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I've been quiet for the past week or so because I've been busy. Just so you know why I'm not blogging like, well, a blogger, here's what's on my plate:

* I am writing a novel. It's the fourth Laundry novel, and it's been difficult going. I was originally aiming to finish the first draft by Hogmanay, but that ain't gonna happen. Assuming nothing goes wrong, the contract (which I'm hoping will emerge any day now) will specify that it's due on my editor's desk by the end of July 2011, for publication in July 2012. Why, you ask, am I trying to finish a novel seven months ahead of schedule? Well ...

* Next week I am holing up in an office with Cory Doctorow so we can hammer out the outline of the other novel we're due to hand in to a different publisher in June 2011, for publication in 2012. Titled The Rapture of the Nerds, it's an extension, continuation, and culmination of our collaborative novellas, Jury Service and Appeals Court. (The link to Jury Service goes to Cory's podcast of it — it was originally published online via, but they took the story down a couple of years later when they shitcanned the written fiction side of their website.)

Can you spot the deadline clash between these two projects? Back in August Charlie thought, "if I write one of these books six months ahead of schedule the problem goes away!" (Alas, if only it were so easy ...)

* Just in case I was feeling neglected, the kind-hearted folks at my US publisher have decided to help me feel needed by sending me the copy-edited manuscript to my next novel, "Rule 34", for checking. So that the novel can speed through their production pipeline without delay, they're emailing me the CEM around December 22nd, and it would really help them if I could send the checked copy-edits back to them by January 3rd (otherwise the book will be late, the sky will fall, and I won't get paid on time). NB: before complaining about the timing, I'd like to thank them for at least giving me some advance warning this time. Checking a CEM means that I have to read the copy editor's marked up copy of the manuscript in detail, correcting, vetoing or approving every change they've made, and correcting any errors I spot. (Of which there will be approximately ten per page.)

* Finally, the current $SEKRIT_MEDIA_PROJECT has come back to haunt me and wants to eat my brain. The first rule of $SEKRIT_MEDIA_PROJECT is, we do not identify $SEKRIT_MEDIA_PROJECT by name unless and until it actually gets the green light for production. About half a dozen $SEKRIT_MEDIA_PROJECTs have invaded my professional life over the past few years, springing up and wilting like mushrooms after a light summer rain; the reason I don't talk about them much is because they mostly don't go anywhere, and it would be kind of embarrassing to announce I'm taking on scripting for a major superhero owned by Marvel Comics when, uh, actually it turns out I'm not. Best not to boast until the credits roll. However, this current one actually paid me for some development work earlier this year, which means they're a damn sight more serious than most. Which in turn means I need to set aside some contingency time next year, just in case things catch fire.

This is on top of all the usual stuff about having a life, blog, and etcetera. I have other plans — I'd like to write and sell a couple of novellas or short stories, I'd like to catch up on my backlog of reading, I'd like to go swimming and I'd like to find time to play Dragon Age: The Awakening — but right now my work/life balance is a bit out of kilter, which is why I'm spending more time debugging my schedule than updating my blog.



Don't kill yourself.

Seriously, I mean that. I know you have to be partially workaholic to have the discipline to work under your own supervision, but please don't get to the stage where you take so much on that you end up with lethal hypertension or whatever today's fashionable replacement for yesteryear's stomach ulcers is. And remember your project history - starting a number of different projects on the principle that some will fall by the wayside doesn't work if you do such a good job of them that none can be put to one side. What's going to happen if $SEKRITMEDIAPROJECT ends up being a success, and they want more?!


I have no intention of killing myself.

What this all means is that I am not taking on any additional unscheduled jobs at this time -- not until the to-do list shrinks substantially.

The to-do list isn't quite as bad as it sounds. "The Apocalypse Codex" is nearly two-thirds written. "The Rapture of the Nerds" is half-written, and is a collaboration. I reckon between them there's about as much work remaining as a single regular novel, by next July. The copy-edits are a one-week death march.

The only real wildcard is $SEKRITMEDIAPROJECT, and realistically, even if it goes ahead fast, there won't be much work in it for me before Q2/2011.



(I assume that being GoH at conventions counts as 'additional jobs', even if not as long as writing an entire novel.)


Whats stopping you from taking a swim. It is relaxing and it will get your subconscious mind to do some work on your books, while your body gets some excersise. Of course, if you are unlucky, you get cold and need to stay in bed for about a week without doing anything usefull :P ps. English aint my native language, so all errors in grammar are mine alone.


On the subject of your other projects, your London area readers who are also gamers may be interested in


So, is the singularity coming, or not? Is Pinkker correct, or is he desperate, like those who claimed heavier-than-air powerd flight was impossible in about 1890?.

My guess, on not very much data is between 2025 & 2035 .....


It's your blog; you have the right to update (or not) it as often as you wish. So I'm not offended by you not blogging, but do appreciate you saying why.


is he desperate, like those who claimed heavier-than-air powerd flight was impossible in about 1890?. You mean, about when Percy Pilcher made the first (sadly undocumented) powered HTA flight (at St James's Park in Paisley, just over the M8 from the present Glasgow (Abbotsinch) airport)? ;-)


Is it inappropriate to mention that all stories from SciFiction have been archived by the Wayback Machine, and can still be read online?

(I won't post any link, in case it isn't.)


No, it's not at all inappropriate to mention that!

(However, poking around the Wayback Machine I couldn't locate the story myself -- they've mirrored including the crappy Flash user interface, which makes finding anything there extraordinarily painful.)


I learned a new (Scottish) word today: Hogmanay.

I've never been one who cared much either way about New Year's - it's just a day. I worked with a computer operator who was of Japanese background and was popular in Christmas, as he would always change shifts to work on Christmas and be off on New Year's.


I did find a copy of Jury Service archived on-line, but it was missing a big chunk in the middle (end of the first jury session to Huw meeting Alan again). I am guessing that that was one part of the serialization that someone didn't put into the text file they archived.
If our gracious host agrees, I can find my link to it and post it here. That said, it was missing a chunk, and I would like to know if anyone knows of a complete version.


Howard, the story behind Hogmanay is this:

Scotland got a really bad dose of presbyterian fundamentalism during the Reformation, and by the early 17th century it had gone completely bugfuck, for New England Colonies values of bugfuck -- burning witches, hanging atheists, that kind of thing. Along the way, the puritans got around to banning Christmas celebrations, on the grounds that actual festivities were clearly sinful (people were enjoying themselves!) and folks should be on their knees, praying.

So the ordinary Scots just shrugged and decided to hold a secular feast of their own on New Year's Day -- Hogmanay. Which is unusual in being a public holiday that is followed by a second day's holiday, just to recover from the hangover.


cybergrue: Cory and I have a complete copy somewhere, and it says in our book contract that we can put the thing online. But you might want to wait until we've given it a polish and taken it for a spin around the block ...


You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din. Something I'm always curious about - do you actually enjoy the process of writing?

I get to play with ideas a lot, I get to make pretty pictures using some fairly fancy programming, but when it comes to actually writing up the results in a way that other people are going to read, it quickly becomes a sucking drag. Part of it is that mathematical typesetting is a chore, but mostly it's because even though I know what I know, communicating that to other people in intelligible sentences that follow one after the other is hard.

You don't appear to have that problem, obviously, but do you actually enjoy committing those sentences to paper (I know, an archaism)? Or is it the last bit of a process, 95% of which the rest of us don't see and makes all the rest worthwhile?


Reply to Charlie @14
No problem, as I said it was incomplete.
BTW, your explanation of Hogmanay explained the weird plaque that I once saw in Grassmarket (or was it Heymarket) about witches being killed on that spot. I hadn't realised that it had gotten that bad there that late.


I think I remember such a plaque in the Grassmarket. I don't remember one in Haymarket (Hay as in dried grass, not as in Happy Days), but I'm not there as often.


There is a reason Scotland is full of atheists these days.

(It also gives me reason for hope whenever I contemplate the news from places like Iran, Afghanistan, and Texas; excessive fundamentalism sows the seeds of its own cultural demise.)


The plaque in the Grassmarket is the site of the former gallows where they hanged the witches before burning their bodies at the stake. (This was the 17th century version of avoiding cruel and unusual punishment -- if they really hated you they'd ommit the hanging.)

Scotland probably got through considerably more witches during the witch-hunting craze than the New England colonies, albeit over a longer period.

Then the theocracy ran out of steam and the Scottish enlightenment got off the ground in the first half of the 18th century. But there's a lot of rather ghoulish history buried just below the cobblestones of this city.


This links to the complete archive (both original and classic stories):

While "Jury Service" can be found here:

It's a pity these stories aren't more easily accessible.


...Which is unusual in being a public holiday that is followed by a second day's holiday, just to recover from the hangover.
Man, we so need that. I always take Jan 2 off for lingering hangovers.


Hey Charlie,

As the noted survivalist Cody Lundin says, "Party on!"

Feel free to google that phrase.


"...excessive fundamentalism sows the seeds of its own cultural demise."

It's true. While living in New England, I came to wonder what had become of the Puritans -- not the puritan impulse, but their congregations, institutional structures, etc. It turns out that the primary descendant organization of the Puritans is the Unitarian/Univeralist Church.


Charlie @ 13 et al ... The "war on christmas" christian-llonies haven't got their heads round this one, have thaey? Cromweel (see other recent threads) BANNED christmas, because he knew, quite well, that no-one really knew when Yesshua be Joseph was really born... And some reall-fundie churches do the same. Yet this is used a sa stick to beat atheists with? Religion != reason & logic.

Unfortunately, how long do you have to wait before atheism takes hold? Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, and Iran and Saudi, women and unbelievers are being horribly murdered, because "god" says so - and it's going to take anothe 200 years to set it right (see history of calvinist fudiesim in W. Scotland) ....


When I worked, I always took the holiday shifts, if necessary, because the guys who worked for me had families.


NZ also has the second day. Its really annoying that Australia doesn't, because bean-counters that report into Aussie parents lose a working day to get their December numbers in.


Fundamentalism has an approximately 100 year half life. Like nuclear waste it remains toxic for generations only gradually weakening.


Re: Fundamentalism.

Technically, the term refers to a series of pamphlets called "The Fundamentals" that were published in the US around 1905 as a reaction to the first wave of higher criticism within the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition. So talking about 17th Century "Fundamentalist Presbyterians" is anachronistic.

What happened with the Witches however, (with the greatest respect to your pagan wife) was frank superstition, The urge to condemn and cast out the "other" -- too see a deep conspiracy -- is part of us all. But most of us know this is tosh. Which is why Charlie sells books about the Laundry to this Presbyterian.

But... I have seen, in my lifetime, two witch hunts. Their names were Paedophilic Circles and Ritual Childhood Abuse. They were hysterias. The rules of law were changed so that these most heinous crimes could be prosecuted. Our only saving grace is that we did not kill the alleged prepetrators -- we did however, in the Christchurch cases sentence him to 20 years.

(Oh, and Charlie, write on. Be like the Ringo. Blog occasionally, and take the summers off...)


Missed in last comment a grammatical error. The text should read "to see the other..."

Robin, Atheism has a half life of... 50 years. I refer to The former Soviet Union & the orthodox revivial that occured when it became the former Soviet Union.

The way out of this is to turn it into a religion: that is what happened with Buddhism, Stoicism and the Tao.


Apologies for the typos in #24 ....

Fundyism lasts longer than 100 years. Wycliffe died in 1384, condemned as an heretic, but the European wars of religion didn't end until 1648/1689.... And we are missing the Dark-Ages camelherders-myths fudyism, never mind the Bronze-Age goatherders-myths fundyism, are we not? Oh, and 29: BOLLOCKS. Communism is a classic religion: it persecutes the competitors, it has a set of "holy books" that talk codswallop, it murders in the name of its own version of said "holy truth", and the party/church is infallible, etc ad nauseam.


Robin, Atheism has a half life of... 50 years. I refer to The former Soviet Union & the orthodox revivial that occured when it became the former Soviet Union.

Nonsense. The Soviet Union wasn't an atheist state, it was a Marxist-Leninist state -- far from being un-churched, it ran on a religious faith in building heaven on Earth ("true communism"). And its collapse was due to macroeconomic forces, rather than some kind of crisis of faith (the crisis of faith followed the economic collapse rather than causing it).

32: 19 - Is this where we start talking about how the "Old Town" is supposedly built over plague streets from the medievil town, at least some of which probabaly sill had living people in them when they were built over?

I know the history in broad; the uncertainty was due to the number of years since I was last in the Grassmarket. This probably holds true for most of Scottish history; i know it in broad, but may be vague on details I've not looked at recently.

33: 24 Para2:- Which reminds me of watching Bones season 5 last weekend (yes, all 22 episodes over 3 days :eek: ). In one episode the "guest intern" was talking about how Iesus was born in April, not December, and prompting mutters of "September" from me every time!

Just to expand upon Charlie's post - James the 6th was keen on persecuting witches, but was fairly sensible about it compared to many on the continenet and after he died. That was late 16th/early 17th century. The madness continued all the way through the civil war period, when an army that had Cromwell trapped and starving inside Dunbar got rid of its militarily knowledgeable commanders because they were mostly religiously suspicious, and so gave up their tactical advantage of position, letting Cromwell and his army cut them to pieces. Apparently their ministers were walking among them assuring them that God would ensure them victory as Cromwell's lot were rolling the line up.
They were still going strong enough at the end of the century to have a student hung for atheism - Thomas Aikenhead in 1697. Remember there were no theatres, plays or suchlike officially permitted at this time, and neithe was Christmas.


There are times the tourism industry has a lot to answer for. Most of the Royal mile is built on the medieval parts of the town, and if we could remove the buildings it would be interesting to see what we could see. I've never heard of an actual real source for the possibility that people were alive when the old streets were bricked over, partly because they didn't really like to just entomb bodies at that time, and also because whilst they did brick some of them up during the plague period, the actual building over happened somewhat later.
I and a bunch of scouts visited Mary Kings close over 20 years ago, before it was open to the public. The most interesting bit was going through the city chambers to get into it, including a very long open spiral staircase with a big drop down the middle.


Not really an anachronism, because we're not claiming those 17th Century Presbyterians referred to themselves as fundamentalists, but that they were fundamentalists in the sense we currently understand the word to mean. You may as well claim it's an anachronism to refer to a World War One soldier.


the puritans were basically the taliban


the puritans were basically the taliban

I see where you're going with that metaphor, and I disagree.

While the puritans were somewhat ascetic and fanatical about their beliefs, they lived in an era when everyone was, by our standards, fanatical about their religious creed -- there was no alternative modern world-view on offer. In no small part, it was the puritans' grandchildren who invented modern liberalism.

Whereas the taliban have rather less of an excuse.


(Putting on my pious puritan hat, not that it fits)...

...We can only pray God that the Taliban's offspring see the error of their ways and become as liberal as the Puritans.

Of course, in the US, it took the rise of a mercantile culture (cough, slavery, cough) and a couple of centuries to turn the Puritans into hippies.

That said, I do hope that the Taliban's kids turn out normal.

Also, don't forget to eat a carrot in memory of the good things Afghanistan has produced. That's where carrots were first domesticated, among other things.


Oh, dear -- where to start?

in re Puritan/Taliban: No.

One of the few really over-riding tenets of the Puritans was that anyone could read the Bible and "find the truth therein". Unpacked, that meant a number of revolutionary things: * No priestly class was considered to have a monopoly on interpreting scripture. This doesn't sound revolutionary today, but Caxton was beheaded for translating the bible into English so any old person could read it.

  • Everyone was supposed to develop their own opinions, and argue it out with their congregations.

  • Without a priesthood, it becomes easy for divergent interpretations to split a congregation.

  • Therefore, opinions with substantial minority support weren't necessarily suppressed; the minority might split off from the main group (cf Roger Winthrop founding Providence (later Rhode Island) with, among other things, his crazy idea of religious tolerance.

Other things that arguably followed (slowly) from that initial attitude include support for universal education -- if you can't read, you can't read the Bible. If you can't read that, you can't find the truth etc.

I know less about the Taliban, but enough to know that they don't play by a rulebook anything like that.


I dearly hope you're right, but... as a lifelong resident of a southern USAian state I'm not so sure. I now live in a more urban area than I grew up in, but when I visit the family back home, the crazy still seems to be there. Not witch-hunt levels, but still a noticeable change from what I'm now used to. Maybe it's just changing too slowly to be noticed in one lifetime...


I don't know if your impressions are correct, of course -- but some of what may be happening is that people are more able to leave those areas than they used to be. So the people who fit in least well -- rationalist liberals, say -- move out to more urban areas, where there are more people they're comfortable with.

If I'm right, you can take comfort in the fact that the USA is increasingly urban.

The anecdote: To pick on the state that contains my personal relatives, it's well-known that Atlanta is less conservative than the rest of Georgia. The Atlanta area also contains about 64% of the people in Georgia. That proportion has been growing, though I can't find the statistics at the moment.

As for the people back in $Hometown -- for a while, they'll get solidarity in feeling persecuted by [the rest of the world, basically]. They might maintain their numbers; they might die off; they might import fellow-believers to try to build a power base. They might tear themselves apart arguing with one another.


@ 40 Oh dear where to start with the gross errors? Caxton was the man who intoroduced popular PRINTING to England. He died a rich man. You are probably thinking (?) of Wm. Tyndale, translator of the bible, betrayed to, and murdered by the church.

Without a priesthood - really? And what happened to people who disagreed with the precentor/presbyter/Jean Calvin, eh? They were usually burnt. Alive.

Congregational splits, yes, followed, shortly after, by civil wars, usually. The Scots fighting Cromwell at Dubar, for instance, were even more puritanical and loony than O.C .... Last bit: really? Then how come, especially in the West of Scotland, ultra-puritan ideas held sway until about 1900, so that evicted tenants blamed THEMSELVES for the actions of the landowners, because they (the tenants) were "sinful"? Actually the Taliban DO play by a rulebook like that. Very like Calvin's Geneva, in fact, only worse. Bah.


Greg. -- Thanks for correcting that point. As you stated, Tyndale is the fellow I was attempting to refer to, not Caxton. While we're in error-correction mode, he wasn't beheaded. If we can trust Wikipedia, he was strangled, then his body was burnt at the stake.

As for the rest: I don't think my responding in detail is going to do anything positive to this conversation right now. Suffice to say two things:

  • I drafted that comment rather tactlessly, which I regret.
  • I see differences between groups that you find nigh-identical.

Sod wikipedia, I have a library - Moynihan's book on Tyndale says that he was strangled then burnt, since he wasn't a relapsed heretic, otherwise he would just have been burnt. SO it seems wikipedia is correct.

Oh look, it's snowing outside just now.


...especially in the West of Scotland, ultra-puritan ideas held sway until about 1900...

Longer than that - aren't you forgetting the Wee Frees? (cue the inavitable round of "Life of Brian" / "Judean People's Front" jokes about Scottish Protestantism).

Out in the Western Isles, there are still some places where everything is closed on the Sabbath (e.g. Raasay). There were protests when Caledonian MacBrayne wanted to start running a ferry service on the Sabbath; AIUI, the Wee Wee Frees still regard the use of public transport on the Sabbath to be a sin...

IIRC, the Lord Advocate, and later Lord Chancellor of Her Majesty's Government (Lord Mackay of Clashfern) was suspended as an Elder of the church - because while acting in his official capacity as Lord Chancellor, he had committed a "grave offence" by attending the funeral of a colleague in a Roman Catholic church.

Until the late 1990s, one of the Rifle Companies of our infantry battalion were Cameronians. This was a Regiment formed of Covenanters; on formation in 1689, there was a Kirk Elder for each Company, and each man was to carry a Bible. Until the end (they disbanded the regular battalion in 1968, and the last TA company rebadged in 1997) when they held a church parade, they carried their weapons in church and posted an armed piquet outside...

...although in a nod to political correctness and demographic realities of their recruiting area, by the 1980s the piquet officer's report had changed from "The piquet is posted, no Catholics are in sight, the service may proceed" to "The piquet is posted, no enemy is in sight, the service may proceed"...


Another point is that the Taliban are the political body that represents Afghanistan's major cultural group rather than a religious sect. Like the Tory or US Republican relationship with Christianity religion is an element, but not the driving force.


@ 47 Really. Your opinion, but I don't believe you. Women are inferior to mean & subject to their orders, it says in the "recital", snd the Taliban take that literally, and enforce it. I fnecessary by murdering foreign nurses, and throwing acid in schoolchildren's faces. Their objection to music is very reminiscent of the Wee Frees ... I really can't get my head around that level of insanity - unless I had a lot of ammunition, and a working gun, perhaps. We DO shoot rabid animals, after all.

49: 47 & 48 - According to some Muslim friends of mine, the natural and correct way to run an Islamic state is as a theocracy, in which case you can't really say that "the Taliban are a political body", and claim that they're non-religious in consequence.

@ 49 Yes. And Theocracy is probably the all-up worst form of government, anywhere.


A tempting notion, but I would have thought that rule by pure force would be worse. In fact, it's probably always possible to imagine worse, although I don't want to.


Perhaps I should have tried to be clearer, because I'm not referring to anything that's a matter of opinion or belief. The Taliban are the political party representation of the Pashtun cultural group in Afghanistan. They retain popular support because the Pashtun are the dominant cultural group, but before they were in power Afghanistan was already an Islamic state. The theocratic movement in Afghanistan isn't centralized in the Taliban and would continue to exist without the Taliban. They don't drive the theocratic movement, they're just the party with the biggest supporter base in a country where Islam has a lot of currency.

"Paws4thot", I never claimed the Taliban were non-religious. But don't worry, I sometimes struggle with reading comprehension too.

53: 52 - Sorry, but #47 still reads to me as saying "The Taliban are a (tribal) political body rather than a religious sect". [[If you didn't mean to say that, then you should write more clearly. I'm not always as clear a writer as I would like either, but my first resort is not to make a personal attack on the person who didn't read my statement the way I meant!]]

Which would mean that the Taliban combine the worst elements of theocracy and tribalism.

A "good Islamic state" should select its ruling officials on the basis of them being the most knowlegable Islamic scholars in the nation, rather than because they're members of a specific tribe or religious sect.


Calvinists and Sunnis are examples of religious sects: the Taliban and the IRA are not. What I wrote is exactly what was meant, using the word 'sect' as it appears in dictionaries and is largely employed in common usage.


The IRA were a mililtary arm of a sub-group of a sect: They wanted a united (roman) catholic Ireland. An impossible dream: You can have a catholic Ireland, or a united Ireland ..... The Taliban may be almost entirely Pushtun, but they have a specific, ultra-extremist puritan religious agenda, way out, even by islamic standards. I would disagree with you and say they are an armed sect - rather like the covenanters, say.

56: 54 - Sunnis and Shi'ites are not Muslim "sects" in the normal sense of "schismatic religious bodies", unless you're suggesting that the Catholic (not just RC), Anglican and Protestant traditions in Christianity are sects!? The various "Free Churchs of Scotland" (FCoS, F Presbyterian CoS, FCos(Continuing) etc) are sects though.

See #53 para 3 for my (and the Islamic scholars I know) reasoning as to why the Taliban can not achieve a true Islamic state.


Nope. The IRA was the military arm of a political movement. There were protestant republicans pre-1921, and catholic unionists. It took Irish independence and the subsequent civil war and ethnic partitioning to turn republicanism and unionism into completely religiously polarized movements.


Ahem: Christianity is a sect -- a heretical one, at that -- of (probably) Essene Judaism. If you're going to insist that it's an actual religion in its own right, then the only non-sect within it is the Orthodox Church; those new-fangled Roman Catholics are themselves a sect! And don't get me started on those Protestants. Splittists ...


paws4thot: Shi'a muslims believe the descendants of Ali are the true leaders of "the faith", whereas Sunni do not, and the division goes back to the assaination of Ali in 661, when the "orthodox" Sunni tool over the Caliphate. Like Ismaili and Sufi and Ahmadhi (sp?) they are sects.

Charlie: @ 58 Peoples Front for the Liberation of Judea? and @ 57 - I was talking about now - or the recent "troubles", not the origins of the modern Irish state, immediately enslaved to the RC church by the vile de Valera.


What then are the criteria to qualify as a proper religion rather than a sect? (Full disclosure: I'm a Quaker from a Quaker family going back to the mid-1600s / and rather like your characterization of the Orthodox, having worked in a church under a Scottish Orthodox priest on Crete)

The Quakers have eschewed all priesthood and hierarchy and virtually abandoned the Bible (any reference to Jesus or scripture is generally considered Not Done). They gather to sit in silence, paying attention to the voice of their conscience, "the inner light" until it moves them to speak. Despite generally numbering less than 250,000 and in their first century (or more) being banned from universities, they have invented cast steel, iron rails, smelting iron with coke, fixed-price shops, education for workers' children, workhouses (as an alternative to starvation for the unemployed), led the abolitionist movement and are the only religion to win a Nobel Peace Prize (back when that prize meant something). Today, virtually all their membership is "convinced" rather than "birthright", despite a taboo against proselytizing.

Are they merely a Christian sect, that is - just an Essene sub-splinter?


While we're at it, Judaism itself seems to be merely a somewhat divergent sect of the Canaanite religion...

BTW, AFAIK the word 'sect', even if it's probably related to 'to follow' and not to 'to split', has some negative connotations for this and similar reasons, so maybe we should substitute it for 'religious sub-group'; but then, we could argue about 'religious', so well...

And then, since we talk about changing populations in space and time, we could do some borrowing from biology, choose your liking...


Well, that should be fun; find shared derived characters, like, well, Christianity uses a somewhat bastardized collection of jewish religious literature, so this is an apomorphy; same with most of Christian features, though most are heavily derived. Islam is either a sister group to Judaism, a case of extreme convergence or horizontal transfer; problem is, overall there are more similarities betweeen Judaism and Islam, which leads us to...

Evolutionary Taxonomy

Christianity has been subject to so many influences and split so far away from mainstream Judaism, see trinity, that it's a group of its own; Judaism and Islam remain seperate groups, but they show more similarities than Judaism and Christianity.

Well, OK, that needs some works...

62: 58 - Yes Charlie, that's very much my point. When you get to the sort of numbers that the main branches of Islam or Christianity hes, it's no longer helpful to describe them as "sects" because the word has at least 2 separate meanings and listeners may not hear the one you meant (particularly here in Scotland where presbyterian Christian churches regularly scism). 59 - Note the above. 60 - From what you've said, I'd suggest that the Quakers now have the right to be considered as a branch of Christianity in their own right.

So are Republican congresspeople a sect because they've told the Smithsonian that if they show a four minute video that had 11 seconds of a Christ on a cross covered with ants, they won't get as much federal money next year? Fortunately the video is now at a different gallery where not only do they not get federal aid, but having the video there will probably bring people to the gallery.


Cladistics is a good way of approaching the relationship of various sects and religions.

Many Quaker meetings hang picture of a tree somewhere in the meetinghouse with the various branches labeled with the various sects and sub-sects. Even though the religion is so small, it is comparable in complexity to a unified cladistic tree. (With no central authorities, just various Monthly and Yearly Meetings, and with all decisions made by consensus, substantial differences of opinion often lead to new Meetings splitting off. The splits seem to have pretty much stopped now, though - even the gay marriage debate of the mid-'80s was resolved pretty quickly without any splits that I'm aware of.)


And neither use accurately describes the Taliban, which is a political body that represents the interests of the Pashtun Afghanis. Yes, the Pashtun Afghanis subscribe to theocracy, but that does not define the Taliban. Think about it: the Taliban do not form government, but Afghanistan is still an Islamic Republic. If the Taliban were the theocratic movement of the state this would not be the case. Clearly, the theocratic movement is bigger than the Taliban, and therefore isn't tied to the Taliban - rather, it is the general population that is in favour of theocratic government.

The Taliban is just the convenient Bad Guy for Westerners to blame Middle Eastern difficulties on, but the difficulties are far more pervasive than that and the aims of the Taliban more subtle and pedestrian than the Islamic Government Now! narrative would allow for.

66: 63 - American right-wing "Christian" politicians quite possibly are a sect yes. This despite them not having formally scismed (new verb?) from one or more of the existing streams or churches of Christianity. 65 - I won't argue the point further because I don't know enough about it IMO. I will make a mental note to read Al Jazeera more often though.

Well, I think cladistics is only an approximation here; first off, there are many differences between cultural evolution and biological evolution, see 'borrowing', though in phylogeny, there is horizontal gene transfer. Christianity is a particular nasty case, IMHO you can learn more about some of its peculiarities then by looking at the various religions and philosophies in late Roman Antique like Manicheism, Stoa, the cult of Dionysos, Orpheus, Herakles and like than by looking at Antique Judaism; but then, the same may be true for certain ideas in Rabbinical Judaism, like the Book of Zohar.

And then, there is a term in Roman Catholicism called 'full communion', which applies to two churches, err, two branches of the church, namely the RCC and several Near Eastern churches, recognising each other as having the same doctrines, rituals and like; BTW, some of the Eastern churches split from the Orthodox Church before the Latin Schism in the 11th century, namely there were several splits during Chalcedon, and from their point of view, it were the Orthodox that split from them. From then on, things can get REALLY confusing, e.g. if you look at the Keralan Churches and try to get if they are 'Nestorian' dyophysitism, miaphysits or whatever, guess they don't know it themselves[1]; and to give them some due, at least part of the hazzle was politically motivated; it's no random coincidence the Nestorians fared quite well in the Sassanid empire, the archbuddy of Rome, and one of the Miaphysite strongholds was in Egypt...

[1] It's one of the little joys of a cultural Roman Catholic practicing atheist agnostic[2] to ask our Protestant brothers in Christ about the little nuances of their schisms... [2] Yes, I see the contradiction, but the RCC beats most other Tracht tradition groups.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on November 23, 2010 9:52 AM.

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