Two Recent English Language Use Changes: Invention and Omission

These two changes show how republicanism and atheism are slowly beginning to impact language use.


426799067_55027d4244_zSince the General Election on June 8, 2017, and the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower Fire, I have been listening to and watching media broadcasts more than usual, and have noticed two significant changes in language use.

One change is limited to a very specific occasion, though it has been growing in popularity over the years.  It is quite consciously deliberate and requires a degree of determination, even courage, on behalf of the speaker.  The other change is usually less obvious, though it too requires a slight degree of determination (if less planning than the other one).  The second one has been around for a lot longer and is growing in popularity (and acceptability).

Continue reading “Two Recent English Language Use Changes: Invention and Omission”

The Spinoza Problem

On one level, it was a book about two very different influential figures separated by three hundred years. It was interesting to learn about seventeenth century Jewish life in Amsterdam, and about Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. However, two factors gave the writing much more significance and impact.

51ks87xytml-_sx320_bo1204203200_This book has much to commend it, despite the ending which I found disappointing.

As I read the book I was thinking of giving it a five star rating, and the phrase that kept coming into my head was “a very satisfying read”. I had initially purchased the book on the strength of having previously read Yalom’s psychotherapy books, and another of his novels (which has what must be the most unattractive title for many readers – When Nietszche Wept). That novel, and his professional books, convinced me that the author could write very accessible prose on potentially challenging subjects, and that he was able to create characters with real psychological depth.

This book was satisfying on so many levels. It was written after the author was inspired by a visit to the Spinoza museum in Rijnsburg where he learned that Alfred Rosenberg (the intellectual force behind much of the Nazi anti-semitism) had deliberately and personally stolen the library of the Jewish philosopher.  Continue reading “The Spinoza Problem”

Ambition of Men

Given the limited scope, the book, on the surface sounds as if it could have been very boring. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

29397486I had been an admirer of Harris’s work for a number of years and bought this on the strength of his ability to inform, tease, and entertain me. I have to say that I found this the strangest of his thrillers to date, and yet one which was at the same time, satisfying.

What is different about the book is the extremely limited scope. There is limited terrorism, gunfire, bombs, and death, but all this takes place in a very minor capacity, almost at a tangent to the central focus. All of the main “action” takes place within the Vatican – within two buildings, in fact. The “action” is simply the election of a new pope.

Given the limited scope, the book, on the surface, sounds as if it could have been very boring. However, nothing could be further from the truth. By limiting his attention Harris has succeeded in creating a very intense, powerful portrayal of a religious and political intrigue. Continue reading “Ambition of Men”

Triple Abuse in Education

Schools where there is a variety of religious views (including those with none) provide the means where children can come in contact with differences on a regular basis and learn that there is more to human beings than the presence or absence of a religious creed.

510750075_eeee488cd6_zThe British Government’s recent decision to allow full religious discrimination in school admissions, and the view of the Scottish Government that sixth formers are not allowed to withdraw themselves from religious observances in schools, are abusive and dangerous in at least three ways.

Abusive to Society

One of the ways in which human beings learn to change their views is not particularly through rational argument (though that sometimes can happen), but through prolonged exposure to, and contact with difference.  Many of us can testify how having to work for a long period with someone different (for example, from a different race, a different culture, or a different sexuality) has helped us identify our previously unacknowledged prejudice, and helped us modify our opinions.   Continue reading “Triple Abuse in Education”

Mother Teresa and the Cat

The NHS could do with a few miracles at the moment to help relieve the pressure from using science, but strangely the miracle workers never seem to be able to convincingly help out in sufficient numbers.

510750075_eeee488cd6_zI have a strange relationship with my neighbour’s cat.  At best we can be said to tolerate each other.  We view each other suspiciously and then I glare, hoping he will go away.  He sees my garden as his personal fiefdom.  I frequently challenge that perception and sometimes secretly wonder what life will be like once he has “passed on”.

But, bear with me … just suppose that he did “pass on”.   And just imagine that I had this strange conversation with my neighbour afterwards.  She tells me: “Tiddles was a perfect cat.  He got rid of the mice and occasionally bought me dead birds as a present.  I accidentally walked over the spot at the bottom of my garden where he was buried yesterday and I felt a strange sensation in my foot.  When I got to bed I noticed that my bunion was healed.  It was a miracle.  I know for certain that he has immediately gone to be with my invisible friend in the sky, and I know that when I want my other bunion healed, I can either walk on his grave again or I can talk to Tiddles who, I know for certain, will talk to my invisible friend for me and get it fixed.”

I go inside, put the kettle on, and make a mental note to self to avoid future neighbourly chats at the garden fence as much as possible.  What she said to me is wrong, on so many levels!  
Continue reading “Mother Teresa and the Cat”

My Five Problems With Prayer

If prayer really works, why does god never heal amputees?

426799067_55027d4244_zI used to pray, but I don’t any more.  For nearly 40 years I prayed in the mornings and evenings; I sometimes prayed when driving alone;  I prayed privately and in public;  I prayed silently and out loud.  Now, I no longer pray.

For an account of how I lost my faith see Jesus Didn’t Work For Me.  But I want to focus in this post specifically on prayer.  After many, many hours spent doing it (I think I have some credibility in this area, and over a lifetime have perhaps spent more hours doing it than many of my readers and objectors), I have now five problems with it.

The beneficence failure

If prayer is, in part, at least, about asking good things for people from a good, all-powerful and all-knowing god, why doesn’t the good, all-powerful and all-knowing god just grant the requests before they are asked for the benefit of everybody concerned?  Why do I have to ask a good god to make good things happen?

If prayer really works, what kind of deity denies good things happening to others on the basis of my inadequate prayers or my inability to pray?   What kind of parent would say, “I’m not feeding your young sister because you failed to ask me to give her food, or you asked for the wrong things, or you were a naughty boy when you asked”?

Why should an imperfect me have to persuade a god to do good?   Continue reading “My Five Problems With Prayer”

Jesus Didn’t Work For Me

I became more and more uneasy with the template for humanity that I had inherited from my Christian faith. If I was honest with myself, I knew how difficult (and superficial) change really was, and that neat Christian solutions to change often only tackled the surface, leaving deeper issues untouched. It no longer seemed good enough to exhort people (and myself) to stop doing things because they were “wrong”.

426799067_55027d4244_zI used to be an evangelical Christian. On July 2nd, 1966, I got ’saved’. I literally came out – I got up out of my seat in front of family and friends at a Billy Graham rally at the age of 13, and decided to follow Jesus. That faith and commitment lasted for a long time, at least until 2000. I was a lay preacher, a pastoral counsellor, a church leader, and a Christian author. I was in hook, line, and sinker. However, over the past fifteen years I have slowly abandoned that faith.

Of course, I know that if my Christian friends were reading this they would say that I am trying too hard. That the fact that I am having to write about it just proves how insecure I am in my new atheism. I would argue that since so many of them ask me about what has happened to me I have had to think things through, for their benefit, and to make sense of the massive change for myself. It didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen in any neat, logical order, but it has happened, and what is written below is a poor attempt at an explanation after the event.  Continue reading “Jesus Didn’t Work For Me”