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When is a Cult not a Cult?

Reported in The Guardian today: Teenager faces prosecution for calling Scientology 'cult':

A teenager is facing prosecution for using the word "cult" to describe the Church of Scientology. The unnamed youth was served the summons by City of London police when he took part in a peaceful demonstration opposite the London headquarters of the controversial religion.
Officers confiscated a placard with the word "cult" on it from the youth, who is under 18, and a case file has been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.
...
The teenager refused to back down, quoting a 1984 high court ruling from Mr Justice Latey, in which he described the Church of Scientology as a "cult" which was "corrupt, sinister and dangerous". After the exchange, a policewoman handed him a court summons and removed his sign.
...
The City of London police came under fire two years ago when it emerged that more than 20 officers, ranging from constable to chief superintendent, had accepted gifts worth thousands of pounds from the Church of Scientology. The City of London Chief Superintendent, Kevin Hurley, praised Scientology for "raising the spiritual wealth of society" during the opening of its headquarters in 2006. Last year a video praising Scientology emerged featuring Ken Stewart, another of the City of London's chief superintendents, although he is not a member of the group.
Right, that's it.

I don't care whether Scientology is a "cult" or a "religion", however you slice or dice those terms. Personally, I think the two are interchangeable; your respectable religion is that other guy's cult, and vice versa.

But I am now officially fed up with this public bending-over-backwards to be respectful and sincere towards superstitionists of every stripe, to the point that religion trumps freedom of speech, as this case demonstrates so clearly. And the religious still aren't satisfied — they're out for more. I see no distinction between Christianity, Islam, and Scientology, in this respect: if you give them an inch they'll try and take a mile, as witness the ambush vote on lowering the age limit for abortion that the god botherers have tacked onto the current embryology bill.

We need to kick the bishops out of the House of Lords, ban the Police and judiciary from taking donations from religious organizations, and get religion out of politics by any means necessary.

(Meanwhile, I'm going to take my blood pressure meds, add a pain killer on top for the headache, and go and lie down somewhere dark for a while ... you'd think I'd have learned better than to read the newspapers first thing in the morning by now!)

UPDATE: The Crown Prosecution Service has told the City of London Police that there's no case to answer; the Police force in question issued a public statement that included the following gem: "The CPS review of the case includes advice on what action or behaviour at a demonstration might be considered to be 'threatening, abusive or insulting'. The force's policing of future demonstrations will reflect this advice."

92 Comments

1:

Charlie,

Watch that headache! Sounds as if you've been worldwalking. :-)

P.S. I wholeheartedly subscribe what you said above.

2:

I agree, get religion out of politics by any means
- globally and once and for all

3:

Buddy - you really should have left the paper's until later in the day.

You know I'm all for complete freedom of speech, including allowing religion to talk etc. But neither party should be able to act to the detriment of the other.

[PARAGRAPH CENSORED BY MODERATOR]

I really would, one day, like to see some kind of time line of exactly how the fuck they managed to get so powerful. I mean, seriously, the Jesus story is a hard enough one to believe it - how the crap do folk go in for "Piled humans around a volcano and set it off".

Mate, now I need some meds.

4:

Hi Charlie, interesting post, couple of comments:

I take it that the reasoning behind the identification of cult with religion is something like - paradigmatic cults and paradigmatic religions are both based on false belief systems, they both try to persuade unbelievers to believe by more or less subtle methods of indoctrination, they both extract money from their followers etc. While many of those observations seem right it's an unhelpful move to then identify cults with religions on that basis. Sure, we're going to struggle to give necessary and sufficient conditions for either but there does seem to be a clear difference between say the People's Temple and the Church of England - it might be only a matter of degree but there's still a difference.

I think it might be a little strong to label all religious beliefs as superstitions. It may well often be the case that there are those whose religious beliefs are mere superstitions, but there are others whose religious beliefs amount to something far more than that. The notion of superstition carries with it something like the claim that the belief is ad hoc or not based on empirical evidence or posits some sui generis entity or kind to explain something that could be explained without such a positing. But the more sophisticated religious practitioners don't have mere superstitious beliefs, the beliefs are based in part on empirical observations, perhaps of their own feelings of faith or on religious texts and testimonies, on the complexity of the world around them etc. These beliefs are then combined into a kind of inference to the best explanation account which posits some kind of religion, perhaps because they think this is the most parsimonious account or the most elegant and simple account that explains these phenomena - just the sort of justifications made by scientists. Now you may well not be persuaded by such an account, but it doesn't look like mere superstition any more, perhaps instead it is a breakdown in reasoning or a misinterpretation of the empirical data.

Nevertheless, no matter how non-derogatory one is about religious belief (and I think we should be considerably less derogatory than say Dawkins is as this mode of debate doesn't do the secular any favours), I think you're right to argue that one's freedom of speech shouldn't be curtailed. I wouldn't get arrested for holding up a sign saying 'String Theory is an idiotic fiction' so I shouldn't get arrested for making some similar comment about a religion. Both are belief systems and so both are capable of revision and ought to be allowed to be challenged in a public arena. Of course we shouldn't countenance racial hatred and there is the concern that what purports to be say anti-Islam is in fact anti-people from Pakistan or some such, but I think all that calls for is intelligent assessment of the intended force of the religion and religious-bashing (verbal bashing that is), not a new law that disallows all religion-bashing.

5:

Oh and as an aside - I noticed this paragraph at the end of the Guardian article:

"A spokeswoman for the force said today: "City of London police had received complaints about demonstrators using the words 'cult' and 'Scientology kills' during protests against the Church of Scientology."

So seeing as the police warning was given "within five minutes" (or a very sudden period), who exactly complained to quickly?

Maybe Al-queda members can have documentation removed that describes them as terrorists as it's insulting and libelous?!

6:

Keith: my position on religion in general is most accurately represented by Richard Dawkins (with the one proviso that I think he can come across as needlessly abrasive and rude at times).

General warning: given the Church of Scientology's history of litigation, I will delete without notice any comments that I believe are potentially libelous. And if they're repeated I will ban the poster and/or close and delete the entire comment thread. This specifically goes for any anti-Scientology invective or allegations. My understanding is that under UK law I am potentially liable for the content of any comments here, and I do not want to be on the receiving end of a lawsuit. (Sorry, Serraphim, you got a bit too close to the edge there.)

7:

To clarify that last posting ...

Statements of personal opinion, such as "I think all Xists are idiots", are hard to prosecute, because you're describing your own state of mind.

Statements of fact, such as "all Xists are idiots", are potentially libelous (insofar as they damage the reputation of Xists), and under English law I'd have to not only prove the truth of the proposition in court but also demonstrate that it was not libelous, whether or not it was true.

If you want to know what you can and cannot say here, a handy starting point is this blog posting on what constitutes libel in England.

Note in particular the nickname defense.

8:

No worries and apologies Charlie. Considering what we're talking about I should have used more tact. I'll keep in mind if I contribute to this conversation any further.

9:

Ah, gotcha. So I can safely say "It is my strictly personal opinion that all Fluffy Pink Elephants are idiots"?

10:

That's okay. I should just note for the peanut gallery that while I live in Scotland, my server is in London ... hence subject to English libel law (rather than the somewhat more user-friendly Scottish law of Defamation).

11:

Sophia8: yes, you got it. Also, "All [insert random nickname here] are idiots", where [insert random nickname here] is not a name that the general public would normally associate with the real subject of discussion.

If you've ever paged through a copy of Private Eye, you might note that they're always talk in terms of Tony "Smiler" Blair or George "The Hat that Walks Like a Man" Bush. Silly nicknames, finely honed after expensive advice from M'Learned Friends.

12:

You think you have it bad over there in the UK? Come here in Italy!
Even if the bishops and priests protest, your Parliament doesn't cower to their request. Here in Italy, thanks to the Roman Catholic Church power we have a law about in vitro fecundation that is a disgrace for a civil country: you can create up to three embryos for procedure, so if something goes wrong at the first try, as it happens in a relevant percentage of cases, you have to restart everything, including the heavy hormonal injections to stimulate ovulation, then you must implant all the embryos that are created, and you can't select the strongest ones or check them for genetic diseases.
That means that if you or your partner are healthy carriers of cystic fibrosis, or thalassemia, or Huntington's corea, or any other deadly genetic disease, the law says that you must implant the ill embryos, abort them at the third month of pregnancy and then restart from the beginning.

Thank you, Christians. Thank you, Catholics.

13:

If I ever go demonstrating against Scientology, I'll have "I think Scientology is a" in small letters before the word CULT.

14:

Charlie- while Dawkin's end conclusion (religious beliefs are false) might be correct I wouldn't place too much weight on his methods for arriving at that conclusion. From what I've seen of him his argument is crude and without nuance. A better place to look would be some experts in this area, i.e. philosophers of religion. You wouldn't go to Kripke or Putnam for evolutionary theory so why go to Dawkin for philosophy?

15:

@4

Surely the difference between established religion and superstition is a matter of degree, - that of organization and money (power over us ordinary folks). [You wont catch me rattling_forks_in_draws but it oviously works for some people.]
Religion works because it is part of the background miazma, it's 'common sense'. And that alone should get any right thinking being's hackles up imediately. (Common sense being a very stupid, but very successful, short-term hack for dealing with the world.)I'm working on the suposition that some part of the hind brain likes a little superstition (it keeps the real_dark at bay) but when superstition gets management that's when you want to worry.

Keep it up Charlie you doing good

16:

If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!

17:

Of course you shouldn't go to Dawkins either.

18:

Personally I'd always assume than anyone religious is mentally unstable and act accordingly. Of course on further examination many aren't, since they don't really believe any of it. However there are sizeable minority that do; the type that really do think they hear the word of god. Treat such people the way you would treat someone who heard Joan of Arc - preferably with medication. Obviously never let them near power (but then again the CoE don't tend to believe in god, so that's OK)

[DELETED BY MODERATOR]

Frankly there is no cause to give any church any special position. They should all get lumped into the same bucket as Dixons and made to substantiate their advertising.

19:

Remember though not all people are the same, they can't rely or believe in themselves. And whilst it's easy enough to throw derogitory terms around about 'weak' people, who fear what's real.

That doesn't mean they're any less afraid. Sometimes a little light can get you through the day.

Of course some of what we're discussing is the possibility that some religions are not there for support and help. But may be counter-productive.

Whether this be true or not is part of some of the demonstrations, where folk are of the opinion that certain organisations actually work to the detriment of the populous - and this should be something that is looked into.

If these organisations have 'nothing' to worry about, then certain agencies should be allowed to freely investigate.

The same has been done to many mainstream religions when there are concerns of abuse or corruption (be it monetary or political) - it has been examined and either dismissed or acted on.

One wonders if the same should happen here - to finally put everyone's mind to rest

(sweet gods I hope that was ok!)

20:

Germany seems to have an interesting attitude to scientology although it's probably a bit hypocritical; anyone who annoys Tom Cruise is OK in my eyes.

Also interesting that your site's spell checker thinks scientology should be capitalized. I don't.

21:

More practically, is there some sort of defence fund?

22:

Another article about Police handling religion badly: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/may/18/islam.religion

If you want to support legal defence against this kind of abuse by the authorities, I'd suggest bunging Liberty a few quid.

23:

Whenever my wife gets fed up with the state of things in the U.S. and says we should maybe move to the U.K., she reads a story like this and realizes that there's no escape from the crazy, no matter where we go.

The last paragraph of that story should end with: "THAT IS NOT OKAY!" All-caps. An inch high.

24:

I'd like to see religion purged from politics as much as anybody, but I wonder how much good it would really do. It wouldn't get rid of the thinking processes that lead one to join a cult, it would simply remove the most high-profile organizations.

There are plenty of non-religious people who still have strange ideas of how logic and reason work. Here in the U.S. those who do not pay homage to a sky ghost still fall prey to specious resoning of advertising, common sense and group-think. After religion, do we fight capitalism? After that what? MAD deterrence theory? Cults of celebrity?

I think that for many of us, while religion is the most visible and odious example of cult thinking, and the most visible when introduced into political debate, what is really irritating us is poor thinking and reasoning skills and our being forced to comply with the fruits of poor reasoning.

Ultimately I believe the fight against illogic is a losing one. Stamping out the resulting behavior and supporting groups merely forces those whose logic is based on what feels right to find another outlet.

Even if every fundie in the world became a scientist, it would just mean that science would have become corrupted. Their thinking won't change.

25:

Okay, that's it.

I'm moderating all comments for the next 48 hours.

(Sorry, but someone upthread posted something potentially actionable and I had to censor it. Folks, I am serious about this. Read comments #6 to #10 before posting here.

26:

It is sad that we (US and UK residents) live in a police state without freedom of speech. It's starting to seem hopeless. Maybe I need to go get a religion.

27:

Charlie, I agree completely - we need to concentrate on the separation of Church and State (before the Church *becomes* the State...).

-M

28:

The term 'cult' by itself isn't that useful a descriptor, so experts like Steven Hassan specify "destructive cult" for corrosive organizations like... Aum Shinrikyo and acknowledge that 'cult' can mean any group with non-mainstream beliefs.

Dr. Robert Lifton's classic eight criteria for thought reform or Steve Hassan's BITE model are good resources for differentiating unhealthy and destructive cults such as the Branch Davidians from organizations with some cultlike qualities such as the US Marine Corps. The Marines are big on behavior control, but they're open about what you're going to be learning and experiencing, and they don't score highly on Information or Emotional control.

One of the techniques Steve Hassan recommends for talking to someone in the grips of a destructive cult is to talk about some other group other than the one in question. This way, some information can get in without raising the cult-programmed defenses, and eventually your friend or relative may put two and two together on their own. If you're interested in destructive cults, it pays to learn about a few alternate ones like Strong City.

29:

I agree get religion out of politics and the law too.
I know how you feel sometimes I need to reach for the headache pills then go and lie down after watching or reading about religious fundamentalists of any stripe.
You would have had another one if you had watched the despatches programme on 19/05/08
It does worry me how they manage to have so much influence.
I used to think we had freedom of speech sometimes I wonder
if we still do.
Don't get me started about faith schools, academies and creationism.

30:

Playing the devil�s advocate and harkening back to the recent discussion on the potential of a singularity�why aren�t those that believe the transition of mankind into a posthuman society properly categorized as a cult? This belief seems to involve as much faith as science.

31:

Xeno: it's not for nothing that Ken MacLeod named the singularity "the Rapture of the nerds".

32:

The whole question of what is a cult has nothing to do with us bystanders on the sidelines*; it's strictly about one religion calling another "kettle". What's important to me is not what one group of religionists call themselves, or what they call another group; what matters is what they do. I don't have any trouble seeing as pernicious acts like what happened in Jonestown or the Rancho Rajneesh melodrama in Oregon in the mid '80s (google for "Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh salad bar"). If it walks like a duck it's a duck, whether you call it a cult, a sect, a church, or a government.

The key point is that no organized group with a private agenda (read: "no organized group"; every group has an agenda), should be allowed to make valuable gifts of cash, kind, or services to public officials, most especially those who control or strongly influence law enforcement. With the great example of what's happened in the last seven years in the US, particularly in the Department of Justice, and the way in which Dark Lord Cheney has feathered his Halliburton once-and-future nest-egg**, you'd think anyone could see the sense of that.

I believe UK law has the notion of "perversion of justice"; that's what I think is at risk when you allow undue influence on the law enforcement and punishment systems. The only weapon I know of that works on situations like this is the light of day, followed by scorn, public humiliation, and prosecution. It sometimes takes awhile (again, see the US in the Bush administration), but only if officials are afraid of the consequences of being found out will they be deterred from pocketing the bribes given them. In that respect I wonder just what the motives of those who established the English libel laws were.

* I'm not an atheist, but I'm strongly of the opinion that organized religion has nothing to do with any god or gods; it's all about power, control, wealth, and influence among human institutions. Believe in any supernatural being, force, essence, or principle all you want; don't insist anyone else needs to.
** There must be more efficient ways to steal a few billion dollars than starting a land war in Asia, but I guess if you don't have to clean up the mess, the waste isn't going to be important.

33:

Bruce, the English libel laws in their current form took shape in, IIRC, the 17th or 18th century. It's a recent series of perverse court decisions about how they should apply to the internet, and the withdrawal of government-subsidized legal aid for defending civil cases, that has turned them into such a huge tar pit, although they were never terribly good to begin with.

34:

Charles--if those that believe in the singularity constitute a cult, then can attackers of this "cult" be sued in the UK?

35:

Even if you don't particularly believe in religion, at least the old ones like Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc. have some aesthetic and cultural value. Nice traditions, art, etc. That can't be said for some of the newer ones......

At least the Wiccans/Pagans try to pretend the have a long history and tradition.

36:

Charlie -- While I'm sympathetic to what you say about the special status afforded to various religions . . . wouldn't a common-sense reform of the English libel laws go a long way toward improving things here? Many a headline-worthy case of English libel would be laughed out of court in the U.S. - and rightfully so, in my biased opinion.

37:

But if you kick the bishops out of the House of Lords, you might end up with replacements that actually believe in God...(said partially tongue in cheek)

38:

I'm a religious believer myself, though not in any of the creeds up for discussion right at the moment, and I agree very strongly about the need for a genuinely secular state. I'd love to see people taking bribes from sectarian groups bounced all the way out of office; I'd also like to see them held up as objects of scorn, but that requires work on public opinion yet. I don't think that there's any legitimate function of the state that requires them to take notice of whether group X should or should not be called a cult. (Whether it's engaging in behavior that some people refer to in deciding that it is or isn't a cult, sure, when it gets into infringements on others' liberties, the ability to enforce the law, and so on. But not the labeling.)

A society in which Charlie isn't at liberty to say that I believe in mystical BS, and others can't make other observations of similar structure, is one in real trouble when it comes to letting anyone get at the truth.

39:

From the report you link to, it does seem that there is a strange, and potentially unlawful, connection between the scientologists and the City of London Police. But we can't tell if this connection included any of the Police Officers involved.

The problem is that the CPS has a reputation for poor management of cases, historically suffering from a shortage of sufficiently experienced personnel able to judge the merits of the case. It is all too possible that this case will be quietly dropped only a few days before the due court date.

Since the teenager accused apparently has a citation for the claim, and other judges, in other courts and other countries, have expressed similar views of the Church of Scientology, this does seem a case which should quickly fall apart. Unfortunately, there is the hidden crime of "arguing with a cop", sometimes known as "looking at a police officer with intent to be funny".


40:

Though I do think there was an EU ruling to do with the 'McLibel two' that had some bearing on legal aid. I'm not sure if Brits are now entitled to it or not during libel, but it was ruled against the UK that 'we' should provide such aid.

They do, in general, however seem to have been used to further whittle away at the populations basic freedom of speech.

As can be seen even here (no offence meant Charlie) in that we're all currently edge of seat, as we type, worried that if 'they' won't get us 'they' will get Charlie.

If I wasn't really useless at such things I'd be sorely tempted to move to more than hot air - but I do know my limits, and I'd do more harm than good!

41:

Tim @36: Yes. (The libel law needs to go.)

Serraphin @40: nope, you're not entitled to legal aid during libel. You may not even be entitled to it during a criminal trial. They've been cutting back on it like crazy in recent years ... and guess what? How are you going to appeal your application for legal aid being turned down if you can't afford and lawyer and don't have legal aid?

42:

Get some exercise. It could save your life. It only costs a bit of time.

As for politics, some of the first good news i've heard in a bit is that the internet is having an impact. In particular, at least here in the states, is that microdonations are outstripping corporate campaign donations. That could mean that candidates might be funded by lots of people, not just a few with an axe to grind.

43:

I know there's probably not much point in proposing a non-derogatory definition for a cult.

But my opinion is the difference between a religion and a cult is a that a religion has survived the death of its founder. It takes a certain amount of organizational structure to make it past the charisma of the original founder.

44:

Actually I have this theory that the "great filter" is religion.

Species evolve intelligence so that they can predict (and therefore) exploit patterns in nature... however that imperfect evolution leads them to seeing patterns which don't exist.

If you're seeing patterns which aren't there, you will get conflicting results from observing the world -- you will get different explanations of the world which can't all be true but for which there is no way to determine between them.

Intelligence outstrips evolution and before better brains capable of distinguishing the correct one out of the false "truths" arrive, the species kills itself trying instead to sort out which group is "right" using the tools at hand...

We have the tools to kill us all. And we also have people who would use them rather than share the planet with people they think are wrong about something.

The great filter is that the aliens, like us, got the ability to kill themselves off before they gained the ability to not want to.

45:

"I am now officially fed up with this public bending-over-backwards to be respectful and sincere towards superstitionists of every stripe, to the point that religion trumps freedom of speech"

Agree entirely, Charlie. We should show the same zero tolerance to these cults (especially the bigger ones) as they show everyone else. I have no problem with people believing whatever they like, however absurd it may seem to those outside the religion, but don't try to tell me what I can believe. It's quite simple. Even idiots like Smiley Tom and Comeback John should be able to understand it.

46:

As one of the "superstitionists" you've derided in your post... I uh... agree with you. Religion has no business getting mixed up in politics, just as politics has no business getting mixed up in religion. Of course, constitutions generally only apply to the latter rather than the former, which leads to some confusion now and then.

That said, "superstitionists" is kinda excessive. I have perfectly sane reasons for believing what I believe. Faith and Insanity really aren't quite the same thing. You're more than welcome to object.

If my faith was derided as a cult (I'm not entirely sure but I think it just was), I'd probably object, but certainly wouldn't go suing anyone or asking the police to deal with peaceful protesters. My faith requests that I "turn the other cheek" and, for the most part, I've gotten passed the hurt ego that results.

Personally, I've felt the Anonymous protests around the world have largely struck an appropriate and commendable balance of humor, activism, and courtesy. A very rare and admirable combination.

47:

So I can say what I like about Jesus, Dead Aliens and the Tooth Fairy, Right? (Not that I would disrespect any of them)......But if I form a group that worships the almighty Tooth Fairy (maybe giving a few cash donations to dentistry) you can't call it a cult incase I get upset. Then if you do upset my TF group the dentists could accidently use rusty drills unless you make a resonable donation to remind them.... Aww man I used to love the tooth fairy.

Is it all just about control over people?

48:

hmm, reading and history comprehension problems from an author...beauty.

It's not the fact that the sign said scientology is a cult that's the problem here...it's the fact that there's a law such as section V of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act at all. The sign might just as well have said Anything was a cult, or stupid, or a killer. The kid getting his sign pulled had nothing to do with religion... It wasn't the "religious" that passed that law.

49:

There is a magical, wonderful place where religion has no official standing in national politics or government. It's call the United States. Oddly enough, because of our wall between church and state, religion is thriving. Meanwhile in a Europe where state supported religions are common (not just the CoE), religion is moribund and dying.

I'd like to recommend an article entitled "Oh, Gods" by Toby Lester in the 2002 February Atlantic Monthly. The article deals with religious demographics and especially New Religious Movements (NRMs) and the introduction sums up the article's main theme nicely:

"Religion didn't begin to wither away during the twentieth century, as some academic experts had prophesied. Far from it. And the new century will probably see religion explode-in both intensity and variety. New religions are springing up everywhere. Old ones are mutating with Darwinian restlessness. And the big "problem religion" of the twenty-first century may not be the one you think."

So why is religion declining in Europe? From the article:

"The essence of the idea is this: People act rationally in choosing their religion. If they are believers, they make a constant cost-benefit analysis, consciously or unconsciously, about what form of religion to practice."

This is a rather interesting idea: that religious belief should be categorized like any other consumer market. Believers make rational "purchases" of religious "products and services" which meet their current emotional and psychic "needs and wants". This implies that the traditional state supported religions (e.g. the Church of England) are essentially no different than the old state run economies of the former Warsaw Pact, and just as lacking in choices and products to meet consumer needs. Perhaps this explains why Western Europe (especially compared to the US) is spiritually moribund. Apparently Westminister and Chartres are as bad at meeting the spiritual needs of their "consumers" as the old GUM department store in Moscow. Like the former East Block, Western Europe also has its religious equivalent of the black market, newly arrived religious movements like Mormonism and Islam or locally derived non-Abrahamic religions like neo-paganism and druidism.

Assuming that state supported religion is (ironically) the last bastion of old style socialism, what would be the effect on the religious and spiritual "market" of Western Europe if state support for religion were completely discredited and ended? I believe it provides a neat explanation for the apparent paradox that America, while being more religious in belief than secular Europe, has no state support for its religion.

Conversely, it's hard for Europeans to get spiritually interested in what is essentially just another government department (when was the last time you were inspired at the BMV?).


50:

Freedom of speech? Where's the crime? Who's been hurt? This arrest is serious nonsense to the point where I doubt if these reports are true. But then again City of London... the last feudal bit of England. God (sorry) knows what legislation from the 1600s still applies there.

51:

Also interesting that your site's spell checker thinks scientology should be capitalized. I don't.

That's on your machine, not Charlie's site.

52:

"get religion out of politics by any means necessary."

Hi Charlie, i'm sure this would be a noble sentiment if it was actually possible in practice.

Leaving aside that it is actually perfectly reasonable for christians or muslims to get involved in the political process (would you disqualify them for being religious by default ?), for the purposes of such a discussion a militant secularism or atheism is everybit as "religious" a point of view as a more sectarian one.

Why should someones point of view be given extra weight just because they claim not to be religious ? That is just as bigoted as someone who said the reverse.

And frankly, if someone said, "get secularism/atheism out of politics by any means necessary." you'd complain about it as unreasonable, yet you are saying the same thing and seem to think it is perfectly reasonable ?

53:

I think Dave @ 39 has it. If (big if) it gets to court it will collapse under its own weight in a matter of seconds. The discussion of religion in politics here is a good one but the main issue is that an idiot cop decided on her own initiative that the placard was insulting. This could have happened in any situation where Org X was described as a cult, whether Org X was the bunch under discussion here or McDonalds or the Teletubbies.

There may have been other cops present who supported the arrest, but if cop A calls on cop B for backup and cop B thinks cop A is an idiot, he will still support cop A in her actions rather than get into an argument in front of a possible perp.

Conclusion: train the police better. (AND get religion out of politics.)

54:

DC @50 and Ben @53: as Zanzibar @48 points out, the powers under which the arrest were made were created in the recent Criminal Justice and Public Order Act which, basically, make two or more people sneezing together in public by prior arrangement an offense if they haven't previously obtained permission from the police. Passed by our current lovely government, who never saw an oppressive or intrusive regulation they didn't like, in the aftermath of the anti-Iraq war demonstrations. Funny, that.

Jason @52: my issue with religion in politics is that legislation based on sectarian beliefs has the potential to be an onerous imposition on people who do not share those beliefs. For example: last night's debate on lowering the age limit for abortion. This arose as a result of a parliamentary ambush on an embryology bill, organized by a fringe group of mostly-Catholic MPs at the behest of the Catholic church, which has a history of anti-abortion activism. (It was defeated, 304 to 233.) Here's the point: surveys show that around 85% of the UK's population want abortion to be available -- the core of opposition is tiny. And nobody forces Catholic women or other believers in the evils of abortion to have them. But they still want legislation reflecting their beliefs to carry the force of law for that 85% of the population who disagree with them. Why? Because their opposition to abortion is based on the belief that abortion is always wrong, and isn't a religious injunction along the lines of "good Catholics don't have abortion" -- their rejection accepts no borders and brooks no opposition.

That's the classic example; I'm sure you can come up with others. But the core problem is not that people with religious beliefs participate in our political process; it's that religious organizations decree particular forms of behaviour and aspire to use legislation to enforce them on people who are not their co-religionists. To the extent that religions are not democracies, this is probably unavoidable. And I'm sorry, but I think the integrity of our collective system of government trumps their right to dictate how I should live my life.

Finally, Zanzibar: I left that crack you took at me in simply so I could warn you: do it again, and you're banned. This is my soap box, and while I'll put up with honest disagreement, rudeness is right out. (This goes for everyone else, too.)

One other poster, John Q. Reader, has gotten himself banned and all his postings on this thread deleted. I'm sure he can figure out why ...

55:

I think this proposed prosecution must fail.
Why?
"quoting a 1984 high court ruling from Mr Justice Latey"

IF it ever comes to court, this evidence in itself will destroy any attmpt at a libel case.
The teenager was quoting a High Court Judge for Ghu's sake!

Also in my opinion, the CoLPlod were over-reacting, and stupid.

Perhaps a quote from the Late Jack Chalker should also be considered:
"When a cult converts more than 10% of a population, it is to be considered a religion."

56:

Old saying:
The City of London Police Force - the best police force money can buy.

Having had a run in with them, I can confirm that they at least appear to be less than honest.

57:

One further thought on the marvellous qoute from Mr. Justice Latey.

It can be found in full, along with other public-record statements by judges and minsters
http://www.xenu.net/archive/judge_quotes.html

Surely it/they deserve to be inserted, publicly, into any written statement about you-know-who, because, as part of a public Court Record, it is inviolate with respect to the libel laws, since it is a Privileged statement.

( Like those made on the floor of either House of Parliament. )

58:

Remember, the kid is not facing a libel case. English Libel Law is what's worrying Charlie about some of the things people might post.

It's a criminal summons under the Public Order Act, with the file sent to the CPS, and the most likely comnsequence is prolonged anxiety, and the hassles of preparing a defence, while the CPS dithers about whether the case should even go to court.

It's early days on that, but you can go back to Magna Carta to see how old the strictures on delaying justice are. And if you want to argue that the processes followed by the Police and CPS amount to abuse of the rights enshrined in the Human Rights Act, I'll not disagree.

But remember, folks, this is not the USA. We haven't had a Supreme Court strike down this sort of law with talk of "chilling effects". Yes, it's a clear example of such an effect, but this is a different country.

59:

Is it worth clarifying two of the different issues raised here? The libel laws, designed to protect people of good reputation from scurrilous rumourmongers (you and me talking about our betters) clearly need changing. Until then, Charlie (and the rest of us) should continue to be careful about what we put on screen as the various people we discuss are within their rights to sue us.

As noted calling Scientology a cult will almost certainly not be considered libellous. That's not the law the kid is facing prosecution for. The issue is 1. whether calling them a cult it is threatening, abusive or insulting; and
2. are those good enough grounds to prevent people from using those terms to protest?

Cult is derogatory, impolite and critical, but if you can't use terms like that after a High Court Judge has used them, then we might as well shut up shop on freedom of speech and go home. If we can't say what we think is bad about organisations that we're protesting then the small chance the organisation will learn what it is we don't like and maybe do something about it becomes even smaller.

(So, for example, I think the police should be concerned* if I march up and down outside Charlie's house with a sign saying "Burn God-denier Stross at the stake with his books"; but if I picket a bookshop with a "Boycott Charles Stross' books; he is an anti-religous bigot", in a calm and orderly that ought to be within my rights. Not that I want to. But I'd like to have the choice.)

...(would you disqualify them for being religious by default ?)...

Isn't Ken Macleod writing releasing a book very soon with something like this attitude as part of the plot?

* although they should show some judgement

60:

Is truth a defense against charges of libel or slander in the UK nowadays?

I have to admit, whenever I read about British laws on libel or slander, I am very grateful for the Zenger case.

Because of it, we don't have absurdities like a recent case in the UK, where a fugitive rapist was able to win an action without having to set foot in the UK (which might have gotten him deported to the US to finally serve time for his crime) and the judges in the case spent a lot of time talking about how justice was served by the man being able to testify via video link.

Of course, we're slowly eliminating jury nullification in the US, so maybe we didn't learn that much from the Zenger case at all.

(Charlie-I think your safe with what I've written, but I'll survive if you have to delete it.)

61:

Marty: Truth is not a defense. You have to prove that not only was the statement true, but that it didn't damage the complainant's reputation.

Also: if a libel is committed anywhere in the world, and just one person in the UK reads it, then the British courts are happy to hear the case.

Finally: the typical costs of hiring a defense team to argue your case are on the order of £2000-10,000 per day.

It's often cheaper to sell your house and offer the proceeds to the plaintiff in return for a full and final settlement.

62:

Just to clarify my position:

* The kid who's being prosecuted (probably) is nothing to do with libel and everything to do with the CJA and its onerous restrictions on public assembly.

* My itchiness about libel is entirely distinct, and relates to a certain organization who have a record of pursuing their critics through the courts. The tendency of some folks on the internet to spout off intemperately would -- if they did so on my blog -- give such an organization all the ammunition they need to nail my hide to the high court's door. If I didn't ride herd on them, that is. (Hence the comment moderation policy.)

63:

Charlie @ 54

Passed by our current lovely government, who never saw an oppressive or intrusive regulation they didn't like, in the aftermath of the anti-Iraq war demonstrations. Funny, that.

Ha. Ha. [/humorless laughter] The joke's been used too much recently; it's not really funny anymore.

But the core problem is not that people with religious beliefs participate in our political process; it's that religious organizations decree particular forms of behaviour and aspire to use legislation to enforce them on people who are not their co-religionists.

And the key word here is "organization". The issue is not with personal religion, Jason Rennie, it's with an organized group's attempt to foist its religious practices and proscriptions on people who aren't willing members of their group.

And I'm sorry, but I think the integrity of our collective system of government trumps their right to dictate how I should live my life.

I agree completely, and I'm not in the slightest sorry.

64:

"Personally, I think the two are interchangeable; your respectable religion is that other guy's cult, and vice versa."

Charlie, don't be an idiot. There's a clear difference between the usage in English, and [CENSORED].

It needs to be banned, as any violent and criminal group regardless of what it calls itself, need to be banned. Lumping it together with mainstream religion just gives them the protection they seek, and leads *directly* to situations like this where someone can get into trouble for criticising them.

And you would accomplish by "get(ting) religion out of politics by any means necessary" is, like America, make it impossible to point out the religious basis of certain policys. Also, this is a democracy. Many people are religious. Religion will play a role in politics if you like it or not, and trying to distort the system because of your own predudices is wrong.

65:

Andrew, I happen to think that mainstream organized religious movements are all dangerous to the health and well-being of their followers. Jehovah's Witnesses and their position on blood transfusions spring to mind. Or Catholicism and safe sex, never mind abortion. Orthodox Judaism? Well, with a TFR of 6.9 among the Haredim it's certainly not doing their women any favours -- "barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen" springs to mind. Militant Islam doesn't need any additional denunciation, I'm sure you can fill in the dotted line yourself. Hinduism? See also: arranged marriages, caste system, untouchables. Buddhism is harder for me to address because it's a lot less familiar over here, but I'm sure if you give me a while I could dig up some muck to sling.

To be sure, there are many decent, honest, and morally upright followers of those religions who are also tolerant and liberal in their dealings with others. Indeed, the vast majority of people, of any religion or none, tend to behave well the majority of the time. But the more hierarchical and scripturally dogmatic an organized religion is, the worse the damage it inflicts on its followers -- and on the people around them.

So, to be perfectly clear: I have no trouble with granting the Scientology the status of a religion, because that in no way implies that I respect their beliefs, think they're grounded in reality, or believe in cutting them any slack.

66:

You're showing bias. Why are you picking on religion over any other form of Human doctrine system? Take marxist-lennist communism. Take the extreme animal rights movement. Take *political party dogma*. Heck, take nationalism, as the bloody history of the Troubles shows.

The only way to differentiate between Human groups is their activities. Groups which use violence, kidnapping and other illegal activities as a routine tactic shouldn't be tolerated, regardless of what they call themselves.

(As a note, Scientology in Israel specifically and explictly denies it is a religon)

Point to me a Lisa McPherson case in Judaism, please Charlie.

67:

My favorite view on Religion, from George Carlin

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeSSwKffj9o

68:

Groups which use violence, kidnapping and other illegal activities as a routine tactic shouldn't be tolerated, regardless of what they call themselves.

But when armies use violence it's OK, like? Because they're the representatives of governments which get to say what's illegal?

69:

Neil Wilcox #59-
my reading of this is that if you turned up outside a bookshop with a sign saying "Boycott Charles Stross' books; he is an anti-religous bigot", and several people complained that your sign was causing them distress for whatever reason, and the policeman on duty didn't have a sense of humour or indeed any sense at all*, then yes, you would likely be charged under the same legislation as this chap in London.


*My dad spent 30 years in the police and noticed that there are lots of idiots in the police, and there is a distressing tendency for them to get promotion because they act the right way to get promotion.

70:

I see no distinction between Christianity, Islam, and Scientology, in this respect: if you give them an inch they'll try and take a mile, as witness the ambush vote on lowering the age limit for abortion that the god botherers have tacked onto the current embryology bill.

This is a remarkable view considering how it's voiced in a land that was formerly rather more Christian than it is today. Does anyone, including Mr. Stross, seriously believe that Christians today are attempting to take the miles that their numbers would permit in either the UK or the USA?

If we wanted a theocracy, we'd have it, especially considering that the USMC has long been led by very evangelical Christians and a significant portion of the US Air Force officer corps is fundamentalist. But the overwhelming majority of even the most fundamentalist evangelicals don't, first because it would contradict the Bible, second because we believe Jesus Christ is entirely capable of setting up his own theocracy whenever he gets around to coming back.

Like a previous commenter, I hope you agree with Dawkins's position and not his reasoning, which is very, very poor indeed. I'd be happy to send you a book that demonstrates this in no little detail if you like.

71:

VD, over here in the UK, although the polls are equivocal -- there's this annoying problem of the Church of England being institutional, meaning that they claim everyone by default who does not explicitly espouse another path -- a considerable majority of the population are agnostic or atheist.

72:

A small point, with regards to most of the complaints about Dawkins: See the The Courtier's reply. Apologies if this goes further off topic.

As far as the distinction between religions and other schools of humanist thought is concerned, the additional respect accorded to religions over other forms of thought is what irritates. If you demand that, for example, abortion should be outlawed because god told you so, I would like some evidence for god. To be told that "faith" should be enough for you is somewhat annoying.

Charlie, you seem to have attracted Theodore Beale (VD). I am sorry for you.

73:

Spike, Ted's been around here for ages.

74:

VD, over here in the UK, although the polls are equivocal -- there's this annoying problem of the Church of England being institutional, meaning that they claim everyone by default who does not explicitly espouse another path -- a considerable majority of the population are agnostic or atheist.

That considerable majority isn't one that I've seen reflected in any of the many polls that I've reviewed, from EuroBarometer to the Herald Tribune. But while I agree with you that Europe's institutional churches make such statistical discussions all but pointless, it doesn't change the fact that the two billion Christians worldwide obviously don't want theocracy or they would have it. Since you are a genuinely brilliant man, it is remarkable that you would believe that Christians are as interested in maximizing their political potential as Muslims or even Dawkinsian New Atheists. I'm sure a few are, but by and large Christians tend to distinguish between Christ and Caesar and have since the appearance of the originals on history's stage.

Now, as the post-Nietzschean French atheist Michel Onfray has mentioned, most Western atheists like Dawkins are Christian atheists, valuing the fruit but not the tree. Can you have the fruit without the tree? I doubt it.

My conjecture is that societal atheism is not a progressive destination, but merely a gateway to pagan polytheism. You likely disagree. Hopefully, we will all live long enough to see how it begins to shake out.

75:

I knew the rules were different in the UK, but that's much worse than I thought they were. I now understand why so many US celebrities run to the British courts to suppress news stories they don't like.

I often read people in the British press complaining about how far the US government thinks its reach goes. The incident where a British executive was arrested for something that is legal in the UK but is extra illegal in the US (since laws to ban it were passed a few years ago in spite of laws banning it already being on the books) comes to mind. Are similar complaints made by the same people about the reach of the British courts?

If I ever have a web presence again, I will block all UK based IP addresses, I guess.

76:

VD: My conjecture is that societal atheism is not a progressive destination, but merely a gateway to pagan polytheism.

I'm not agreeing but that's a bad thing why? Are you suggesting that a different form of faith is a bad thing?
If so how does that square with your comment about democracy?

Just curious...

77:

"Now, as the post-Nietzschean French atheist Michel Onfray has mentioned, most Western atheists like Dawkins are Christian atheists, valuing the fruit but not the tree. Can you have the fruit without the tree? I doubt it."

On the other hand, there is a question whether religious beliefs actually was any sort of actual "cause" when it comes to the development of a cultures ethics or if that is simply an assumption that emerges from a sort of cognitive dissonance since we really don't know exactly how ethical systems develop.

It's not like the 10 Commandments or the Laws of the Hebrews really required some sort of divine origin or needed to be part of a religion for people to recognize their value as values. Many people could have exactly the same beliefs but much different ethical behaviors and on the other hand, many people could have widely varying religious beliefs but have practically the same moral and ethical practices.

The connection between ethics and religion may seem apparent, but I don't think it's real. I think that our ethics emerge socially and probably are a component of our genetics as well, and religion was one attempt to figure out exactly where the hell these behaviors came from. Really, religion seems much more concerned with a metaphysical cosmology that provides rough answers to unanswerable questions, but it isn't exactly or necessarily the source for our beliefs - simply the justification for them.

We have an inborn desire for parental guidance that doesn't go away when we leave our parents or even if one never had parents, so some religions tell us that we have an eternal and all powerful parent. My wife is a Thai Buddhist and the way they worship the Buddha, in daily practice, is not that different from how Christians worship God and Jesus. We're completely shocked by the apparent finality of death, so up pops religion with an explanation that death isn't actually final - instead it is the beginning of a never-ending life in a perfect reasonable universe completely unlike the one we experience every day, and all you have to do to get there is believe all these other things that maintain the mass suspension of disbelief that's necessary to have faith in any religion.

Now, some of these beliefs correspond to a society's ethical and moral code, but really I think is more the tail and not the dog in these cases and often, when it comes to moral decisions, religion becomes the tail wagging the dog.

"My conjecture is that societal atheism is not a progressive destination, but merely a gateway to pagan polytheism. You likely disagree. Hopefully, we will all live long enough to see how it begins to shake out."

I think the world is moving more toward an animistic rather than polytheistic society. Everything is imbued with an apparent spirit and personality, but these are spirits, not gods. The heirarchy of the divine is breaking down in our society.

78:

@ Charlie in comment 61. Truth is an absolute defence, it's the defence of 'justification'.

While I'm not a lawyer, in my career as an editor in the press I've had a lot of experience of the law of libel and a lot of training on the subject and protecting my titles from libel actions has been a large part of my job.

There are several primary defences to a defamation suit under the English Law.

I. Absolute Privilege
The thing was said in Parliament or the Courts, or someone is reporting on such. No case to answer, but it only applies to things said in the chambers or actually in court.

II Qualified Privilege
A much less strong version of the first. Things said in official proceedings and papers and council meetings and things generally in the public record. Reporting or commenting on these things is generally safe, though councils are a funny one - a councillor could make defamatory remarks in the council chamber and be sued for it, but it would be unlikely for say newspapers reporting on it to be successfully sued.

III Public Interest
Not what the public is interested in, but what is in the interests of the polity to be published, for instance allegations of political or business corruption, shady dealings by the police etc, basically that the public need to know this. For the defence to succede their must be a reasonable and honest belief based on evidence that that the statements were true and that there was a genuine benefit in their being brought to the attention of the public and that there was no malice in so doing. This is one of the most common defences to a defamation action.

IV Fair Comment
This is one of the most fraught and dangerous areas of defamation law. For the defence to succeed it must be shown that what was said was a reasonable, fair and honest discussion of the situation, event, person, book, movie, whatever and that there was no malice and even then it can be touch and go. It's why reviews pages (especially after the infamous Yachting World Case) comment/editorial sections get read twice by the lawyers before press time. This is another of the most common defences.

V Justification
To succeed, the defence must show that whatever was said was provably true (on the civil rather than criminal scale). This one is actually rarely used, but it does come up in many of the most famous libel cases, for instance Oscar Wilde vs Queensberry, Jonathan Aitken, Jeffery Archer, David Irving vs Penguin Books.

The test of defamation under the law of England Wales is that it was given out or published so as that someone within the jurisdiction could come across what was said (this why American sue in the English courts), the person/entity defamed is extant (you can't libel the dead for instance) and, most importantly, that what was said would damage the reputation of said person/entity would be damaged in the yees of ordinary, right thinking persons (this is known as the 'man/woman on the Clapham Omnibus test'). They have also to have a reputation left to be damaged, there is a category of infamous persons who have no reputation left to lose, for instance the Yorkshire Ripper - the courts say that the woman on the Clapham bus couldn't think worse of him than they already do. That doesn't, of course, mean that I can say that XYZ (convicted robber) is a murderer without being able to prove it to civil standards.

There's also the category of vulgar abuse, which is not defamatory. This means that I could, say, call Charlie a ratbag c**t on the front page of the Times but he couldn't sue for defamation, as it reflects rather more on me than him, but if I said he made his living as an infamous highwayman then the High Court would be beckoning.

Charlie's concerns about publication and liability for defamation have a serious basis. In the press libel actions can name the writer, the editor, and the publisher, the company that owns the title, plus the printers and distributors (big indemnity insurance there). As I understand current E&W law over the Internet he'd be classed as the publisher of the defamation and his ISP as the distributor so they'd both be in court, but this is not my field.

79:

Interesting article Mr. Stross, I am tired as well of the PC nonsense, but I don't think it came about out of religious fervor. Would not the young man be similarly arrested for carry a place card that said "homosexuality is a sin". I think he would as past cases have shown.

Britain, Canada and Germany seem to all be cracking down on free speech, and the United States seems to not be far behind. I think this is a freedom issue and not a religious one.

Similarly, I believe what you propose is also a freedom issue, if money equal speech. Also you wish to impose an irreligious test on government officials. Welcome to the new world.

80:

Truth isn't a defence however justification is and normally a true statement will be justified. There are rare circumstances in which a true statement can be libellous, specifically reporting a conviction spent under the 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act while true is not justified.

81:

My 2d - talking about the 'division' of Church and state in the UK -
What about "Smiler" not confessing his attraction to the Roman Church while he was in office because he thought 'people would laugh at him' ? Or members of his staff not being able to do their jobs because they couldn't square government policy with their personal beliefs?
Those people weren't religious professionals so should their religion effect their work when the people they represent don't agree with those views?

82:

Having looked into the UK law on contempt of court, it turns out that there is a particular type of contempt known as 'scandalising the court', which consists of abusively criticising a court decision. It has to be more than reasoned disagreement - claiming or implying that the decision is biased, prejudiced or utterly unmerited is required.

Now to me, if saying that a High Court judgment is 'threatening or insulting' isn't such contempt, I don't know what is.

To be frank, I don't think this would actually work as a course of action - if nothing else, it's far too long since the original judgment for comment on it to credibly constitute contempt. Nonetheless, if this chap does end up in court, all his defence lawyer (and trust me, someone will act pro bono in a case like this) will have to do is get the policeman giving evidence to read out the relevant extract from the original court judgment and ask if these are indeed the words complained of. At that point, the judge would pretty much have to find him not guilty, or face some very nasty criticism from the Court of Appeal. ("Oh, so you thought the words of our learned brother constituted public disorder, did you?")

83:

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Ezra Levant's inquisition in Canada. That's another country where people used to think they had freedom of speech.

www.youtube.com/user/EzraILevant

Charlie, you're missing an opportunity to stand up to The Man.

Marty, that's more of an example of restrictions on free enterprise than of freedom of speech, albeit a good one. In that case, it's only partly inspired by religion. The non-internet gambling lobby surely had a hand in making those laws.

84:

'Xeno: it's not for nothing that Ken MacLeod named the singularity "the Rapture of the nerds".'

Which he got from Timothy C. May's "Techno-Rapture" on the extropians list.

But transhumanism, extropianism, even Singularitarianism lack several practical markers of cultdom, such as enforced belief, isolation and other excessive control of members, charismatic leadership, notable resource donation. There might be some similarity, especially with Singularity beliefs, but not a huge amount.

Plus, while there may be some 'faith', or large amounts of optimism about very speculative technologies, or the timelines for them, I'd think the plausibility of most transhumanist ideas is still much higher than that of the supernatural ideas of your standard cult candidates. They at least are extrapolating from existing technical and scientific knowledge, not positing unobservables.

85:

62:
Just to clarify my position:

* The kid who's being prosecuted (probably) is nothing to do with libel and everything to do with the CJA and its onerous restrictions on public assembly.

* My itchiness about libel is entirely distinct, and relates to a certain organization who have a record of pursuing their critics through the courts. The tendency of some folks on the internet to spout off intemperately would -- if they did so on my blog -- give such an organization all the ammunition they need to nail my hide to the high court's door. If I didn't ride herd on them, that is. (Hence the comment moderation policy.)

Posted by: Charlie Stross | May 21, 2008 1:23 PM


Seems has been around for quite some time in the UK.

Another case out of hundreds is the loose extension of the idea of libel. Libel cases bear no more trace
of the old and just anger against the man who bore false witness against his neighbour than "cruelty"
cases do of the old and just horror of the parents that hated their own flesh. A libel case has become
one of the sports of the less athletic rich --- a variation on baccarat, a game of chance. A music-hall
actress got damages for a song that was called "vulgar," which is as if I could fine or imprison my
neighbour for calling my handwriting "rococo." A politician got huge damages because he was said to
have spoken to children about Tariff Reform; as if that seductive topic would corrupt their virtue, like
an indecent story. Sometimes libel is defined as anything calculated to hurt a man in his business; in
which case any new tradesman calling himself a grocer slanders the grocer opposite. All this, I say, is
Anarchy; for it is clear that its exponents possess no power of distinction, or sense of proportion, by
which they can draw the line between calling a woman a popular singer and calling her a bad lot; or
between charging a man with leading infants to Protection and leading them to sin and shame. But the
vital point to which to return is this. That it is not necessarily nor even specially, an anarchy in the
populace. It is an anarchy in the organ of government. It is the magistrates --- voices of the governing class --- who cannot distinguish between cruelty and carelessness. It is the judges (and their very submissive special juries) who cannot see the difference between opinion and slander.
- GK Chesterton

86:

I'm sure a few are, but by and large Christians tend to distinguish between Christ and Caesar and have since the appearance of the originals on history's stage.

So none of them want to impose antiabortion laws on the small minority of us who think a fetus's humanity develops gradually, as opposed to when the Magic Soul Pinky is waved at a cell?

I'm glad to hear it.

87:

Adrian Smith:

I find it curious that abortion has become the focus of so much secularist anger. The establishment of just when something might or might not be human strikes me as an area where you'd want to exercise extreme caution, if history is any guide (or even if speculative fiction is any guide). Believe me when I say this: we Christians who try to use every brain cell we are given don't find this an easy question. I get no sense of gratification at the thought of exercising state power on others. But if governments are there for ANY reason it would seem that equal protection of all humans is a starting place, and extreme caution at declaring who is not human another one.

I would put it this way: the payoff on the one side is so meager (so someone can avoid a few months' pregnancy), and the cost on the other so potentially great (a person denied the chance to live). Why so eager to take that plunge?

88:

VD @ 70

Does anyone, including Mr. Stross, seriously believe that Christians today are attempting to take the miles that their numbers would permit in either the UK or the USA?

Yes. I know of several organized attempts by specific Christian groups to control governmental functions in the US. For one, a number of evangelical ministers have joined the chaplain corps at the US Air Force and are (illegally) proselytizing their religion (Commandant's statement on the subject). For another, a fundamentalist group is training young fundamentalist Christians to be Congressional interns and pages (BBC New story here), gaining political connections and eventual staff positions where they can influence policy in directions agreeable to their group.

When you say "Christians today" you imply that somebody, presumably Charlie, was accusing all Christians of attempting a power grab. Certainly he didn't say that, and I've been agreeing strongly with him and I didn't say that. We, and a number of others, said that some Christian (and other religionist) organizations were doing so. You're arguing with your own strawman, not someone else's statements. Please don't.

89:

"Andrew, I happen to think that mainstream organized religious movements are all dangerous to the health and well-being of their followers."

Mr. Stross, you're too intelligent to expect that one to fly. Every metric of health and happiness shows that Christians are better off than atheists. Atheists marry less often, divorce more often, have fewer children, have greater incidence of mental illness, greater incidence of suicide, and have a lower life expectancy. If religion is dangerous to the health and well-being of its followers, what do you call atheism?

90:

(Ignoring what certainly seems to me to be a bunch of trolling Xtians..)

Charlie, would you be substantially better off if your server - or at least the bits that might need freer speech than other bits - were in the US? I can't imagine you haven't thought of moving it, what is keeping it in England?

Just wondering, mostly.

91:

VD @ 70

Does anyone, including Mr. Stross, seriously believe that Christians today are attempting to take the miles that their numbers would permit in either the UK or the USA?

Yes. I know of several organized attempts by specific Christian groups to control governmental functions in the US. For one, a number of evangelical ministers have joined the chaplain corps at the US Air Force and are (illegally) proselytizing their religion (Commandant's statement on the subject). For another, a fundamentalist group is training young fundamentalist Christians to be Congressional interns and pages (BBC New story here), gaining political connections and eventual staff positions where they can influence policy in directions agreeable to their group.

When you say "Christians today" you imply that somebody, presumably Charlie, was accusing all Christians of attempting a power grab. Certainly he didn't say that, and I've been agreeing strongly with him and I didn't say that. We, and a number of others, said that some Christian (and other religionist) organizations were doing so. You're arguing with your own strawman, not someone else's statements. Please don't.

92:

rycamor @70: "so someone can avoid a few months' pregnancy" ... I take it this means you're not a woman?

Incidentally playing the anger card on your opponents nails you as a troll. Don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.

Papapete @89: in future, when posting flame bait here provide citations or shut the fuck up. (Here's a hint: such claims need to demonstrate causation rather than correlation. Otherwise it's just empty-headed propaganda and an attempt to generate controversy.)

Todd @90: yeah, we seem to have picked up a bunch of trolling fundies overnight. Life's too short for moderating comments by wankers, and this is my soap box, not a forum for god-botherers, so I'm going to close this comment thread forthwith.

Thanks to everybody who contributed in good (heh) faith!

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on May 20, 2008 10:58 AM.

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