Open letter to my bishop

Thank you Kathleen, You have restored my faith that there are plenty of religious people who “get it” and see through, and are disappointed by, their leaders in this case – well said

Kathleen Jowitt

Dear Bishop,

I write to express my profound discomfort with various aspects of the Church of England’s conduct over the past few days, as the news story regarding the ‘Just Pray’ advertisement has unfolded.

Firstly, I note that the DCM agency was entirely within its rights to run or not to run any advertisement it chose. I think that its blanket policy to avoid religious or political material is sensible, and, one assumes, designed to avoid exactly this kind of mess. It is no great effort to imagine the reaction in the tabloid press had another faith group or a secular body attempted to run a similar advertisement. I consider that the Church’s attempt to present this decision as a ‘ban’ and an ‘attack on free speech’ is dishonest and I am ashamed to be associated with this disingenuous act.

Since the agency’s policy is to avoid religious or political…

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Tax – Forget the Non-Doms, it’s Ex-Pats we need to be taxing

I want to ask a question in this piece and, I hope, answer it. I have touched on this topic in a previous post when Brits were being evacuated from Libya but, with the election coming and the recent discussion about Non-Doms, I thought I would revisit it in a bit more detail. That question is:

Should British citizens continue to pay British taxes even when they are living and/or working abroad?

I think they should and I hope I can make a decent case for why, but I want to make clear what I am suggesting which is:

  • Brits working abroad should pay British taxes on their residual income after paying the local taxes for where they are living.
  • Those eligible could self-assess and submit tax returns and payments exacltly the same way that people with variable incomes do now.
  • The personal allowance for those working abroad need not be the same as for those working at home.

The usual answer to that question is that they shouldn’t pay because they don’t enjoy the benefits of those taxes. I want to challenge that view by going through the biggest parts of expenditure in turn and looking at them with ex-pats in mind. The figures I am using come from this pie-chart for central government spending 2014. You can find it, and the data behind it here


26% Pensions £143 billion

  • Some of this the state pension. The state pension is not paid out of a pot of money built up from contributions, the tax people pay now is used to pay the state pension now. Most ex-pats will return to the UK and eventually claim this, or will have parents who are currently receiving the state pension – so why shouldn’t they pay the tax?
  • Most of the rest is public sector pensions which the government is responsible for because they are, in effect, the employer such as MPs, civil servants, teachers etc. Your average ex-pat is probably working in the private sector and so won’t be receiving one of these, but the average person in the UK is also working in the private sector so they won’t be getting a public sector pension either – but they still pay their taxes

23% Health Care £127 billion

  • This is almost entirely spending on the NHS. Ex-pats, being British citizens, are entitled to free treatment on the NHS. While they are abroad they will probably pay for routine, minor, medical treatment where they are but, should they require long term or expensive treatment they can, and do, return to Britain for that free NHS treatment. It is also a fact that most of the costs of NHS treatment is spent during a person’s last few years of life when the ex-pats usually return to Britain. So why shouldn’t they pay the tax when they are young and healthy, like the rest of us?

11% Welfare £58 billion

  • This includes all the things you would expect. personal services like care for the sick and elderly, and benefits like social security, tax credits, and housing benefit. Now the ex-pat is certainly not going to be accessing those but, as with pensions they may well be later in life and may have relatives claiming them now, and, again a healthy, well paid person living in the UK will not be receiving these benefits either, but they still pay their taxes.

8% Defence £44 billion

  • The primary reason for defence spending is to protect the country from invasion and/or destruction from foreign forces. I assume that most ex-pats would quite like there to be a Britain for them to come home to. It is also the case that when there is trouble where the ex-pats are living, as was the case in Libya, it is expect that the armed forces would be used to get Brits out of harms way, so the ex-pats are actually more likely to benefit directly from defence spending. So why shouldn’t they pay the tax

8% Education £42 billion

  • It is true that ex-pats are quite likely to pay for their children’s education while they are abroad, either by sending them to public school back in the UK or in local English language schools. However I suspect most of them went to school themselves at sometime and, yet again what about the people back home, some of them don’t even have any children, but they still pay their taxes.

In summary, an ex-pat working abroad has no more reason be exempt from tax than anyone in Britain, provided that person is

  • Well paid
  • Healthy (or in BUPA)
  • Childless (or privately educating their children)

I just see this as an extension of the argument for taxation in the first place. Tax is the price we all pay for the benefits of citizenship. We don’t pay just for what we need, we pay for what all of us might need, and we never need some of those benefits – be grateful, smile, and pay up.

I don’t know how much money this would raise, but I think it might be quite a lot. It would also remove one of the arguments against higher taxation on the very rich, that they will just move abroad to avoid paying.

I happen to think I am incredibly luck to be a British citizen. look around the world and realise just what a privilege it is. I think we should all be glad to pay our taxes.

I am not an economist (you can tell can’t you) but I don’t think these ideas are stupid ore economically illiterate – as always I would welcome criticism and comment.

And, if any of the political parties are interested – I’m available  – reasonable rates – happy to pay top rate income tax . . . .

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Humans are so much better than their Gods – thank heavens

NoahjpgNoah’s Ark seems to be very popular these days, there has been the recent “blockbuster” film staring Russell Crowe and there is an upcoming big adaptation for the BBC staring David Threlfall. I have always been rather fascinated by the story of Noah’s Ark. As a young child it was the usual thing with cute pairs of animals going into a big boat, what’s not to like? Later on I started think about the story more and, importantly, I started thinking about the people and animals that didn’t make it onto the ark. I never really thought about whether it was “true” or not. As I’ve described before in “Atheist reflections on apples, genesis,and growing up” they were just bible-stories, they were just there.

But as I thought about it I started to imagine just how terrible the events described in this story really are. If you are having trouble imagining it just check out some of the reports of the Tsunami of 2004, then multiply the misery, death, destruction, stench, and appalling suffering a thousand fold and that might give you some idea of what it would have been like.

So, here’s a quick summary of the story which appears, in some form, in all three of the holy books of the Abrahamic religions.

  1. God saw how great wickedness had become and decided to wipe out mankind
  2. One righteous man among all the people, Noah, found favour in God’s eyes.
  3. God gave Noah instructions to build an Ark to save his family and two of each of all living creatures
  4. After they entered the ark, rain fell on the earth for a period of forty days and nights.
  5. The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days, and every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out.
  6. This genocide included every blameless child and baby in the world
  7. The waters fell and the Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat.
  8. After a further 8 months Noah and family left the ark and offered animal sacrifices to God
  9. God decided the sacrifices were good and promised not to kill everyone again and invented the rainbow as a “sign of this everlasting covenant”

And there you have it. The deliberate and brutal drowning of every human being on earth except for one favoured family! And this act was carried out by God. The good father-figure in the sky that we are meant to worship!

According to scripture, God does this kind of thing regularly. Sodom and Gomorrah, bears ripping up kids who take mickey out of prophets, and all various evils visited on Job so he could win a bet with Satan, to name but a few. This God also intends to torture unrepentant atheists like me for all eternity after I die. And don’t forget the suffering and destruction yet to come when we reach the “end of days”.

In my opinion religion, as represented by the supposedly perfect scriptures, is utterly vile. To quote Richard Dawkins

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

But my point is that no normal Muslim, Christian, or Jew would dream of behaving like this. Most are tolerant, even respectful, of other religions. They wouldn’t destroy whole cities no matter how badly the citizens behaved. They wouldn’t even want to torture me forever because I disagreed with them about God either.

There are of course notable exceptions. The Westboro Baptists are pretty vile and ISIS are busy proving that there is nothing so vile in scripture that they won’t do it in God’s name.

But my point is not how vile these religious texts are. My point is how the overwhelming majority of the followers of these religions are perfectly decent, tolerant, peaceful, people.

If you type Islam is Perfect but I am not into Google you will get more than 20,000,000 hits usually in the form of a longer quote something like I’m a Muslim, Islam is perfect but I am not. If I make a mistake, blame it on me, not on my religion. It will also get millions of hits on Facebook or Twitter. You can find this kind of apologism for all the Abrahamic religions. It is for example the position taken my Mehdi Hassan, who has on many occasions said that the dreadful barbarism carried out by Islamists is not the fault of Islam, which is perfect, but the failure of some Muslims to understand and live up to that perfection.

This is about as wrong as it gets. People are infinitely better than there Gods, as they are described in their scripture.

Most people have actually already outgrown literalism. Theyknow that their scripture is a very long way from perfect. They know it deep down, that’s why they don’t actually get their morality from their scripture.

If they could just admit it to themselves and say so publically they would be in a better position to argue against the extremists.

So please – stop pretending your scriptures are perfect – rejoice in your humanity – you are so much better than your scripture.

And this particular atheist is grateful (to you not your God) for that.

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The battle for evolution in Scottish schools

In many ways the Scottish education system has a better reputation than the English/Welsh. If they handle this well they can enhance that reputation. Handle it wrong and it could become a laughing stock.

Leaving Fundamentalism

Tomorrow, the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee will be hearing from members of the British Centre for Science Education (BCSE) and Scottish Secular Society (SSS). Earlier this year, the SSS started a petition urging the Scottish government issue guidance on the teaching of creationism in schools. In England and Wales, there is clear guidance that creationism and Intelligent Design are not valid scientific alternatives to the theory of evolution, and should not be taught as such. In Scotland, there is no equivalent document.

This is a problem, because as we’ve previously seen, there have been significant inroads by creationists in some Scottish schools. Fortunately in that case, there was a decisive win for science. But what that case showed was that creationism genuinely is an issue in Scotland, and it will continue to be so without clear guidance. So you might think that the SSS petition, backed by three…

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Yes – Keep the pressure on Israel. But dont be fooled by Hamas

I didn’t want to write this post, I really didn’t. I think the situation in Gaza is an appalling human tragedy. One that Israel is largely responsible for. But I think I have to.

Some of the stuff I am going to write will certainly annoy some people so I am going to nail a few things to the mast before I start.

  • I think Israel’s current actions are totally disproportionate and shameful
  • I think Israel should stop ignoring UN resolutions
  • I think Israel should retreat to the 1967 boundaries
  • I think Israel should dismantle all its settlements beyond those boundaries
  • I think Israel should share the sovereignty of Jerusalem
  • I think Israel should lift its blockade (with the exception of weapons)
  • I think 90% of the people protesting in support of the Palestinians are good people

OK, now that has been said lets look at some facts.

A couple of months ago Isis invaded Iraq. Since then they have killed thousands of people, mostly Muslims. They have performed public beheadings, crucifictions and stonings. They have told Christians that they must convert, leave, or pay the “I’m not a Muslim Tax”. They have stated openly that they intend to basically take over the world and put an end to “Un-Islamic” practices like equality, human rights, liberalism, and democracy. And kill anyone who gets in their way.

As far as I know there have been two anti-ISIS demonstrations in London with attendances in the low hundreds, I have linked to reports about them below.

  1. Anti ISIS protest (well anti Saudi really)
  2. Kurdish Anti ISIS protest

The current crisis in Gaza has resulted in approximately 1,500 deaths at the time of writing. Despite several shaky, short lived cease-fires hamas continue to fire rockets into Israel ans Israel continues to bombard Gaza.

The “Pro-Palestine / Anti Israel” demonstration in London apparently put 45,000 people on the streets. As I have said above I think most of these people are genuainely concerned to save lives and believe that basically Israel is in the wrong, but the decent, humanity of those involved is being used and abused by Islamists with a very different agenda.

Israel is increasing being portrayed as “fascists”, “Nazis“, and of course “baby-killers” and the words genocide and holocaust are also being bandied about.

Typical of this is illustrated by a twitter exchange I had with Yvonne Ridley. She had repeatedly called what the Israelis were doing a genocide and said it had to be stopped before it became a holocaust. So I responded, pointing out some statistics.

  • Rwanda – 1 million were killed – 70% of the Tutsi population.
  • Nazi Germany – 6 million jews were killed – 60% of the European jewish population.
  • Gaza – 1,500 killed – 0.08% of the population

Yvonne asked what figure would constitute genocide for me. I said a lot more than 1,500 what figure would she suggest. She the changed tack somewhat and said that what the Israelis were doing was like a “9/11” every day. I pointed out that “9/11” killed 2,600+ in one day and so far Israel had killed less that 2,000 in a month.

If you want you can read the twitter exchange with Yvonne Ridley here.

It’s worth looking at that last point again.

The 9/11 terrorists managed to kill 2,600 people in one day with a couple of civil aircraft. Israel is, as we are constantly told, “a nuclear power with a huge modern army and airforce”. yet in three weeks of almost constant air raids they have killed 1,500 people. But we are expected to believe that this is a deliberate genocide?

The truth is Hamas are an Islamist organisation, in the same vein as ISIS, Boko-Haram, and the Taliban, and they are exploiting, and prolonging the suffering of the palestinians they claim to be protecting. This shouldn’t surprise us, its what Islamists do.

  • They exploit democracy in order to destroy it and impose Theocracy
  • They exploit liberalism to impose illiberal customs
  • They hide behind human rights legislation while trying to destoy human rights
  • They exploit common humanity to persue the destruction of Israel and all Jews

Before you go off-on-one read again what I said at the begining. I think Israel is guilty of many things, but not “war-crimes”. They are not Nazis, or “baby killers” and this is not a genocide.

So be careful what you say in your tweet and be careful who you stand with on your demo because, although you want to free Palestine and save children’s lives, behind you, grinning and waving the black flag of ISIS, is a real fascist.

He is preying on your humanity. He wants to suck the life out of life itself. He thinks the holocaust was a good thing. He has sworn to finish the “good” work started by Hitler. And every time another commentator says it’s a genocide, and every time someone calls Israelis Nazis,  and every time another Gazan child dies, his plan advances a little further, and his grin gets a little wider.

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Do something about Tredennick and raise policy standards

David Tredennick MP has apparently “spent 20 years studying astrology and healthcare and is convinced it could work.” This is nothing new for David, he has in the past championed homeopathy and suggested that surgeons should avoid certain operations at the time of the full moon.


It’s funny isn’t it?  – No it bloody well isn’t.

The voters of Bosworth made David an MP (please voters – sort that out next year) and, worse, his fellow MPs put him on the commons health committee and the science and technology committee.

This kind of thing is the very reason I write this blog, and the reason I started the Geek Manifesto Pledge. But there is something much more practical that I have done and I would urge you to do the same.

A group of academics including Chris Chambers of Cardiff university, who did a Geek Manifesto pledge for Welsh Assembly Members, are creating what they call an Evidence Information Service (EIS) to give evidence based advice to politicians both on demand, and as proactive briefing notes. And they need your help to make it work.

They are looking for “local champions” to interview their local MP to find out what would make them welcome and use the service. I have interviewed mine, and I was pleased by his enthusiasm for the project. he seemed convinced it would be both useful and used. They have 100 volunteers and 35 interviews “in the bag” so far, which is good, but they need more. If this service is well designed it could make a real contribution to improving political policy making in the future, and these interviews are important to get the service right from the start.

The commons has broken for the summer recess and this means a lot of MPs will be spending a lot of time back in their constituencies which means they are much more likely to have time for an interview.

Please help – this is a chance to make a real, practical, difference. It probably won’t stop Tredennick being a total clown, but it will help all the others who are not, and it will mean he has no excuse.

Use the links below to find out how you can make a real difference.





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Why calling values British (or Islamic) is dangerous nonsense.

I have written before about how religious people sometimes condemn other people, or behaviour for what I think are the wrong reasons, you can read about it here, but I think I have to revisit this issue because of the whole “British Values” thing. I think allowing gay people to get married if they want to is liberal, tolerant, and morally right. But until last year it was forbidden by British law, and guess what, it is STILL un-Islamic, un-Anglican, un-Catholic, un-Judaic, and many people would still say un-British.

I am a Humanist but when I was arguing in support of equal marriage I didn’t argue that to be a good Humanist you have to support it. Humanism describes (most of) my values it does not determine them. The BHA supports an opt-out system for organ donation, I think they are wrong on this, that doesn’t stop me being a Humanist or, indeed, a member of the BHA. The trouble with allowing beliefs to hide, in groups, behind labels is that people are taught to belive the labels rather than the values. This can have disastrous consequences.

Imagine a very religious Muslim boy growing up in Birmingham. He believes, because all Muslim authority figures tell him so, that Islam and the Koran are perfect, not good, perfect. It is impossible for Islam or the Koran to be wrong in any way. If I want to convince this boy that beheading, stoning, wife-beating, and going to butcher people in Syria and/or Iraq are right I don’t have to convince him that any of these things, individually, is morally justifiable. I just have to convince him that they are Islamic. If I want him to despise democracy and free-speech, I only have to convince that they are un-Islamic. If his Imam is worried about him and tries to change his mind he cannot argue about the unfairness, suffering, or brutality because he, the Imam, also believes that Islam and the Koran are perfect. All he can do is try to convince him that these actions are un-Islamic.

Then along comes David Cameron, worried about what might, or might not, be being taught in the lad’s school. Does he say what they are teaching is wrong? No he says it’s not British.

So the voice in this lad’s ear is now saying “See. If you are going to be British you have to be less of a Muslim. You may have been born here but they will never accept you as one of them. And if your Imam, or Maajid Nawaaz, says different that’s because he has sold out – he’s not a proper Muslim”

Both the Islamist and the PM are playing identity politics in this poor kids head. By wrapping their beliefs or values in a black flag, or a union jack, they both avoid having to actually justify any of the beliefs and values they are peddling in terms that actually say something about the beliefs themselves rather than the identity they are wrapped in. This kind of argument is know as the “No true Scotsman” falacy. it is a favourite of many religions and is the very essence of blind patriotism.

The young lad in Birmingham isn’t allowed to decide about things on their merits, he has to be “truly” British, or a “proper” Muslim.

One of the things Maajid Nawaaz consitantly argues is that people should think for themselves and get into real politics rather than Identity politics. That’s why he can condemn stoning people to death without refering to the Koran. He is a Muslim, but he can condemn stoning because it is wrong, not because it is or is not Islamic.

This kind of thinking is by no means confined to religion it can be seen in all kinds of identity politics Stalinism, Nazism, the french Front National, and many others but is is particularly found in religion because they can claim to be absolutely perfect as they are obeying the laws of God. This is why faith schools are so wrong. No matter how good some of them are. Not because they teach people to behave badly but because, by definition, they have already decided the answers to questions that people should be free to decide for themselves.

In extremes this can mean the denial of evolution and presenting nonsense as scientific fact, or that people who love others of their own sex deserve to be killed. not because of evidence or logical argument, but because that is what WE believe.

So give the young lad in Birmingham a break. Don’t tell him a 1400 year old book is perfect and don’t tell him that British values are the best despite years of religious buchery and the slave-trade because . . . well . . . Magna Carta.

Tell him there are many opinions on just about everything and that he is free to make up his own mind. He can be his own kind of Muslim, his own kind of British, or even his own kind of Humanist

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