Christians have no right to decline working on Sunday as it is not a “core component” of their beliefs.

The judgment - which upholds an earlier decision - means that individual Christians do not have any protection from being fired for not working on Sundays.

Campaigners said the decision puts Christians at a disadvantage to other religions and means the judiciary are deciding what the core beliefs of Christians can be, which they say is an interference in the right to practise religion.

The judgment was issued by Mr Justice Langstaff as he ruled on an appeal brought by a Christian woman who was sacked after she refused to work on Sundays at a care home.

Celestina Mba claimed the council she worked for pressured her to work on Sundays and threatened her with disciplinary measures - even though other workers were willing to take the shifts.

The 57 year-old, from Streatham Vale, south London, worships every Sunday at her Baptist church, where she is also part of the ministry team offering pastoral care and support to the congregation.

She said that when she took the position in 2007 providing respite care for children with severe learning difficulties at the Brightwell children’s home in Morden, south-west London managers initially agreed to accommodate the requirements of her faith.

But within a few months of starting the job, Miss Mba said managers began pressuring her to work on Sundays.

She found herself repeatedly allocated Sunday shifts and threatened with disciplinary measures unless she agreed to compromise her church commitments, meaning she had no alternative but to resign from the job she loved, she said.

The care worker launched an unsuccessful legal claim in February this year and this month lost her appeal in the High Court.

Her constructive dismissal case was funded by the Christian Legal Centre which instructed Paul Diamond, a leading religious rights barrister.

Mr Justice Langstaff, who as president of the Employment Appeal Tribunal is the most senior judge in England and Wales in this type of case, upheld the lower tribunal’s ruling which said it was relevant that other Christians did not ask for Sundays off.

The fact that some Christians were prepared to work on Sundays meant it was not protected, the court said.

The senior judge said that a rule imposed by an employer which affected nearly every Christian would have a greater discriminatory impact than one which only affected a few.

There was evidence that many Christians work on Sundays and this was relevant in “weighing” the impact of the employers’ rule, and the earlier decision did not involve an error of law, he added.

Campaigners said the ruling showed that Christians are being treated less favourably than people from other religions, such as Muslims, Jews and Sikhs. They pointed to cases where the courts offered protection to other religions even when only a minority of adherents were affected.

In 2008 Sarika Watkins-Singh, then 14, successfully claimed she was a victim of unlawful discrimination because she had been excluded from school in Aberdare, south Wales, for breaking a jewellery ban by refusing to remove a “kara” bangle which she said was central to her faith.

But in her case the court did not examine how many Sikhs wanted to wear similar items of jewellery.

The judgment in Miss Mba’s case will fuel concerns that judges are promoting secularism. A report from the cross-party Christians in Parliament group warned earlier this year that there was a lack of religious literacy among judges, politicians and officials.

Andrea Williams, director of Christian Concern, said of the latest ruling: “The court in this case created an unrealistic test which means that people like Celestina who wish to respect the Sabbath will be forced out of the workplace.

“The court seems to be requiring a significant number of adherents of the Christian faith to observe a particular practice before the court is willing to accept and protect the practice.

“In the past year we have seen mandatory tests of faith in relation to the wearing of crosses by Christians, belief about marriage between a man and a woman and now observing the Sabbath when in all cases reasonable accommodation could have been made.

“Such tests do not appear to be similarly applied to Muslims who are permitted to wear the hijab and observe prayers and Sikhs with the kara bracelet.”

In 1994, when Sunday trading in England was liberalised shopworkers were given a guarantee that working would be strictly voluntary, but the guarantee did not apply to people in other sectors.

The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations, published in 2003, say employers must justify Sunday working as a “legitimate business need” and does not give a blanket right to Christians not to work.

If employers fail to treat staff fairly and proportionately, the employee may be able to claim discrimination, the rules add.

The last ruling by judges was when a quarry worker claimed his Christian beliefs had been treated with “contempt” by employers who tried to force him to work on Sundays in 2003.

Stephen Copsey lost his case at the Court of Appeal in 2005, with judges ruling his employer had “compelling economic reasons” for insisting that he worked on Sundays.

Yvette Stanley of Merton council, Miss Mba’s former employers, said it did its best to allow religious practice but also had a duty to meet the needs of the disabled children for whom it cares and added: “We are pleased with the outcome of this second tribunal. Staff recruited in the respite care service are advised that it is by its nature a weekend service.”


In a Crisis, Humanists Seem Absent

The NYT tries to make the best out of a bad job below

Since the Newtown massacre on Dec. 14, the tableau of grief and mourning has provided a vivid lesson in the religious variety of America. An interfaith service featuring President Obama, held two days after Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, included clergy members from Bahai, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and both mainline and evangelical Protestant congregations.

The funerals and burials over the past two weeks have taken place in Catholic, Congregational, Mormon and United Methodist houses of worship, among others. They have been held in Protestant megachurches and in a Jewish cemetery. A black Christian youth group traveled from Alabama to perform “Amazing Grace” at several of the services.

This illustration of religious belief in action, of faith expressed in extremis, an example at once so heart-rending and so affirming, has left behind one prickly question: Where were the humanists? At a time when the percentage of Americans without religious affiliation is growing rapidly, why did the “nones,” as they are colloquially known, seem so absent?

To raise these queries is not to play gotcha, or to be judgmental in a dire time. In fact, some leaders within the humanist movement — an umbrella term for those who call themselves atheists, agnostics, secularists and freethinkers, among other terms — are ruefully and self-critically saying the same thing themselves.

“It is a failure of community, and that’s where the answer for the future has to lie,” said Greg M. Epstein, 35, the humanist chaplain at Harvard and author of the book “Good Without God.” “What religion has to offer to people at moments like this — more than theology, more than divine presence — is community. And we need to provide an alternative form of community if we’re going to matter for the increasing number of people who say they are not believers.”

Darrel W. Ray, a psychologist in the Kansas City area who runs the Web site The Secular Therapist Project, made a similar point in a recent interview. As someone who was raised as a believing Christian and who holds a master’s degree in theology, he was uniquely able to identify what humanism needs to provide in a time of crisis.

“When people are in a terrible kind of pain — a death that is unexpected, the natural order is taken out of order — you would do anything to take away the pain,” Dr. Ray, 62, said. “And I’m not going to deny that religion does help deal with that first week or two of pain.

“The best we can do as humanists,” he continued, “is to talk about that pain in rational terms with the people who are suffering. We have humanist celebrants, as we call them, but they’re focused on doing weddings. It takes a lot more training to learn how to deal with grief and loss. I don’t see celebrants working in hospice or in hospitals, for example. There are secular people who need pastoral care, but we abdicate it to clergy.”

In fairness, it should be pointed out that the families of each Newtown victim chose religious funerals. The interfaith service, by its very definition, precluded the involvement of leaders from non-faith organizations like the Ethical Culture Society or the American Humanist Association. At the most divisive, the former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee asserted that violence like the Newtown shootings occurs because “we’ve systematically removed God from our schools.”

The net effect can be to leave humanists feeling frozen out and defensive. “We send out letters, we send out press releases, we’re on Meetup,” said Anne Klaeysen, 61, leader of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. “But we feel people don’t pick us up. We’re not proselytizers. But the religious landscape has changed so that we have to market ourselves.”

While tacitly excluded from religious coalitions, humanist groups did respond to the Newtown killings. The Ethical Culture Society chapter in Teaneck, N.J., helped organize a gun-control rally there. The Connecticut branch of the American Humanist Association contributed about $370 to Newtown families from a winter solstice fund-raiser. The organization American Atheists reports on its Web site that it has collected more than $11,000 in online donations toward funeral expenses in Newtown. A secular support group called Grief Beyond Belief operates on Facebook.

Still, when it comes to the pastoral version of “boots on the ground” — a continuing presence in communities, a commitment to tactile rather than virtual engagement with people who are hurting — the example of Newtown shows how humanists continue to lag.

That lag persists despite significant growth in the number of nonbelievers. A recent national study by the Pew Research Center found the share of “nones” had risen to about 20 percent of Americans from 15 percent in just five years. The humanist movement of the last decade has had eloquent public intellectuals in Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens.

Yet, in the view of internal critics like Mr. Epstein and Dr. Ray, humanism suffers in certain ways for its valorization of the individual. The inside joke is that creating a humanist group is like “herding cats.”

“You can’t just be talking about cowboy individualists anymore,” Dr. Ray said. “We have to get out of this mentality we’ve been in over the past 50 years of just saying how stupid religion is. We have to create our own infrastructure.”

Mr. Epstein is currently involved in a three-year, $2.5-million project to study, develop and spread the concept of nonreligious community. But he believes that better organizing must be accompanied by better messaging.

“A lot of humanist rhetoric of previous generations revolved around reason,” he said. “We’d say, ‘We’re people of reason rather than people of faith.’ But I’ve always been uncomfortable with that as the banner under which we march. We need to think of reason in the service of compassion — caring, being cared-about, a life of meaningful connection. Reason itself is the tool. When we see it as the end-product we miss the point.”



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL  and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine).   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


No comments: