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Issue 3, Volume 1 JUNE 2012 Published quarterly by the Pink Triangle Trust – a registered UK charity

THE SCANDAL OF TURKEY’S ‘PINK CERTIFICATES’ Turkish military demands humiliating proof of gayness – see page 4

GAY MARRIAGE: A ‘Nazi plot’ to destroy the Church? – see page 8

Cover picture: Guard of Anitkabir, Ankara/Giancana/ 123RF

Also in this issue: No Mincing Words, p2 • Homophobia in Ukraine, p3 • Humanists and people of faith, p6 • BIFITS: a short story, p12


No Mincing Words! pinkhumanist editor BARRY DUKE

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magine you’re God, Yahweh, whatever. You’re knocking on a bit a now, and feel less inclined, as the years pile on, to be bothered with the minutiae of the life you worked your celestial socks off to create in six days. Six days! Man, that took some doing – but now you can kick back, relax and contemplate some of the glories of your creation: the Aurora Borealis, the Grand Canyon, the Chocolate Hills of Bohol in the Philippines and the Galapagos Islands, to name but a few. On the other hand, let’s be honest, there were an embarrassing number cock-ups along the way: the prepuce, for starters. At some point you must have decided the thing was surplus to requirements. You rectified this gaffe by ordering Abraham to lop off his foreskin when he was 99 years old, and told him to do the same to all males in his tribe, plus all their descendents for all eternity. The result, you can contemplate with perverse pride, is that millions of innocent baby boys are genitally mutilated each year to fulfil that directive. And then there’s the human jaw, which is too small for the number of teeth it holds, and gives rise, among other problems, to impacted wisdom teeth (third molars). Then there’s the platypus. What in heaven’s name were you thinking when you created that? But to my mind your biggest balls-up took place circa 1960, when you permitting a certain Ms Hutton to spawn a sprog in England. Maybe you did so because you needed an ego-boost. Let’s face it. The last few hundred years have seen an increasing growth in scepticism, and more and more folk – “militant atheists”, some call us – actually have the temerity to suggest that you really don’t exist at all. Bob Hutton, I guess, was originally created by you to help reverse this trend But did you really have to choose such a gormless, cowardly little cur to champion your cause? Hutton, in case you’d forgotten, is an evangelical pest; a faceless 50-something Baptist who haunts the Kent area, leaving biblical tracts in public toilets, and prising open food packets in supermarkets to insert “godly” leaflets in cornflake boxes and the like. Hutton first came to my attention when he

thepinkhumanist began peppering the Freethinker website with dozens of tedious comments. Here are a few of many, many examples: • You MUST repent. If you don’t repent then Hellfire awaits you when you die. • Hello there – you really must repent of your unbelief and accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. • Gay activities are sinful and they need to repent. • The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is not a myth, that event actually happened. • Oh dear, you people are so cynical, so full of hate and bitterness! You need Jesus in your lives. • Creationism is the truth. Evolution is evillution. • Hey Barry, where are you? Worshipping at the shrine of Dawkins? You must repent of your unbelief! • Jesus is Lord – you will not silence the followers of Jesus! • Those who refuse to repent WILL end up in Hell – you have been warned! The Freethinker was by no means the only site plagued by this depraved cyber-creep, and eventually he even came to the attention of bloggers outside the UK. On the American The Blessed Atheist Bible Study blog, he is described as “a real nutless butt-plug of a jackass”. Phew! When it finally penetrated Hutton’s thick skull that few would tolerate the manure he was spreading on their sites, he started his own blog which he laughingly called The Gospel Truth. The real truth is that he is too stupid to realise that it serves only to expose the depths of his own sexual repression and self-loathing. More on this from The Blessed Atheist: “Now most people feel a bit guilty of the naughtier thoughts running through their head, but Bob brilliantly avoids this by incorporating kinky shit right into religion. If God loves torture then surely Bob can get off on it a bit. Likely, he fantasizes about joining in all the fun on Judgement Day. Ah, the screams of the tormented, the fear in their eyes, the pleas for mercy, these

are the thoughts that give old Bob a chubby. “Thoughts of red-hot pokers and the rack are his pornography, the tearful pleading of those who have wronged him his erotica. He likely drifts off to such dreams while lying between the mildly damp sheets of his bed. Sad really.” I imagined that, together with his forays into public bogs and food stores – and probably into children’s playgrounds too – he would be kept occupied 24/7. But no! Hutton then took to bombarding me with emails, reminding me in each missive that I was destined for hell, or directing me to a new piece of mindless drivel on his pathetic blog. These I routinely trashed – with one exception. The email I retain is one that serves to remind me what a venomous low-life this “bornagain” creature really is. After reading a piece I had posted in 2010 about my late partner Brian, who succumbed to cancer at the age of 47 in the late 1990s, Hutton penned this: “I’ve been reading your comments on the death of your ‘partner’ Brian at the age of 47 all those years ago. It is sad to hear of someone who died young, my own Dad died at 48 from cancer. I can also see why you so vehemently reject the truth of the Bible. “If the Bible is true and if Brian did not repent of his homosexuality then he is in Hell’s torments. However, an emotional rejection of the Bible because the truth hurts does not help your situation. You MUST repent of all your sins (including gay perversion) and accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. I wite (sic) this letter not to be spiteful but because I am truly concerned for your soul.” If you were God, and this vindictive closetcase came knocking at the Pearly Gates, begging entry on the grounds that he had devoted his life to being the most devout of your PR agents, what would your reaction be? I know what I’d do. I would … nah … on reflection I’ll spare you the details, save to say that firing angel poop at him from a musket would be the mildest of my responses.

PTT Contact details Pink Triangle Trust Secretary and Editorial Consultant is George Broadhead, who can be contacted on: +44 (0) 1926 858450 (Email: humanists@btinternet.com). Proofreading by Andy Armitage. Contact The Pink Humanist Magazine by emailing either editor@thepinkhumanist.com or info@thepinkhumanist.com

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Views expressed in The Pink Humanist are not necessarily those of the publishers.


World View

Twin evils: Christianity and fascism in Ukraine

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ast month the disturbing photographs on this page went viral on the Internet after the cancellation of a planned Gay Pride event in the Ukraine. The victim of an attack by neo-Nazis was Svyatoslav Sheremet, head of the Gay Forum of Ukraine. He was beaten in Kiev as he met with members of the media to inform them that a scheduled Gay Pride parade had to be cancelled. The attackers ran off when they realised members of the media were documenting the attack. The parade was cancelled half an hour before its scheduled start because of police fears of an attack by ultra-conservative counterprotesters. About a dozen youths tear-gassed people who had gathered for the march. Ukraine is on course to passing so-called homosexual propaganda legislation that would criminalise gay human-rights efforts and ban information about gay issues. The attack on Sheremet, and the proposed new anti-gay legislation, drew immediate fire from the European Parliament. In a resolution passed last month the European Parliament said it “condemns the violence and threats surrounding the Kiev Pride event”, notes that EU agreements are conditional on respect for fundamental rights, and calls on Ukraine to introduce legislation to prohibit discrimination, including discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The European Parliament also called on Ukrainian authorities to immediately revoke its proposed anti-gay legislation, as well as “commit to making a safe Kiev Pride event

possible next year”. It also “regrets” the gay propaganda laws already in place that are legitimising homophobia “and sometimes, violence, as in the case of the violent attack

on a bus carrying LGBT activists on May 17, 2012 in St Petersburg”. These laws and proposals are “inconsistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which precludes discriminatory laws and practices based on sexual orientation, and to which Russia, Ukraine ... and all EU Members States are parties”, the resolution stated. It further called on the Council of Europe to “investigate these human rights

violations, verify their compatibility with the commitments linked to Council of Europe membership and the European Convention on Human Rights”. There is a strong antipathy towards gay people in the Ukraine, due mainly to the fact that it is, overall, a conservative, mainly Orthodox Christian country. Most LGBT Ukrainians are afraid to be open about their orientation. According to Wikipedia, since 1991, the Ukrainian LGBT community has become more visible in the urban cities and there are LGBT nightclubs, publications and humanrights organisations. “However, many Ukrainian citizens affiliate with one of the Christian sects that view homosexuality and cross-dressing as signs of immorality. As a result, there is little social support for LGBT people to be honest about their sexual or gender identity and a fairly high degree of verbal and physical harassment exists.” In a December 2007 survey by Angus Reid of Global Monitor, 81.3 percent of Ukrainians said in a poll that homosexual relations were “never acceptable”, 13 percent answered “sometimes acceptable” and 5.7 percent

(Continued on p4)

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World View

Gays in Turkey are exempt from military service But PROVING you’re homosexual can be a nightmare experience, reports GEORGE BROADHEAD

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n 2008, Human Rights Watch – one of the world’s leading independent organisations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights – published a disturbing report concerning LGTB people in Turkey. It began with these words: “Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Turkey lead lives of fear, paralyzed by stigma. When singled out for harassment, violence, or other abuse – still an everyday occurrence for many – they also fear going to the authorities for assistance, and often for good reason: they have long experienced harassment and sadistic treatment by police and dismissive attitudes among judges and

prosecutors. Despite reforms, new cases of such mistreatment continue to emerge. But: “The picture is not unremittingly bleak; there have been positive developments in recent years. Turkey today is full of mixed signals. The situation was illustrated most pointedly by the process leading to the adoption of a revised version of the Criminal Code in mid-2005. A year before the new code was adopted, the Justice Commission of Turkey’s Parliament voted to include new language in the provision barring discrimination in a wide range of areas of public life: it would have included ‘sexual orientation’ as a protected status. The move almost certainly

Ukraine’s shame (Continued from p3)

“acceptable”. Of all the behaviours listed, homosexuality was viewed as the third worst after shoplifting and drunk driving. None of the major or minor political parties have formally come out in favour of LGBT rights. Most of what has been said by politicians wuth regard to LGBT rights has been overtly prejudicial and hostile. In 1998, the first LGBT rights group was created. Our World is an LGBT community centre and human-rights advocacy organisation. In 2008, Ukrainian LGBT rights organizations came together to create a coalition, the Union of Gay Organisations of Ukraine. While these groups have been allowed to exist, they have faced public harassment and government bans when they have attempted to express their views publicly. In 1999, the former president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, stated that there were more important issues than LGBT rights to discuss in parliament and that homosexuality is caused by a mental illness or the corrupting influence of foreign films. In May 2008 Ukrainian LGBT groups were prevented from marking the International Day Against Homophobia after a last-minute intervention by authorities, who told organisers that due to the likelihood of friction, the programme of events would have to be cancelled. A variety of Christians, including Roman Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists and members of Union of Independent Orthodox churches, united to demand that local authorities forbid any action by representatives of sexual minorities.

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came in response to Turkey’s pending application for admission to the European Union (EU).” However, in March, 2011, the BBC’s World Service broadcast a harrowing report – The Pink Certificate – concerning gays in the Turkish military. It reported that “military service is mandatory for all Turkish men – they can only escape it if they are ill, disabled or homosexual. But proving homosexuality is a humiliating ordeal.” The BBC quoted Ahmet, a young man in his 20s who told officials he was gay, as saying: “They asked me when I first had anal intercourse, oral sex, what sort of toys I played with as a child. They asked me if I liked football, whether I wore woman’s clothes or used woman’s perfume. “I had a few days’ beard and I am a masculine guy – they told me I didn’t look like a normal gay man.’’ He was then asked to provide a picture of himself dressed as a woman. He refused the request, but offered a compromise, which they accepted. He gave them a photograph of himself kissing another man. Ahmet said he hoped this would give him what he needed – a “pink certificate” declaring him homosexual and exempting him from military service. Another interviewee, Gokhan, was conscripted in the late 1990s – and very quickly realised that he was not made for the army. He had a fear of guns, and, as a gay man, he was also afraid of being bullied. After little more than a week he plucked up the courage to declare his sexual orientation to his commander.


“They asked me if I had any photographs.’’ Gokhan says, ‘’And I did.’’ He had gone prepared with explicit photographs of himself having sex with another man, having heard that it would be impossible to get out of military service without them. “The face must be visible,’’ says Gokhan. “And the photos must show you as the passive partner.’’ The photographs satisfied the military doctors. Gokhan was handed his pink certificate and exempted from military service. But it was a terrible experience, he says. “And it’s still terrible. Because somebody holds those photographs. They can show them at my village, to my parents, my relatives.’’ The BBC report revealed that gay men said that the precise nature of the evidence demanded depended on the whim of the military doctor or commander. Sometimes, instead of photographs, doctors rely on a “personality test”. The Turkish army refused BBC requests for an interview, but a retired general, Armagan Kuloglu, agreed to comment. Openly gay men in the army would cause “disciplinary problems”, he said, and the creation of “separate facilities, separate dormitories, showers, training areas” would be impractical. He added that if a gay man keeps his sexuality secret, he can serve – an echo of the US military’s recently dropped “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. “But when someone comes out and says he is gay, then the army needs to make sure that he is truly gay, and not simply lying to evade his mandatory duty to serve in the military.’’ The social stigma associated with homosexuality in Turkey is such that outside, the

young and urbanised circles in big cities like Istanbul and Ankara, it is hard to imagine a man declaring that he’s gay when he’s not, the report said. However, the possibility causes the military a lot of anxiety. One psychiatrist who formerly worked at a military hospital told the BBC: “Doctors are coming under immense pressure from

‘The face must be visible and the photos must show you as the passive partner’ their commanders to diagnose homosexuality, and they obey, even though there really are no diagnostic tools to determine sexual orientation. It is medically impossible, and not at all ethical.” On Gokhan’s pink certificate, his status reads: “psychosexual disorder’’. And next to that, in brackets, “homosexuality’’. Turkey’s military hospitals still define homosexuality as an illness, taking an outdated 1968 version of a document by the American Psychiatric Association as their guide. The BBC report pointed out that “some people in Turkey say with resentment that gay men are actually lucky, as at least they have one possible route out of military service – they don’t have to spend months in the barracks, or face the possibility of being deployed to fight against Kurdish militants.” But, for openly gay men, life can be far

from easy. It is not uncommon for employers in Turkey to question job applicants about their military service – and a pink certificate can mean a job rejection. One of Gokhan’s employers found out about it not by asking Gokhan himself but by asking the army. After that, he says, he was bullied. His coworkers made derogatory comments as he walked past; others refused to talk to him. Ahmet is still waiting for his case to be resolved. The army has postponed its decision on his pink certificate for another year. He thinks it is because he refused to appear before them in woman’s clothes. And he doesn’t know what to expect when he appears in front of them again. Writing for the US magazine Counterpunch Istanbul-based Michael Dickenson, commented: “All you have to do to get out of doing your military service [in Turkey] is to present photographic or video evidence of your participation in homosexual acts with others. Get shafted and you won’t get drafted! You might get some friends to help out. Then after intimate questioning by army officers and perhaps an anal check-up, if they’re convinced you’re gay you’ll be barred from the military. Yippee! No more ‘You’re in the Army now!’ But at what a cost! And what happened to those sordid pictures the inspecting officers were poring over? They will be kept in your confidential file in Ankara Military Hospital, which has been described as ‘the biggest state owned gay porn archive in the world.’ Yes, many unfortunate gay brothers have been forced to degrade themselves in such a way rather than endure time in the army.” He added: “A recent Turkish film, Zenne, movingly depicts one such case. The man who came out rather than face military service was shot and killed by his conservative father.” And Dickenson pointed out that Mehmet Tahan, an anti-war protestor, who, although gay, refused to recognise his sexuality as an illness or an excuse to escape service, spent several months as a conscientious objector in prison, where he was tortured and threatened. In a statement before his arrest Tahan said: “I condemn every kind of violence and believe that joining or condoning violence will only result in new violence and everyone will be responsible for the consequences. I think that wars caused by power-mongering states are first and foremost a violation of the right to life. The violation of the right to life is a crime against humanity and no international convention or law can justify this crime, regardless of any rationale. I therefore declare that I won’t be an agent of such crime under any circumstances. I will not serve any military apparatus.”

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HUMANISTS AND PEOPLE OF FAITH A joint agenda to achieve equality Earlier this year, British MP Angela Eagle addressed the third Cutting Edge Consortium conference. This is an abridged version of her speech

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speak to you today as the first out lesbian MP and a patron of the British Humanist Association. The last Labour Government, of which I was proud to be a member, enshrined in the law comprehensive equality for LGBT people. Our task now is to make a practical reality of this unprecedented advance. But we should be under no illusions there is a reactionary backlash which is becoming more vocal and active itself. This work to make a reality of our equality in law coincides with your own aim, which is to “eliminate any faith-based homophobia/transphobia and institutionalised prejudice towards LGBT people”. And let’s not forget the great progress we have made in just a few short years in gaining acceptance for difference, human dignity and equal rights for LGBT people in our society. This does not mean that bigotry and the discrimination it excuses have suddenly been banished. We all know it still exists. But we have made a good start on confronting it and are working tirelessly to reduce it. Should we be any more worried about faith-based bigotry than any other kind? All bigotry is unpleasant and dangerous, so why single out that which is faith based? Well, faith-based homophobia and transphobia can be particularly damaging because it seeks to justify itself by engaging the prestige and moral authority of centuries of religious tradition and it asserts with doctrinal certainty what can sometimes be an extreme point of view. This gives others implicit permission to act on the odium it generates. It also causes particular anguish for believers who are LGBT themselves when it is asserted, apparently with the authority of the sacred texts, that there is something “disor-

dered and wrong” about their sexual orientation. That is why the voice of progressive believers is so crucial in countering the lazy assumption that reactionary religious interpretation on issues such as sexual orientation is all that there is. Secularism can be defined as the accommodation of religion in a liberal society. In my view, the only alternative to this model is a theocratic state. Very few people in the UK and certainly no one in this hall would, I hope, advocate that. Especially as it would only be able to accommodate giving authority to one of the world’s great religions and certainly not to all of them at the same time. I’m sure that I don’t know what aggressive secularism is, although it is apparently on the march! Now I want to concentrate on the joint agenda which exists between people of faith and those of none in the battle to eliminate faith-based prejudice against LGBT people. I believe we have recognised that we have common interests, and that is why the British Humanist Association is pleased to support the consortium in its campaigning work promoting equality and human rights in our society and beyond. Doctrinal battles within church institutions to achieve equality and respect for LGBT people are clearly best spearheaded by believers themselves, but there are consequences for all of us if reactionary or extreme forces prevail within religion. Crass or ignorant interventions on internal church matters by outsiders are more likely to shore up the extremes and be counterproductive. However, history shows that, once bigotry becomes dominant in the religious sphere, it can never be contained solely within it. The consequences intrude on the rest of

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society and have implications for everyone, whether they are believers or not. In other words we all have a personal interest in your success. I might even coin a phrase which has now it appears gone out of fashion: “We are all in this together”. So what is the position which LGBT people find themselves in eight years after civil partnerships were legalised and two years after the progressive majority for equal rights in the House of Commons was replaced by what is a much more fluid and unpredictable situation? Reactionary religious forces were clearly caught unaware by the progressive advances on LGBT rights made during the Labour years. They have also been caught off guard by the profound liberal shift in attitudes to LGBT people captured in the results of the British Social Attitude survey, which now puts them at odds with majority opinion in the UK. They have responded by mimicking the activities of the religious Right in America, especially by adopting their campaigning tactics. Recently we have seen increasing levels of intemperate outbursts by these organisations. They claim that equality laws actually discriminate against them and that they aresomehow the victims of persecution. Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey has astonishingly even claimed in a written submission to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that in Britain “it is now Christians who are persecuted; often sought out and framed by homosexual activists”. He also claimed that “Christians are vilified by state bodies”, excluded from many sectors of employment because of their beliefs and “driven underground”. In reality LGBT people are still fighting in 41 Commonwealth countries in the


world where it is illegal to be gay and where in some of those jurisdictions they face the death penalty. That is real persecution and I might have expected Lord Carey to concern himself with fighting to end that. Perhaps he can join us on IDAHO day to make precisely that point. Organisations such as the Christian Institute and the Christian legal centre are taking out cases which try to widen the existing very narrow religious exemptions to equality law in the name of what they claim is their religious freedom. The Eweida case (BA), the Chaplin case (NHS) the McFarlane case (marriage guidance) and the Ladele case (registrar) are all now before the European Court. Where they seek to juxtapose religious freedom against LGBT human rights in a way which, should they succeed, would make a mockery of equal rights. Let’s just think what they are arguing for. They wish Christian organisations as employers to have special exemptions from employment law enabling them to fire at will anyone they believe to be gay or presumably who espouse the wrong beliefs. At the same time they wish Christians as employees in other workplaces to be exempt from such things as uniform requirements and presumably to enjoy protections from being fired because of their beliefs! Whatever this is, it is not consistent, fair or equal. And nor is it acceptable. It seems to me that it is in the public interest for protections from arbitrary and unfair treatment at work to apply to all employees, full stop. Recently attempts by the Core Issues Trust and Anglican Mainstream to run adverts promoting “cures” for homosexuals on London buses were blocked as needlessly offensive. And Premier Christian Radio lost a High Court challenge against a ban on an advert seeking information on Christians who feel marginalised at work. While they complained about their fundamental right to freedom of expression being curtailed, they omitted to recognise that their proposed advert actually contravened the ban on political advertising and is absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with their beliefs. This ban on political advertising applies equally to everyone and is meant to ensure that big money can never dominate the airwaves, pushing a particular political agenda, like it does in the USA. In the UK political advertising is banned from the broadcast media and fairness is ensured during elections by the fair allocation of party political broadcasts. This keeps down the cost of running for political office in an attempt to level the playing field between contending parties. If it were to be lifted, what effect would that have on the common good?

There is a narrative of persecution and victimhood developing here which has very little to do with any objective reality facing Christians in the UK but speaks much more eloquently about the disorientation of reactionary religious elements in our more enlightened progressive era. It also matches the campaigning tactics of the Tea Party and the religious right in the USA, where dominant reactionary forces routinely claim victimhood and take on a false mantle of oppression to create an insurgency. The decision of the Conservative Party to use a conversion to gay rights as part of its “detoxification” strategy before the 2010 general election was a sign of just how profound the shift in public attitudes on this issue has been. Their decision to proceed with a Lib Dem conference pledge to legislate for equal marriage has dismayed many of the more conservative religious organisations and a sizeable proportion of their own backbench MPs. The result has been the creation of the “Coalition for Marriage”, which purports to defend the institution from what Lord Carey has provocatively referred to as a “hostile strike”. Nick Lowles of the anti-fascist campaign Hope Not Hate has pointed out that the Coalition for Marriage appears to be a front organisation for reactionary forces in the Evangelical Alliance and the Christian Institute. The latter has actively campaigned for the retention of Section 28 and against any equal rights for LGBT people. Lowles goes on to observe that the naïve endorsement of the Coalition for Marriage’s petition by mainstream church leaders risks handing over valuable data which will surely be used to support the more reactionary campaigns of these extreme groups in the future. Even the prospect of the publication of the Government’s consultation on this issue caused Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien to resort to a level of vitriol out of all proportion to the proposals themselves which are actually rather modest and apply only in the civil and not the religious sphere. He denounced the plans as “the thin end of the wedge”, “madness” and “unnatural”. He went on to compare the proposals in moral terms to legalising slavery. Other church leaders have joined in deliberately misinterpreting the scope of the proposals and forecasting the kind of dire consequences they foresaw when they were opposing civil partnerships. I note that these dire consequences have yet to make an appearance four years on. Whilst I believe that everyone has a right to their opinion, I also believe that those in authority have a particular duty to express themselves in a calm and responsible way,

especially if they are dealing with emotive issues. Thus far in this debate, some of those in authority have fallen somewhat below this high standard. Whilst the current Government has signalled its intention to push ahead with its modest proposals on equal marriage, there are dangers of equality sliding backwards in many other areas. This is a reality which risks being lost in the incendiary press coverage of the marriage controversy, but it is one we should not lose sight of. There are three main areas of concern. First is the loss of a progressive majority in Parliament. The general election in 2010 replaced certainty about the approach of the House of Commons to equal rights with a much more fluid and unpredictable situation. Many conservatives and liberals are instinctively hostile to any state regulation even if some are more comfortable with the fact that LGBT people exist than they used to be in the past. That is to be welcomed but we should not assume that things cannot go backwards as well as forwards in the present House of Commons. Second is this Government’s decision to focus primarily on deficit reduction; The resulting deep cuts in public spending have put huge pressure on the mechanisms the state can bring to bear to enforce rights and protections for LGBT people. The ECHR has seen big cuts in its budget and there has been a similar pattern in local government, where equality provision is often the first to disappear in hard times. And thirdly is the Government’s view that the state is part of the problem and that its functions are better outsourced to other providers. This risks setting back progress on equality by decades. This is especially true when it is accompanied by a hands off approach to enforcing the requirements of the Equality Act. I know that the conference looked at how this is already impacting on free schools and academies in this morning’s session. There will be many other such areas not least the NHS, which will need to be monitored if this outsourced, hands-off model of public provision is pursued further. We should remember that theoretical rights to equality for LGBT people which are unenforced do not change lives for the better. So we have much still to do and we have to be vigilant if we are to prevent the loss of some of the progress we have already made. But I am confident that, if we forge the kind of alliances which the Cutting Edge Consortium has pioneered, then we will ensure that we can make a reality of the equal rights for LGBT people which we are all so proud of writing into the law of our land.

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GAY MARRIAGE: Is it really a ‘Nazi plot’ to bring down the Church? DIESEL BALAAM poses the question

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ou might think, that with economic crisis looming, rampant social injustice, political corruption and the unstoppable greed of City bankers, not to mention starving children in Africa and all manner of wickedness in the world, the Anglican and Roman Catholic hierarchies would have better things to do than fret about a few harmless homosexual couples tying the knot. You might also think they’d be clamouring to spend some of their enormous wealth trying to solve these problems. But no. After decades of criticising gay people for their supposedly “promiscuous lifestyles” they are now intent on spending colossal amounts of their time, energy and resources denying British lesbians and gay men the chance to say “I do”. Even more incredible is the way that our elected Government’s very modest proposal to open a “consultation exercise” on the question of gay marriage has been branded “totalitarian” by leading Anglican and Roman Catholic clergymen. It began with John Sentamu, the Anglican Bishop of York, who in January of this

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year, claimed that the Government’s proposal to redefine the identity of marriage was linked to a “totalitarian mentality”. He did not explain how the move – a rather timid proposal to have a consultation exercise on the issue, and one that would naturally involve Church leaders – could possibly be construed as something the Nazis or Stalinists might do, though the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, provided some insight a month later, when he indicated, in a somewhat confused speech, that the definition of marriage was effectively the property of the Christian Church (at least in part) and that elected Governments had no business to change it, even though civil marriages fall outside the scope of the Church’s jurisdiction. In any case, some rather more liberal churches and synagogues have voiced their desire to perform same-sex marriages on their premises, if the law of the land can be changed to accommodate this. Of course, the definition of marriage has never been immutably fixed, it has fluctuated across time and cultures, embracing things like polygamy and the changing status of

women, as well as changes in the laws governing divorce, remarriage and the age at which one can marry. Moreover, early Christians sometimes conducted same-sex “marriages” in antiquity (see page 11). In their desperation to thwart our Government’s gay-marriage proposals, the Church is also advancing contradictory arguments. Lord Carey claims that the definition of marriage he wants to protect predates Christianity, while Mark Davies, the Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury, has accused the Government of wanting to turn the clock back to pre-Christian times, when, presumably, he thinks gay marriage was rife among the pagans. In his Easter Sermon, the Bishop said: “If Christianity is no longer to form the basis and the bedrock of our society then we are, indeed, left at the mercy of passing political projects and perhaps even the most sinister of ideologies.” Perhaps the Catholic Bishop ought to be reminded that, in the past, Roman Catholicism has itself been a “sinister ideology”, arguably responsible for more human misery and bloodshed than the Nazis


and the Stalinists put together. This is an organisation that, until it was tamed and contained by, first, Protestantism, then science and Enlightenment values, then, later still, democracy and secularism, burnt dissenters at the stake, administered torture and degrading punishments and threw its enemies into “oubliettes”, where they were literally left to die in puddles of their own sewage. Recorded punishments for “sodomy” included nailing the miscreant’s penis to a post before having him flogged. In more recent centuries, to advance its own power and protect its vast wealth, the Roman Catholic Church has sided with hideously oppressive regimes, condoned unjust wars and turned a convenient blind eye to systematic inhumanity, including slavery and the Holocaust. The Roman Catholic Church’s record on human rights certainly leaves it far from covered in glory. It is true that Pope Innocent XI condemned the slave trade, at least as it affected other Christians, but, at its height in the 17th century, much of Europe’s slave trade from the west coast of Africa was predicated on the convenient racist belief of a Catholic medic, Marcello Malpighi, whose bogus science of “micro anatomy” led him to believe that all men were originally white, but that “sinners” had become black. For much of World War II, Pope Pius XII remained silent while German atrocities were committed, though privately, he sheltered a small number of Jews and spoke to a few select officials, encouraging them to do the same. Publicly, however, he maintained a front of indifference for the sake of protecting the Vatican’s interests. More recent scandals have confirmed the complicity of the current Pope, Benedict XVI, in covering up and denying the systematic abuse of children by Catholic clerics and officials. As plain old Joseph Ratzinger, he was a former member of the “totalitarian” Hitler Youth. None of this shameful history seems to have given today’s Catholics a moment’s pause for thought and self-reflection. On the contrary, they have become even more outspoken and strident. Following the Bishop of Shrewsbury’s intervention, John Smeaton, the director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), weighed in with his opposition to the UK Government’s gay-marriage proposals, fretting that even if the proposals only extended to civil marriage, under a recent European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling, the Catholic Church would

be compelled to recognise same-sex partnerships in their schools, healthcare and adoption services. Quite right too, you might think – no one should be above the law – but Smeaton goes further, claiming that if same-sex unions are legalised in register offices, it will be illegal under the ECHR ruling to prevent such marriages happening in religious premises. Not so. Catholics and other religionists have already wrested exemptions for themselves under existing equality legislation, so what makes them think they couldn’t do so again? More flak directed at the very modest proposal to extend marriage rights came from the leader of the Roman Catholics in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who described gay marriage as an “aberration” and even likened it to slavery and abortion. The proposal to grant gay couples the right to marry was a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” he warned. Here we see yet another Orwellian example of how the Roman Catholic Church cynically claims to be the defender of human rights, while abusing its privileged position to undermine democratic principles and deny the human rights of anyone who falls outside the very narrow scope of the Vatican’s approval. In April, the Pope’s representative in Britain, Archbishop Mennini, the Apostolic Nuncio, called for closer cooperation between Roman Catholics and leaders of other faiths, including Muslims and Orthodox Jews, to oppose any extension of the marriage laws in Britain. In what was clearly, by now, an orchestrated campaign, the UK’s Catholic Education Service confirmed it had written to 359 state schools to remind them of the traditional definition of marriage. Pupils as young as 11 were being encouraged to sign an anti-gay marriage petition. At one school, St Philomena’s in Carshalton, pupils were shown a presentation which described gay marriages and civil partnerships as “unnatural” before ending with a call to “sign the petition”. One sixth-former at the school told Pink News: “It was just a really out-dated, misjudged and heavily biased presentation.” Meanwhile, the Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith, has defended the presentation, claiming, hypocritically, that it merely counters “political indoctrination” by secular humanists in schools! The British Humanist Association is threatening legal action. The cheek of these wretched Catholics really does beggar belief. Totalitarianism

denies people choices, curtails their freedoms and imposes a one-size-fits-all approach to every citizen, who must comply with diktats handed down from above. What better description is there for the Roman Catholic Church? Yet, in a classic case of reality inversion, the disgraced leaders of the whole Kiddie-Fiddlers-R-Us franchise, for whom the word “groom” is always a verb, never a noun, think they can pull off the classic Orwellian manoeuvre of persuading their flock the reverse is true. They would have people believe that they represent “freedom”, whereas liberals, who like to involve people in the decisions that affect them, are akin to “Nazis” or “Stalinists”. Even more ludicrous, is the idea that gay marriage is part of some sinister plot to do away with Christianity – as if a few handfuls of pink confetti would cause it to crumble away! This is not the first time that shrill antigay Christians have tried to deflect criticism of their own totalitarianism by crudely attempting to smear the cause of gay equality by linking homosexuality to groups like the Nazis. In the most lurid example, Dr Scott Lively – an American pastor with a very lively imagination – claims in his book The Pink Swastika that homosexuality was central to the whole Nazi enterprise. Of course, there were homosexuals in the Nazi Party, just as there are in all political parties and large-scale organisations – including churches and other religious bodies. It is true that some homosexual men were attracted to the Nazi Party in the early days, as were many more heterosexual German men. The brown-shirted SA, led by the homosexual Ernst Röhm, is known to have attracted a certain type of homosexual man – the type for whom street brawls, cellar bars and roughs in uniform are a heady mix – but the Night of the Long Knives in 1934 and Röhm’s subsequent execution on July 2 that year soon put paid to them. The Nazis became progressively more anti-gay during the course of the Third Reich, their antipathy towards homosexuality based on the belief that it was a corrupting influence, sapping the strength of German manhood and nationhood. As early as 1933, they had legislated for the castration of sexual deviants, including those who had committed indecent homosexual acts in public. The following year, Josef Meisinger was appointed head of Department II S, tasked with rooting out homosexuals, then in 1936 he became head of the Reich Centre for Combating Homo(Continued on p10)

• thepinkhumanist • june 2012 • 09 •


The Catholic Church unashamedly cosied up to the Nazis. The first picture shows a Catholic cardinal being warmly greeted by Adolf Hitler, and the second shows bishops giving the Nazi salute in honour of the dictator sexuality and Abortion (note the identical obsessions shared by Roman Catholicism here). So no, the Nazi Party was not some kind of Stonewall Group in waiting – as some Christian extremists would have you believe. By 1935, the notorious Paragraph 175 had been enacted, comprehensively outlawing homosexuality and detailing the appropriate level of punishment depending on the age of the perpetrator, whether or not he was coerced, and whether or not he had fully consented. It was under this law that homosexuals could be imprisoned in the camps, where, in the 1940s, around 50,000 homosexuals are known to have perished as a result of being worked to death, gassed, or else through disease or being subjected to the SS guards’ brutality. One account, by a homosexual survivor, tells of the day he watched helplessly as a fellow prisoner had a broom handle repeatedly rammed into his rectum until he expired. Therefore, it is an obscene lie to claim that homosexuals were responsible for Nazism – or any other form of totalitarianism – when the truth is they have always been among totalitarianism’s principal victims. If you want to know why Nazism gained such a purchase on German society in the 1920s and 1930s, then a greater tolerance of homosexuality in parts of the Weimar Republic, particularly Berlin, does not provide the answer. You have to look at the wider context of the humiliating settlement imposed on Germany at Versailles after the Great War, when punishing reparations further destabilised the German economy and, hence, German society. Beyond that, it is also true that the Catholic Church had reached new heights of power and influence, particularly in central and southern Germany, at this time. Adolf Hitler, Austrian by birth, had also been raised a Catholic. While accounts differ, he was reported as professing his Catholic faith well

into the 1940s. Catholics were never subject to the religious equivalent of Paragraph 175. They were rarely sent to concentration camps and, when they were, it was for political dissent rather than for the simple fact of being Catholic. An organisation on the scale of the Roman Catholic Church might justifiably have been viewed as a potential threat by the elite of the Nazi Party, or a potential bulwark of resistance to it; the reason it wasn’t is that the Roman Catholic hierarchy collaborated from the outset with the Nazi elite, becoming intertwined with it. Soon after Hitler was appointed Chancellor in January 1933, Pope Pius XI had signed the Reichskonkordat which secured the Vatican’s interests in exchange for Catholic acquiescence and political “neutrality”. It is no mere coincidence that, where Roman Catholicism was strongest, fascism could seed so successfully, indeed, it enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with fascism in all of Catholicism’s European strongholds, including, of course, Franco’s Spain and Mussolini’s Italy, where fascism was invented. These days, cynical or deluded Catholics like to claim that the Nazis’ wickedness and inhumanity was avowedly atheistic, in which case, how do they explain those “Gott Mit Uns” (“God with Us”) belt-buckles the German Wehrmacht wore on their uniforms, or those photos of Catholic priests cheerfully raising their arms in a Nazi salute? In some churches, the swastika was even displayed alongside, or even above, the crucifix. While we must allow for the fact that many individual German Catholics did not wholeheartedly embrace Nazism and some Catholic officials, like Erich Klausener, even paid with their lives for trying to counter its effects, Nazi ideology, in the final analysis, was really just an über-efficient, streamlined version of Roman Catholicism, shorn of all that inconvenient love-thy-neighbour nonsense. The best that can be said for most Roman Catholic leaders is that they failed millions of people by turning a blind eye to

• 10 • thepinkhumanist • june 2012 •

the vicious excesses of Nazi ideology and policymaking. All of which puts the Catholic Church’s attempts to smear the campaign for full marriage equality as “totalitarian” into some kind of perspective. Those of us who have a clear, rational and humanistic vision of how a free society should be must not be cowed by the lies, half-truths and distortions deployed by religious bullies like the Anglican Bishop of York, John Sentamu. Nor should we tolerate attempts by the cruel, authoritarian and anti-democratic Roman Catholic Church to interfere in the affairs of our non-Catholic and increasingly post-Christian country, where opinion polls show that the democratic will of the people is to allow gay citizens to marry, if they want to. In truth, it is the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics whose approach to this matter is “totalitarian” and out of touch with modern Britain. Freedom and equality are non-negotiable, or should be, so we must also counter the woolly-headed “multiculturalists” of the liberal-left (and I include Prime Minister David Cameron in that description), whose desire for inclusivity, stupidly extends to indulging the religious enemies of the very inclusivity they seek to obtain, via unnecessary “consultation” exercises. With no mention of gay marriage in the Queen’s speech of May 2012, it seems that the Anglican and Catholic hierarchies have won the day – at least for now. Needless to say, we humanists support the right of Anglicans and Catholics to worship as they see fit, as well as their right not to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies if they prefer not to. All we are saying is that they have no right to extend their own blanket bans to civil marriage, to the non-religious, or the affairs of more progressive churches and religious organisations. By no stretch of the imagination can that be described as “totalitarianism”. On the contrary, that’s what living in a free and democratic society actually means.


Christianity was once far more tolerant of gay unions than at present. Truth or fiction? BARRY DUKE assesses mixed reaction to the late Professor John Boswell’s Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe

T

he preoccupation, or, more accurately, the hysterical obsession, that religious leaders have with homosexuality and, more recently, the issue of gay marriage, has rekindled interest in a book written 18 years ago by the late Professor John Boswell. In his Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, a sequel to his award-winning Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980), Professor Boswell – according to Charles Bennison, writing in the Anglican Theological Review – “left as his principal legacy a brilliant, learned, engaging, talkative, and insistent argument that the ancient and medieval church celebrated the same-sex equivalent of its he erosexual marriage ceremony”. Boswell’s work was praised in many circles, but rubbished in others as “historical revisionism” of the very worst kind. Basically, Boswell set out to prove that the early Church was far more laid back about same-sex unions than it is now, and referred to an icon in a Kiev art museum (pictured above) which shows the marriage of two Christian martyrs, St Sergius and St Bacchus. Christ, apparently overseeing their wedding, is depicted as their “pronubus” (best man). In a review posted on the American Fertility Association blog in 2010, Kelvin Lynch pointed out that Boswell, chairman of Yale University’s history department until his untimely death at the age of 47 from an AIDS-related condition in 1994, discovered that, in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient Christian church liturgical documents, there were also ceremonies called the “Office of Same-Sex Union” (10th and 11th century), and the “Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th and 12th century). “These church rites,” said Lynch, “had all the symbols of a heterosexual marriage: the whole community gathered in a church, a blessing of the couple before the altar was conducted with their right hands joined, holy vows were exchanged, a priest officiated in the taking of the Eucharist and a wedding feast for the guests was celebrated afterwards. These elements all appear in contemporary illustrations of the holy union of the Byzantine Warrior-Emperor, Basil the First (867 – 886 CE) and his companion John.” He added: “Such same gender Christian sanctified unions also took place in Ireland in the late 12th and early 13th century, as the chronicler Gerald of Wales (‘Geraldus Cam-

brensis’) recorded. Same-sex unions in premodern Europe list in great detail some same gender ceremonies found in ancient church liturgical documents. One Greek 13th century rite, ‘Order for Solemn Same-Sex Union’, invoked St Serge and St Bacchus, and called on God to ‘vouchsafe unto these, Thy servants, the grace to love one another and to abide without hate and not be the cause of scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God, and all Thy saints’. The ceremony concludes: ‘And they shall kiss the Holy Gospel and each other, and it shall be concluded.’ “Another 14th-century Serbian Slavonic ‘Office of the Same Sex Union’, uniting two

to a contemporary report. Another womanto-woman union is recorded in Dalmatia in the 18th century. Lynch concluded: “Prof. Boswell’s academic study is so well researched and documented that it poses fundamental questions for both modern church leaders and heterosexual Christians about their own modern attitudes towards homosexuality. “For the Church to ignore the evidence in its own archives would be cowardly and deceptive. The evidence convincingly shows that what the modern church claims has always been its unchanging attitude towards homosexuality is, in fact, nothing of the sort. “It proves that for the last two millennia,

The Daily Mail, not known for support of gay rights, re-ignited interest in Boswell’s book with an article under this headline published on May 11, 2012 men or two women, had the couple lay thei right hands on the Gospel while having a crucifix placed in their left hands. After kissing the Gospel, the couple were then required to kiss each other, after which the priest, having raised up the Eucharist, would give them both communion.” Lynch pointed out that records of Christian same-sex unions have been discovered in such diverse archives as those in the Vatican, in St Petersburg, in Paris, in Istanbul and in the Sinai, covering a thousandyears from the eighth to the 18th centuries. While homosexuality was technically illegal from late Roman times, homophobic writings, said Lynch, didn’t appear in Western Europe until the late 14th century. Even then, churchconsecrated same-sex unions continued to take place. At St John Lateran in Rome (traditionally the Pope’s parish church) in 1578, as many as 13 same-gender couples were joined during a high Mass and with the cooperation of the Vatican clergy, “taking communion together, using the same nuptial Scripture, after which they slept and ate together”, according

in parish churches and cathedrals throughout Christendom, from Ireland to Istanbul and even in the heart of Rome itself, homosexual relationships were accepted as valid expressions of a God-given love and commitment to another person, a love that could be celebrated, honoured and blessed, through the Eucharist in the name of, and in the presence of, Jesus Christ.” Bennison, in the Anglican Theological Review, wrote: “One would not absolutely have to be gay to write this book, but it certainly helped. Boswell was gay – indeed, the first openly gay individual to be granted tenure at an Ivy League university. While asserting that ‘it is not the province of the historian to direct the actions of future human beings, but only to reflect accurately on those of the past,’ the historical reality he is able to construct in this book is advantaged by his social location in a nation and church embroiled in a culture war over the issue of the normative status of homosexuality. “Boswell,” says Bennison, “wisely begins his argument by observing that there has always

(Continued on p12)

• thepinkhumanist • june 2012 • 11•


BIFITS:

A short story by Paul Burns

W

hen I was six and Mum was walking me home from soccer practice, I asked if I could go to Sunday school. “Which one?” “The one that Carla goes to at St Anselm’s.” She was the brightest in my class and also the best at kicking a ball. The one thing I didn’t envy was that Carla’s dad worked in Saudi Arabia, whereas mine came home

every night. “You can go and see what they do, provided the vicar doesn’t mind you going just the once.” “But Carla goes every week.” “That’s because her mum believes in Jesus as God. I expect you’ll find Mohammed or Laxmi can’t go to Sunday school because their parents don’t see Jesus in the same way.” “But they’re from India.”

“I think it was their grandparents who came from overseas, but where people come from isn’t what counts. Some Christians are from other counties and some people born in this country go to mosques or temples. The thing is, different people have different gods and they nearly always want their children to have the same god that they do.” “Like Grandpa Harris wants me to support only Tottenham?” “Yes. Just like that, except Grandpa would

Gay marriage in medieval days been a baffling ambiguity in the vocabulary of love and marriage, and in his appendix of translations actually publishes two translations of an 11th-century prayer for same-sex union, the one ‘anachronistically literal’ as a ‘prayer for making brothers’, the other ‘tendentiously slanted’ as a ‘prayer for homosexual marriage’. Out of fairness to his readers, moreover, he presents the key problematic terms from both his original texts and secondary sources in their original languages – Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Old Church Slavonic, Russian, French – as well as their English translations.” And Bennison poses the question: “Are such translations accurate? When two men, using rites like those Boswell, over a twelveyear period, resurrected from libraries across Europe, joined hands, wore crowns, circled the altar, received the sacrament, read from scripture, and kissed – all part of medieval heterosexual marriage rites – and, thus, were ‘made brothers,’ were they in fact entering into a ‘marriage’, and, if so, was that ‘marriage’ understood in the same way as ‘marriage’ is understood today?” Bennison concluded: “Even if Boswell has failed to make a watertight case for his interpretation of the evidence as proving that some priests at some times in some churches blessed same-sex unions, he has still done us all an inestimable service by igniting our imaginations with his own and, further, by helping us to believe that if the past just might have been different than we

(Continued from p11) once conceived, so, too, might the future.” Among those who threw their hands up in horror over Boswell’s work was Marian Therese Horvat, PhD. Reviewing it for the Tradition in Action website, which is “committed to defend the perennial Magisterium of Holy Mother Church and Catholic traditions”, she wrote – under the headline “Rewriting History to Serve the Gay Agenda” – “One of the most disturbing trends in academia today is the wholesale practice of historical revisionism, or what has been described as ‘advocacy scholarship’, that is, scholarship in the service of a social and political agenda. Basically, historical revisionism is the kind of history you get when no one any longer admits such thing as reality, principle, or truth.” Accusing Boswell of this sort of revisionism, she said the professor “unfairly keeps silent about the fact that according to the early and medieval Church, homosexual activity was scandalous and considered an abomination. For example, St Augustine called sodomy and similar vices ‘sins against nature, which are abominable and deserve punishment whenever and wherever they are committed’. “Speaking about the sin of sodomy, St John Chrysostom said ‘there is nothing, absolutely nothing, more mad or damaging than this perversity’. St Albert the Great and St Thomas Aquinas condemned homosexual acts as

• 12 • thepinkhumanist • june 2012 •

obscene, addictive and against nature. A ceremony of blessing would hardly sanction – in a subliminal contextual reading – what Popes and Saints forthrightly condemned.” She added: “If we view the documents within the context of the time (rather than our own), the obvious question rises: Why would the Byzantine church be blessing homosexual marriages at a time when Church laws imposed two to three years’ penance for homosexual activity? Both Byzantine and Roman civil law treated it as a crime to be punished by torture, castration, or even the death penalty. (The death penalty was punishment for homosexual behaviour in late imperial Roman law.) “Later Canon Law codes mitigated this to mutilation; it also excused boys age twelve and younger from guilt, although boys who had been sexually abused were ineligible for the priesthood or deaconate. The idea that these liturgical blessing ceremonies prove that the Church has sanctioned, legalized, and even idealized homosexual union in the early and medieval Christian Western world falls flat in face of the legal evidence alone.” And she railed: “Like bogus Marxist, feminist and black histories, ‘homosexual’ histories such as Boswell’s are intent on ‘politics’, and these scholastic works have become instruments in the struggle for influence and right of citizenship. What they are intent upon toppling, however, is the whole code of ethics and morality of Christian Civilization.”


still love you even if you supported another team. Some parents get very upset when their children choose a different church. In Saudi Arabia, people go to prison for saying they no longer believe in God.” “I think grandpa Harris would be OK as long as I didn’t choose Arsenal.” “All your family will always love you no matter what team you support or what you do with your life. We might love you a little bit more when you make us happy, but after you grow up we want you to make all the choices for yourself.” We walked on in silence because a poodle was approaching. Three years earlier, a Jack Russell had nipped my hand as it had passed on the pavement. There was no blood, but I had wet myself and cried a lot. Although Mum and Dad had introduced me to lots of dogs after that to help me get over the fear, Mum sensed my hand tighten and knew that I could scarcely breathe let alone keep talking until the Poodle was well behind us. I wondered why Mum wanted me to go to Sunday school only the once. When my grandmothers tucked me in bed, they said prayers to Jesus and talked about guardian angels. Mum and Dad didn’t mention Jesus or angels at bedtime, but they talked about God looking after me through the night and keeping me safe during the day. “Did you and Dad go to Sunday school?” “Our parents wanted us to go and that was that.” “Did you like going?” “Had I been given the choice, I would have done other things at least when I was a bit older. The funny thing was, after I left home, my parents stopped going to church every week.” “Why?” “They were no longer trying to encourage me to go, so they only went when they felt like it, mostly at Christmas and Easter.” “Diarmuid says his family goes to church every Sunday and on days of holy oblongation. What are they?” “Obligation, I think. Days when you have to go to church.” “Who says you have to go?” “With Catholics, I imagine it’s the Pope, though he would probably claim he’s only passing on what God ordered.” “What happens when people don’t go to church?” “Some people think that Jesus gets upset.” “Does he get upset?” “Your dad and I don’t believe Jesus is God, so we can’t really believe he gets upset.” I was surprised. Although they had not mentioned Jesus, I had assumed he was the

god they had referred to at bedtime. “So do you believe in Allah or the elephant god?” Mohammed had told me about Allah and Laxmi had showed me her medallion with a smiling elephant. Ganesh, she said, brought good luck because that was his job. “No, sweetie. Our god is called Bifits.” She spelled it for me. “Are there any Bifits medals?” “Making one would be difficult because no one knows what she looks like.” “She?” “Bifits isn’t male or female, so you can use either.” “Does she have any children?” “Every living thing is one of her children, so she doesn’t need to have children the way mummies and daddies do.” “Is there a Bifits church?” “Not like St Anselm’s or the mosque. But every house where people believe in Bifits is like a church.” “Our house isn’t like a church.” “It isn’t as big and it doesn’t have people turning up for services. But your dad and I are doing what Bifits asks in the house and that makes it a place that she wants to look after.”

Mohammed had told me about Allah and Laxmi had showed me her medallion with a smiling elephant. Ganesh, she said, brought good luck because that was his job As I was getting confused and we were passing a shop I asked if I could have an ice cream. “Yes,” said Mum, “I think Bifits would approve because you’ve used up energy running and a small one won’t spoil your appetite. I won’t have one myself because I’ve got clothes that won’t fit me.” I played in the garden after we got home. Dad arrived and I saw him helping Mum in the kitchen. They were laughing and talking a lot until he came outside to let me take penalties with him standing between the two trees that acted as goal posts. After my first goal, he said, “Nice one. Mum said she told you about Bifits today. Is there anything else you want to know?” I hadn’t thought about religion since the shop. What had started the topic came to mind. “Mum said I can go to Sunday School once. Why only once?” “If you go somewhere once you know what it’s like. But, if you keep going to Sunday School, the teachers will try to get you to believe that Jesus is god. You can choose

to be anything when you’re grown up, but parents choose the religion for their children while they’re young.” “But I want to go to Sunday school.” “What do you think would happen if Laxmi or Mohammed said they wanted to go or Carla wanted to go to the mosque?” “I don’t know.” “I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be allowed except perhaps on a school visit to see what it looked like. We’re happy for you to see what Sunday school is like by going once.” “How would they make me believe Jesus is God?” “I’m not sure that they could, but they would try. I’m more concerned about someone saying something that might upset you.” “What sort of things?” “Some Christians try to make children feel bad or frightened.” “But you say I’m tough as old boots.” “And you are, but sometimes events take us by surprise, like that Jack Russell. One of the things we like about Bifits is that she and her followers have never upset children.” I waited until I scored again and then I asked, “Do many people believe in Bifits?” “Lots and lots. But because Bifits doesn’t ask her followers to build churches or make a big noise to attract others, she’s not as well known as some of the religions. She doesn’t even have a symbol like a cross or Star of David.” “So what does she have?” “The power to look after people and lots of love for them, especially children. She wants people to be happy and says everyone can help work towards this by being polite and friendly and looking after the planet.” “So she wants us to recycle?” “Yes, and take care of animals and the places where they live.” “Why didn’t you tell me her name before?” “Bifits thinks it’s better to wait until children ask. It’s no secret; if you want to tell others you can. But most people will look at you the way Londoners look at me when I say I support Tranmere Rovers.” We laughed because Grandpa Entwistle also supported Tranmere and had sent me their strip for Christmas. I wore it in the garden or under other clothes because the team was near the bottom of Division Four. Months later, I asked Mum about prayers after my friend Diarmuid mentioned that a priest was saying a mass for his sick granny. “Bifits will always listen to you, but she doesn’t promise to give you what you ask for. Think what would happen if all the Continued on p14

• thepinkhumanist • june 2012 • 13 •


BIFITS: a short story soccer fans prayed for their teams to win and she had promised to answer every prayer. She also wants people to do more to make the world better because there’s lot we can do for ourselves by cooperating and being kinder.” “Does Bifits have any special prayers like a mass?” “She’s less concerned about the words than people being considerate. What she really likes is someone thinking about the things she has that others don’t and wanting other people to have the same benefits.” “Like being grateful that I can play soccer rather than wishing I was as good as Carla?” “That’s a really good example. And Bifits isn’t saying you shouldn’t practice and try to be as good as someone else or even better. Just don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re fit and healthy when others aren’t.” “Who told you about Bifits?” “Your dad and I found her for ourselves. That’s one of the great things about Bifits; she’s there for anyone who needs her and looks.” ******************************* Diarmuid missed two days of school not long after this. I asked what he’d been doing. “My granny died after Father Rice gave her extreme onions.” “What are they?” “Special prayers for dying people.” “But they didn’t stop her dying.” “No, but my dad says she had a good innings and her soul’s in heaven now. It’ll only be the body that gets buried.” As Dad walked me from school, I asked if I had a soul. “There’s something that makes every person different and special. You could say that’s their soul.” “And the soul doesn’t get buried when you die?” “People live on in all sorts of ways. I never met my great-grandmother from Birkenhead, but I’ve seen photos of her, read letters she sent to her husband, and I cook food using recipes she handed down.” “But where’s she now?” “She’s with Bifits having the rest she deserves after working so hard.” “In heaven?” “You could call it that. She has no worries. She feels no pain.” “But what does she do all day?” “Eternal rest does what it says on the tin. You just rest.” “It sounds a bit boring.” “I promise you, she has no complaints.” Although my parents only mentioned Bifits a few more times, and always after I

had asked questions about religion, she remained in the background as a comforting notion and another reason for wanting to be kind to others. Mostly I thought about her when a person or animal died. I found consolation in the idea of their getting eternal rest with Bifits. However, I hoped she would let my hamster have a wheel in heaven, because Snooks would have preferred running in it to resting. By the time I was nine, Carla had dropped out of soccer, saying she didn’t like all the mud and bruises. Diarmuid and I competed to be seen as best in the class and even during a game in the school playground we gave no quarter to each other. We banged heads one lunchtime while going for a high ball. “Jesus Christ!” he shouted and rubbed his skull. I reckoned I was no less hurt and I was going through a tomboy phase that made me copy even the less attractive bits of boys’ behaviour. I rubbed my forehead and yelled, “Bifits!” “What’s Bifits?” he asked. “The name my family gives to God.” “I wouldn’t call a dog that, let alone a god. Are you heathens?” “What are they?” “People like Mohammed and Laxmi who don’t believe in Jesus.” “I guess so.” “My granddad jokes that I’m a heathen because I don’t go to a Catholic school. Dad says he can’t forget the way the Christian Brothers belted him. Mum reckons the schools have changed because nuns no longer say adult heathens go to hell and their children go to Limbo. But dad still wants me to go to this school.” “Where’s Limbo?” “Dunno. Sounds Irish so maybe it’s a town or county or both. You know, like Limbo in County Limbo.” At the start of my first year at secondary school, a Religious Studies teacher asked what faiths we were. When I said my family were Bifits, he asked me to write it on the whiteboard and then congratulated me because it wasn’t often he heard about a new religion. “Are you a Christian?” “No, heathen.” “Does your faith have holy scriptures?” “I’ve never even seen Bifits written down until just now.” “Are there any special days?” “I’ll ask my parents.” “Tell them I want to celebrate their religion along with the others.” Dad said there were no special days, but,

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if the teacher wanted one, Bifits liked to celebrate new life and that’s what birthdays commemorate. He offered to bake a cake big enough for the class to share. And so, along with Christmas, Passover, Diwali and Eid my class celebrated my birthday in honour of Bifits and I did my best to explain the faith. Other secondary students led me to question the existence of God. By the age of 15, the only issue was whether I was agnostic or atheist. For a while, I didn’t tell my parents that Bifits had gone the way of the Tooth Fairy because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. Then I remembered they had said I would be free to choose when I was older. So after tea one night I announced that I no longer believed in Bifits or any other god. “Fair enough,” said Dad. I caught him winking at mum and she was smiling. Then she was laughing. “What is it?” She got pen and paper, wrote Bifits down the page and then spelled out what it stood for – Big Imaginary Friend in the Sky. None of us could stop laughing for ages. I did feel a bit stupid, but it was such a neat trick. After the laughter, I learned that they had been atheists before they met. They had intended to tell me this until the dog bit me and I started to have nightmares and get panicky. Desperate to help me feel more secure, they decided to build on rather than contradict the Christian prayers my grannies had introduced. But if I was to have an imaginary friend in the sky, my parents decided to use a name that reflected the figment. Mum said: “We’re pleased you’ve made your own choice, but, if you ever changed your mind, we’d still love you.” Thanks to Bifits, I stop to think about what I have that others lack. Among the things I appreciate are the people who wanted me to choose for myself and living in a country where no one gets locked up, or worse, for rejecting the beliefs others imposed during childhood. • PAUL BURNS spent nine years in North Wales and Merseyside before his family migrated to New Zealand in 1960. He studied psychology in Wellington and was a primary school teacher. Returning to England in 1978, he worked in continuing education and organisation development. He helped survivors of torture as a volunteer for seven years. Capturing the accounts of survivors for legal and therapeutic reasons reignited his interest in writing. Earlier this year he won first prize in the Leonard A Koval Memorial short story competition. He lives in Wembley with his partner.


Religious law, democracy and human rights

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eligious laws are legalised religious doctrines. They are “revelations” turned into rules to govern society. Religious laws are sacred dogma institutionalised. They are sins criminalised. They are religious hatred, intolerance, discrimination and fanaticism turned into state policies. In most parts of Africa, the negative impact of religious laws on democracies and humanrights systems is clear and compelling – from the wars, conflicts and anarchy in Somalia, Northern Uganda and in the Sudan, to the threats posed by Islamism to the Arab Spring in North Africa and the peaceful coexistence of people in Nigeria; from the witch hunts in Malawi, Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Kenya, Guinea Conakry, Mozambique and the Central African Republic, to the wave of homophobia sweeping across different countries with overt and covert support from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Vatican and other religious agencies that foster religious laws and its discontents across the globe. How we address this “sensitive” issue of religious law – particularly at the Human Rights Council – will go a long way in determining the future of democracy and human rights in the world. I will discuss this theme under three sub-headings – witch hunts, homophobia and religious bloodletting. Witch hunts: Witch hunting is going on in contemporary Africa due to the rule of codified and uncodified religious laws in the region. The tragic death in the UK of a 15-year-old Congolese boy, Kristy Bamu, shocked many across the world. Bamu was tortured to death by family members who believed he was a “witch” and that he should be suffered not to live, as stated in the Christian holy book. What Kristy Bamu went through in the UK is what many children, women and elderly persons across Africa are suffering at this moment. The only difference is that while those who tortured and killed Bamu have been brought to justice, in most cases those who perpetrate such atrocities in Africa go scot-free, they are never made to answer for their crimes. I believe those who murdered Bamu must have done so out of obedience and faithfulness to the religious teaching and law as enshrined in Exodus 22:18, which says “Suffer not a witch to live”, and in other religious traditions and as contained in the religious indoctrination that marks the education and upbringing of most Africans. Also inspired by religious laws are those persecuting alleged witches in Nigeria, Ghana,

By Leo Igwe Ivory Coast, Benin, Burkina Faso, the Congo, Central African Republic, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and Angola. Even where there are enabling state laws to address the problem, in many cases the religious laws in the minds of the people overwhelm, and take precedence over state laws. Or the existing law will be twisted and misinterpreted to convict the alleged witch and acquit the accuser. Hence it should not surprise anyone that theocratic agencies like the Vatican, the Church of England, the OIC and their member states have not come out openly and categorically to condemn accusations of witchcraft and spirit possession sweeping across Africa and Asia and among African and Asian overseas communities. One wonders why the so called Africa group has maintained a silence – I would say criminal silence – over the witchcraft related torture and killings going on in several African states Homophobia: And now compare the deafening silence and indifference of African states to combating witchcraft-related abuses with their vehement and strident opposition to recognising the human rights of gay people. The reasons often cited to justify and sanctify homophobic legislations in the region are as follows: That homosexuality is unbiblical, unKoranic and ungodly! In other words, the African states have these sacred texts, not their constitutions, as their ground norm. Recently, many African states and most of the OIC member states walked out of the session convened by the Council to discuss violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. With that walk out, they have made their position clear: they do not want these human-rights violations to be discussed or addressed, nor will they be party to addressing them. They should not be held responsible and accountable. In other words, they are saying that the human rights abuses on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity should continue, because that is in accordance with the “divine” law in these countries. Religious bloodletting: Lastly, religious laws are rarely adopted in a civil and democratic manner. They are not proposed in a manner whereby we can discuss or debate them, accept or reject them, revise or amend them. Instead they are imposed, and foisted on the people by force and sometimes by violence and bloodshed. In my country, the tree of sharia law has been watered with the blood of too many Nigerians as well as non-

Nigerians. And the same can be said of Algeria, Egypt, Sudan and Uganda where Joseph Kony and his militants are killing, enslaving and raping their way to imposing Christian law on Uganda. In Nigeria, the bloody campaign for the rule of sharia is still going on. Shortly after Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999, Islamic theocrats in Muslim majority states imposed sharia law. Many Nigerians lost their lives in riots, protests and clashes over the implementation of sharia. Today, the Islamist group Boko Haram is the latest face of this bloody campaign. In Nigeria, Islamic militants agitating for a government under sharia law kill at the slightest provocation or offence: if it is not the publication of cartoons of Mohammed in Denmark, it is the invasion of Afghanistan by American forces or the staging of the beauty pageant or the burning of the Koran, or the coming of an American preacher to the city of Kano. There is something lacking in the conscience and morals of those who for whatever reason value a book more than a human being, more than human life. There is something out of sync with humanity in anyone who thinks that a person who insults, denounces, renounces or blasphemes against any religion should be killed. There is something incompatible with human civilisation in the mindset that subordinates human beings, or sacrifices human dignity, human rights and human lives, on the altar of religious dogma or offence. And we should strive to ensure that no legal code that sanctions or condones these dark and destructive tendencies is associated with our democracy and human rights in this 21st century. My friends, let us face it. There is something fundamentally undemocratic about religious laws: that is the “alleged” source or sources as the case may be. Religious laws originate from questionable sources which humans are not allowed to question or inquire into, or they do so at great cost to themselves. Unfortunately, the religions have refused to tell the world the truth about the origins of these laws, which they insist must guide and govern human lives, and direct and determine human decisions – including the ones we make at the Human Rights Council. In a democracy, people have the right to know – to know the truth not only about those who govern them but also about the laws that are used to govern the society. But as long as religions continue to lie, and hold

(Continued on p16)

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The gay world pictured

Tolerance v bigotry ABOVE LEFT: The Californian city of San Diego last month honoured Harvey Milk, the openly gay member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who was assassinated in 1978, by naming a street after him. Pictured holding a Milk Street banner at the unveiling of the new street name, which replaces Blaine Avenue, is Harvey Milk’s nephew, Stuart. In 2009 Milk, an atheist, was posthumously awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Stuart accepted the award on behalf of his uncle. (Photo courtesy of Rex Wockner.) The second shot is of a confrontation between a gay man and a fundamentalist Christian, which occurred during a massive de-

monstration held in the North Carolina town of Newton against a Baptist pastor who suggested that lesbians and gays should be rounded up, placed behind electrified wire barriers and left to die. On May 27, 2,000 protesters converged on the town, 12 miles from pastor Charles Worley’s Providence Road Baptist Church. The protest was organised by Appalachian State University student Laura Tipton and backed by a group called Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate. One of the protesters was Dave Dlouh of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, pictured in an argument with Worley supporter Gary Brown of Hope Mills. (Photo: Andrew Dye, WinstonSalem Journal.)

Religious law, democracy and human rights humanity in the dark about the source or sources of their dogmas and doctrines; as long as religious agencies continue to hamper the ability of the people to reclaim, revise or discard these archaic, outdated and Dark Age norms, religious laws will remain social and political liabilities to democracies and human-rights systems across the world. Religious laws will continue to undermine human-rights mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council. Religious laws are supposedly divine, not man-made; crafted by a supreme being, not mere mortals. Religious laws are not really meant to protect the interests of the peo-

(Continued from p15) ple but those of a god – of particular gods, or Allah – at the expense of human beings. Under religious laws, the will of the people is superseded by the supposed will of a god believed to be greater than the human being. There is no place for the voice of the people. Instead there is only the voice of God or Allah, which is appropriated, patented and employed by a few males to tyrannize the lives of others. Under religious laws, there is no place for equal or universal human rights, for the right to freedom of expression, freedom of reli-

gion or belief. There is no guarantee of the basic right to life. Think about Abraham, who almost murdered his son Isaac as a demonstration of faith. Religious law has no regard for human beings. Religious laws are incompatible with the values of democracy and human rights. And those who peddle them will always see themselves swimming against the currents of human progress, hope, civilisation and enlightenment. • LEO IGWE is a leading Nigerian humanist. This article originally appeared in Nigeria’s The Guardian in March 2012 and is reproduced with his permission.

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The Pink Humanist June 2012