On the Sky News channel today, during the televised leaders debate featuring five candidates for the Labour Party Leadership, a question was posed of the candidates ( YouTube – 2 of the 5 Labour Leadership candidates knew that St George’s day is on 23rd April ) which caused a bit of a flurry on Conservative home Only two of Labour’s putative leaders know when St George’s Day is – LeftWatch
The question quite simply was to give the date of St George’s Day – and 3 of the candidates got this wrong,
(For those of you who don’t know, St George is the patron saint of England, with St Andrew, St Patrick and St David being the patron saints of Scotland, Ireland & Wales respectively)
There is a long tradition of wrong-footing politicians with unexpected questions – like how to pronounce Barnoldswick, or Slaithwaite – or indeed what Menzies Campbell’s name really sounds like. Asking candidates who their favourite Spice Girl or Tellytubbie was, proved a novel way of exploring knowledge of current affairs, and more recently quizzes about Bill Shankly and Ferry Cross the Mersey have been used to try and catch unsuspecting political hopefuls out.
So this unexpected question is perhaps also entirely predictable.
Does it matter that they couldn’t answer ?
Well I’d probably have got it right – I had the 4 patron saints’ dates for the UK drilled in to me as a Cub Scout between the ages of 9 and 11. Assisted in no small part by Blue Peter, who never failed to remind us when there was one coming up (I preferred Bleep & Booster myself).
I remembered St. Andrew’s Day because it was my brother’s birthday – and also Winston Churchill’s – as my working class Tory grandmother was very fond of reminding him. 30th November
I remembered St. David’s Day because it was easier to remember because it was on the 1st day of the month – and also because it was more or less in daffodil time - 1st March. My working class Tory Grandmother would also remind me as this was one of the 12 days per year when she said “Rabbits Rabbits Rabbits” to everyone she met.
I found St Patrick’s difficult to remember because that was the other March one. It was also difficult because my racist working class Tory Grandfather claimed every thing was the fault of the bloody Irish (except for the things that were the fault of Arthur Scargill and Joe Gormless), and my working class Tory Grandmother felt it best not to rattle his cage. In later life I’ve remembered it because it’s the only one of the four patron saint’s days that ever gets celebrated by anyone March 17th
St George’s day was a funny one to remember because it’s the Queen’s Birthday on the 21st April, St George’s day, and Shakespeare’s birthday on the 23rd of April and my birthday on the 27th. Or was it the Queen on the 27th, me on the 23rd and St George … – you get the picture . My working class Tory Grandmother also had lost interest by this time as it was Spring, and she was getting ready to provide me with a suitably wonderful birthday present. Usually I could just about work out when it was though.
Having lived in England all my life and as an Englishman, how have we celebrated our patron saint’s day ? Well I can honestly say that except for 3 years I never have. Nor do I remember any body else doing, although I’ve seen a few things on pub black boards promoting Happy Hours & the like in recent times.
Those 3 years were of course when I was part of the Cub Scouts. I was the “sixer” of the Yellow Six, and as most of Yellow Six turned up and paid their subs I got to hold the flag at the St George’s Day Parade. This involved meeting with all the other scout and cub groups in the area, and walking down the middle of a road for about half a mile to a Church of England church (this remember was in a fairly secular area, where such Christians as there were, were far more likely to attend non-conformist churches or “chapels”) , where we then had to sing a few hymns and listen to a vicar. The hymns invariably included “Onward Christian Soldiers”, “I vow to thee my country”, “Stand up Stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross”, and “Soldiers of Christ Arise”. All of which to be fair were fairly standard fare from my County Primary School.
As an adult I’ve looked back on those times and felt saddened that as children we were effectively schooled in a para-military fashion – donning uniforms, waving national flags, swearing allegiance to our monarch, and to the established church, with it’s militaristic soldiers of Christ. In truth I can’t say it’s done me much harm. It seems a bit weird though.
So that’s what I associate with St George’s day – jingoism & indoctrination – which are thankfully far less common now. As an atheist who’s spent some time swotting up on Christianity as well, I have to say also that the whole cult of sainthood is one of the weaker aspects of Christianity, which stretches the credibility of the movement as a whole.
So what I’d have liked at least one of the candidates to answer would have been this :
“I’m not interested in St George’s day, because I’m not a Christian, I don’t support an established religion, and I have no wish to prop up the church and it’s non-elected leader the Queen by promoting it”
That would have made news. Sadly it would have also played right into Sky and Adam Boulton’s hands, and have lost Labour votes for many years to come. So maybe it’s better that they didn’t rise to the bait.
It wasn’t that tough a question really I guess – and the candidates I’ve voted for as first and second choice both got it right.
A far easier question actually than predicting when Ash Wednesday falls – something which Sky News’s Kay Burley has found difficult in the past :
I don’t usually blog on religion, but the reports on Stephen Hawking’s new book caught my eye today, and I thought I’d make a comment in response -
Ok – right from the start I’ll tell you that I’m an atheist – I have no belief in God or god. I am however a believer in the scientific application of critical reasoning as a means of understanding the universe that surrounds us. If I had to put a tag on my religion it would probably be “Critical Scientist” .
I am however agnostic in that, as any good scientist should be, I am open to persuasion about the existence of a God or gods.
As such I’ve often made it my business to examine different religious beliefs critically, in order to understand why others believe them, and to affirm my own beliefs.
So when I hear arguments from someone like Stephen Hawking claiming to rule out the possibility of God as creator, I try and put myself in the position of someone who does believe in order to work through the arguments that are likely to be raised in opposition.
The Grand Design, an extract of which appears in the Times today, sets out to contest Sir Isaac Newton’s belief that the universe must have been designed by God as it could not have been created out of chaos.
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing,” he writes. “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.
“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
(From The Guardian -Stephen Hawking says universe not created by God | Science | The Guardian )
Well although it pains me to say it, I think most literate Christians would make mincemeat of this.
The Guardian quote starts with the words “Because there is a law of gravity …”
And why is there is there a law of gravity ?
Because there just is. It’s a primary feature of the universe.
If I were a Christian I’d say – because God decided that it should be so.
And there really is no way that that statement can be verified, or disproved. So it’s back to personal belief.
I find it hard to believe that someone with such notable power of thought as Stephen Hawking, should come out with such a facile argument.
Admittedly though I haven’t read the book, or even dipped behind the Times paywall to read the extract.
So I strongly suspect that he actually says something a little different if you take the trouble to read the whole book, and that this is just a tactic from his publishers to get people to buy it.
I don’t think I will be though.
I’d be interested to know what any Christians thought of this.
[ I've struggled with the image settings a bit here- they might push the text about a little oddly in some browsers - Sorry ! ]
Stuck for something to blog about, I consulted my Twitter tweeps, and was given this worrying subject matter by @ByrneTofferings – yes that well known avenger of Councillors from Barnsley, the Libertarian Neo-Con blogger & closet socialist himself. Thanks Tom !
The subject in question being this little gem on the BBC News website : Film seized ‘shows children being radicalised’ which discusses a short video (please watch it) discovered on a police raid in Manchester, but believed to be filmed in Pakistan, which apparently shows young children playing with a Kalashnikov rifle and a pistol, while an adult asks them questions about what they want to do with the weapons, the adult answering for them : “I want to kill the infidels”.
While the police have no idea who the children are, they clearly believe them to be Muslims. Also seized were Flash cards which “instead of having M for Muhammed” had “M for Mujahideen” . (and there’s me expecting M to be for Man, or Mother, or Milk … or Molotov !!!)
To be honest, I think there’s a fair likelihood that these are people who do describe themselves as Muslims. Let’s assume for the purposes of my blog that they are.
The frightening thing in this video is supposedly that these people are indoctrinating young children in the ways of terrorism at a very young age. An age in fact where they are too young to understand what they are taking on, and what it means, which makes them all the more likely to adopt radical extremist positions, and to favour terrorist action when they reach adulthood.
Before I go on I want to say that that isn’t a difficult conclusion to jump to – that’s what it does look like, and in all likelihood it IS what is going on in the video. It’s not pleasant, and I don’t believe children should be allowed to play with weapons in this way, or casually indoctrinated into radical positions.
Is it really so different from what we’ve done in the west for years and years though ?
When I was a kid there was one thing that I never got for Christmas – although I asked Santa for it many times. Lot’s of my friends got one though – a Johnny 7 Gun !
It brought a whole new level of realism to the incessant games of “Cowboy’s & Indians” we played; and also to other favourites like “Japs & Commandos” – or just shooting Germans, which was less intellectual but just as much fun. The Johnny 7 was suffixed “OMA” which stood for One Man Army,
and had 7 different weapons for the well armed young boy in the playground.
But all this was just fun wasn’t it ? Our parents never really wanted us to go out and shoot Germans & Japs ?
And it would be ‘political correctness gone mad’ to start ranting on about how ‘cowboys & indians’ had damaged our youth. Wouldn’t it ? Wouldn’t it ?
Well actually for once, I think it probably would. We played those games because children play with things which reflect the ways of adult life. If the grown ups are farmers they play with toy farms. If they’re soldiers the children play with guns and weapons.
In the early 60’s most kids’ parents had done National Service, many had served in the Second World War. Grandparents had often served in the First World War. The mental wounds from the wars were still etched deep in the nation’s psyche. When I was 10, the war seemed like ancient history – but the D-Day landings were as recent then, as Margaret Thatcher and the Miner’s strike are to today’s 10 year olds.
So I think we could be excused playing with guns. I don’t think it did many of us much harm – I haven’t shot anyone as an adult, and have never used a grenade launcher.
So while I don’t approve of the playthings of these apparently Pakistani children in the video – and would never dream of giving my own children guns to play with – real or otherwise. I think we should cut them a little bit of slack – it doesn’t mean they’re going to grow up to hijack planes or be suicide bombers.
Excuse me now – I’ve got to go ! – my 15 year old son is telling me that it’s my turn to play Call of Duty on the PS3 !
NOTE : Mujaheedeen : Is a word which roughly translates to “freedom fighters” it was used to describe the Afghani resistance to Soviet occupation, in the 1980′s and also to describe the Communist resistance movement opposing the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran – both of which were either covertly or overtly funded by Western Governments.
“Infidel” is a term used by Christians, Jews, and Muslims to refer to someone who does not believe in their religion – often (but not necessarily) as a term of abuse.
“Jihad” in Islam means to “strive in the way of Allah” – although in the West it’s often described as a Holy War. Compare this to the term ‘Crusade’ – which is often used non-pejoratively in the West to refer to a just or moral campaign, but does in fact have its origins in religiously sanctioned military campaigns against Muslims (or ‘infidels’).
Is it any wonder that people misunderstand each other ?
Many years ago there were a couple of brilliant footballers. There names were Wilf Mannion, and Albert Stubbins. That’s really about all I know of them. There names are very familiar to me though, because they were the nick-names that were used to identify my Dad (Stubbins) and his brother (Mannion) in their early teens, and in the way these things pan out, for most of the rest of their lives.
Why ? well because they were good footballers. Not quite so good as the real Mannion & Stubbins mind – but they both cut a dash in the Spen Valley League for a while.
Last weekend though my uncle, Mannion, died of cancer, after a relatively short illness. Diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus only in August, he only became really really ill a couple of weeks back – and it was quite a surprise when he died. So this blog is my tribute to him.
My Dad & my Uncle were two of five brothers born in Manchester, but brought up in the Heavy Woollen District in a working class family. They lived (and my Dad still does) a typical West Yorkshire (or perhaps I should say West Riding) working class life.
I suppose I could do a blog, talking about how they triumphed over adversity, through community spirit and support for the Labour party.
I could – but it would be a lie. I’m reasonably sure that all the members of my extended family on both my Dad’s side & my Mum’s, could have been loosely described as floating voters. Neither did any of them particularly triumph over adversity. They worked hard, and got by, none spectacularly successful and none of them failures. None of them wealthy but equally none of them ever poverty stricken (although it’s all relative).
No – the common thread which bound my family together was not politics. Nor was it religion. Nor was it the working class community spirit. It was actually … Football !
That’s not strictly accurate – it wasn’t just football – it was Huddersfield Town Football Club.
I was taken to my first Huddersfield match in what I think was 1965 – by my Dad, and three of his brothers. Including the aforementioned Mannion. We played Blackburn Rovers at home, and I recall the Town supporters chanting the name of Alan Gilliver – who later played for Blackburn (and more recently was involved behind the scenes at Bradford City). in truth I remember little about the game. I do remember though my uncle lifting me above his head to get a better view of the match, and promptly banging my head on the low roof of what was the “paddock” in front of the main stand at Leeds Road stadium – which had disappeared for ever by my next visit to the ground.
From that day onward I unwittingly became the subject of a plot to indoctrinate & initiate me into something that was part religion, part family, and partly a downright curse – I was about to become a Huddersfield Town supporter.
My Dad, Stubbins, played his part by dragging me and my brother to every home game. Kicking & Screaming ? You bet we were – we begged and pleaded not to go, but were told we had to – for my Mum’s sake (never been quite sure about how that figured).
Meanwhile Mannion would see us fairly frequently, and would test us on our football knowledge. This was achieved by studying the Littlewoods year book, which was delivered by the football pools collector at the start of each season. Along with details of how to complete an 8 from 14 Full Perm, or a “Lit-Plan”, it contained details about every club in the league (Question 1 – How many clubs are in the league ? Quick ! Quick ! Answer : 92 ! Yes – that’s right !)
Information – Important stuff. Like what colours each team played in. Like what colours they played in away from home, like which stadium (or more properly – which “ground”) they played at, and what was their record attendance, and ground capacity (all the good teams had a record attendance far bigger than their ground capacity)
So every few weeks my brother and I would find ourselves being grilled by Mannion. “What colours do Blackburn Rovers play in ?” “Blue and White ?” “Stripes ?” ” er … Quarters” – “No -it’s halves – you’ve got to know your strips”
“Who plays at St James’s Park” “Newcastle !” “That’s easy – but who else ?” “Exeter City !” – “Well done – You’ve got to know your grounds”
We of course enjoyed every second of this and I gradually realised that most of it was tongue in cheek, but nevertheless it worked its magic. We gradually started to enjoy our forcible abduction to Leeds Road on alternate Saturday afternoons, and really did become quite knowledgeable about football in general, and Huddersfield Town in particular – the first team by the way to win the League title in 3 consecutive years (but can you name the others ?); and so it was on a Saturday afternoon in August 1970, I made my way out of the first match of the season – a 3-0 home win against Blackpool – our first game in the “top flight” for some 14 years – and back to the car with my Dad and my uncle – who pointed out after listening to the results coming in on the radio (which was held up to his ear – no flashy in-car entertainment systems back then), that as we’d got a better goal average (not difference) than anyone else who’d won that day, we were top of the league. I accepted this news as a confirmed Town supporter. As if it had ever been in doubt.
The years have not been so good to our team since then – certainly we’ve never been in that exalted position since then – and the next few years were a real trial for Huddersfield supporters, seeing us slide down to Division 4 whilst near neighbours Leeds (excuse me while I wash my mouth out with soap) enjoyed their best ever seasons under Don Revie. At school it seemed like every one was a Leeds supporter, save a few hardy souls like me. It wasn’t pleasant. We were teased and bullied and generally made to feel like a race apart – but we began to notice something interesting.
If you looked at a class full of about 30 kids and asked who supported which football team, you’d find maybe 26 for Leeds, 4 for Huddersfield. If you then asked who had ever attended a live game, you’d find around 8 for Leeds and around 4 for Huddersfield. If you then asked who attended every home game, You’d find around 3 for Leeds and around 4 for Huddersfield.
So we actually found that we had a more cohesive network – we all knew each other, knew people from other schools,other Towns, and we actually found that the Leeds supporters envied us. If we needed a lift to a game, someone’s Dad took us, or their Uncle, or Grandad or whatever, because in all of our families, supporting Huddersfield was not an option. It was seen as our birthright.
It may seem weird now, but I grew up in a family in which my parents, all my grandparents, all my 4 Uncles, and 5 Aunties, and all my various cousins – all of them, but all of them, were Huddersfield Town supporters.
In later life it wasn’t quite as easy to get to all the games, and I didn’t see as much of my uncle as I did as a boy, but when “Abide with me” was sung at his funeral, in typical cup final fashion with half the crowd not really knowing the words, I have to admit that I was tempted to break into a loud cheer at the end, and could picture in my minds eye, the team breaking towards their following supporters at Wembley.
I’m not a believer in God myself, but if my uncle is looking down on us from on high, – he may not be at God’s right hand, but if there’s a God, I’m sure Bill Shankly will be close to him – so Mannion : Have a word with Shanks – point out that he owes us after winning the cup for Preston & also taking us down a league, point out that Denis Law did some good stuff for Scotland, and get him to have a word with the big guy to see if he can sort something out : Huddersfield to gain promotion to the First Division – or England to win the World Cup – either will do (although both would be nice !); Oh and if any Huddersfield Town players are reading this – Win one for Mannion ! He was a good man, and it’s what he would have wanted !
I saw this post Who goes to a creationist museum on the BBC website today.
I never cease to be amazed by the (mostly American) controversy between Fundamentalist Christians and Darwin “fans”.
It all seems such a complete set of crumby arguments. On the one hand you have the Christians saying that it totally negates their religion, and claiming that there is no evidence to support evolution, whilst adhering to an alternative explanation that is evidenced only by the fact that it’s written in a book (the Book of Genesis to be more precise).
On the other hand the Darwinites proclaim his theory of evolution as categoric proof of God’s non existence, and of the power of science to explain the origins of mankind.
Well my humble opinion is that both positions are way off the mark.
First of all, science rarely proves anything. Darwin’s theories are just that – theories – as he intended them to be – they prove nothing, but suggest a plausible explanation for the origins of different species. Very plausible I would suggest, in fact I’d go so far as saying that I believe his theories to be true.
That doesn’t mean they are true though – but there’s plenty of evidence that suggests this. The most striking example to me, is the way in which doorways built into houses constructed in the Elizabethan period or earlier, are generally only slightly over 5ft (150 cm) tall. Which is a lot smaller than the average person today. Todays doorways tend to be at least 6ft (180cm) tall or more How did we grow another foot in a few hundred years ? I know what I think ! There is plenty more evidence – look it up.
Still doesn’t prove Darwin right though. Nor does it prove the creationists right either. In fact there’s very little evidence to support the creationist position unless you accept that the scriptures are God’s divine message to humanity. In other words a matter of faith. If you have faith it must be true.
I don’t though – and that’s a circular argument that disappears up it’s own backside.
What nobody ever seems to suggest though is that evolution could be the work of God.
Blasphemy ! I hear the Christians scream.
I’m an atheist/agnostic and don’t really have a lot of time for Christianity – or any other religion for that matter, but if Darwin’s theories on evolution are correct, and I believe they may well be, (and also the science of genetics stemming from the work of Gregor Mendel who gets far few mentions than Darwin), then they offer a very neat – even beautiful – explanation for the develeopment of all life on the planet.
To me this is the best argument yet for the existence of a Divine Creator.
If the Christians were saying to me “Evolution is God’s instrument by which he created Mankind, and all Life on Earth, how could such a method of natural selection occur without the intelligent design of the supreme being ?” – I’d have to admit I’d find it hard to counter that argument.
They don’t though they just say it’s not true because the Bible says so. So I have a while to think my way around that one.
If you’re wondering about the title – some years ago I submitted my dissertation for a Masters degree having worked collaboratively with two other colleagues on a research project. Part of my submission included a Summary of the research for distribution in the school where I worked, which I had drafted and which contained the expression “It seems clear that the use of Information Technology will evolve rapidly in school … ” .
One of my colleagues though was an evangelical Christian, and we spent some time arguing about the paper before finally agreeing the wording “… will be incrementally created … “
He was a good friend though whatever his religion.