Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Poison Of Religion

Raif Badawi pic from the BBC

In January this year (2015) Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi received the first fifty of one thousand lashes he was sentenced to by the Saudi Arabian “justice” system for being disrespectful to Islam. He had also been sentenced to ten years in prison and a fine, although it goes without saying that he is unlikely to survive such a flogging – even if it is to be carried out in stages, supposedly giving him time to recover sufficiently enough for the full sentence to be administered.

And while this is going on, Saudi Arabia is – unbelievably – actually on the UN’s Human Rights Council!

There has, of course, been an international outcry over the barbarism that is being inflicted on a man who had the courage to speak out in favour of the freedoms we enjoy in civilised western countries, where we can think freely and even criticise the status quo. But in an Islamic state like Saudi, independent thought and expression of dissenting beliefs can invite horrendous punishment and even death. And this is the 21st century!

The sentence of another fifty lashes has been postponed numerous times since January, giving some hope that the Saudi authorities might have been giving the case further consideration, and possibly even been willing to give in to the worldwide pressure to revise the sentence imposed on Raif. Unfortunately, as the BBC reports, the Saudi regime has confirmed that the original sentence of 1,000 lashes and ten years jail will be carried out.

To their shame, western governments aren’t really making as much of a fuss as they could, or should, nor will they as long as they are so eager to buy Saudi oil, and equally eager to sell them arms. Not only that, but the newly-elected Conservative Party government in Britain has promised to repeal the Human Rights Act that protects every citizen in the UK from the same medieval barbarism that leaves every person in Islamic countries in fear of the ominous rap on the door in the middle of the night. Or just the wrath of an ignorant lynch mob at any time of the day.

There is little I can do as an individual to help this man whose “crime” is nothing more than speaking reasonably. All I can do is add my own voice to the many others who are speaking out and hope that eventually it might make a difference. Add your voice too, if you cherish – and want to keep – the freedom to think for yourself.

In the UK and other western countries, everyone has freedom of conscience, and that includes the freedom to follow any religion without hindrance, as well as the freedom to follow no religion at all. That’s the way it should be, but it doesn’t happen in any country where politics and theocracy are so intertwined that they become, in fact, the same thing.

Religion, as the late Christopher Hitchens pointed out, poisons everything.

Advertisements

Enfield – Making A Paranormal Drama Out Of A Crisis (Maybe)

I watched the recent three-part TV drama, The Enfield Haunting, and I thought I might as well add my own review and analysis to the many that have already been presented.

The drama, based on Guy Lyon Playfair’s book, This House Is Haunted, was transmitted on Sky Living over three weeks. Starring Matthew Macfadyen as Guy Lyon Playfair and Timothy Spall as Maurice Grosse (the two main parapsychological investigators), the story was based on what was described as “real events” that occurred during an alleged poltergeist haunting that was investigated by Playfair and Grosse during the 1970s in a modest suburban home in Enfield, London.

Even as a sceptic myself, I have no problem with a good ghost yarn. And this was good – very good. The writing, the acting and everything else about it was superb. The drama of the situation was particularly enhanced by the attention to detail, especially with regard to the way a typical 1970s home might be decorated, although the fashionable colour schemes people liked in those days (browns, orange) would be out of place in anyone’s home nowadays. I remember that fashion in decor quite well, so it struck a chord with me, and it was easy to imagine myself being back in that era; it added to the overall effect for me. For a younger person used to modern light airy pastel decoration, I’m sure it would have added a certain ominous feel to it all, particularly given the careful application of lighting and shadow in the production, the effect no doubt used to enhance the overall sense of the sinister.

I won’t criticise the drama itself, although there are other aspects of the whole thing that I found rather troubling. First of all, it was promoted as being “based on real events.” Some people might dispute that. The original book, This House Is Haunted, came in for lots of criticism from sceptics (and still does, not surprisingly). The existence of poltergeists – like the existence of ghosts and other paranormal claims – is certainly not proven, but the danger of this type of drama is that it lends a faux legitimacy to it. It’s the same psychological process in action that affects a lady I know who once told me that psychics solve crimes (they don’t, of course), and it must be true because she has seen the “documentaries” on TV and she really thinks (as she told me in all seriousness) “They couldn’t put it on the telly if it wasn’t true!”

Perhaps many of the believing viewers of this drama have a similar mind-set. The claim that the story is “based on real events” might just translate in their own minds into the idea that it must be true because the TV people have actually made it into a TV drama (and “they couldn’t put it on the telly if it weren’t true”, could they?)

The programme is listed at the IMBD, and some of the comments are interesting; in particular, one commenter says, “I feel like the show has given me the belief in ghosts…” Maybe that’s someone who had no beliefs about the paranormal one way or another before he watched the series, but if that’s the case, then here is a new convert to the woo mind-set. And of course the existing believers will just have their beliefs confirmed and even reinforced.

I don’t have a link handy, but I know that Guy Lyon Playfair himself – the author of the original book – has complained that some of the drama contained events that did not happen. This combination of events being invented for dramatic purposes, together with the story being advertised as being based on “real events” gives an undeserved legitimacy to a story that is controversial, to say the least, but certainly not proven.

It’s bad enough that TV schedules are overflowing with pseudo-documentaries about alleged “ancient aliens,” UFOs, ghost-hunting capers filmed with night-vision cameras and all the rest of it without this sort of programme adding to the plethora of paranormal propaganda that airs non-stop on the seemingly unlimited number of TV channels available nowadays.

There’s a difference between a drama based on known and confirmed historical events, and a drama based on unconfirmed, but sensational, claims. The Enfield poltergeist case is one person’s personal account of alleged happenings that do not comport with what empirical scientific investigation has told us about the world we live in and the universe around us. It’s just not the same as something from history (even recent history) where the overall story and chain of events is known and not disputed, but which needs a dramatist’s talent to flesh out what might have happened behind the scenes, so to speak. OK, even that writer’s particular interpretation might be disputed, but that approach can be thought-provoking as well as controversial without anyone doubting that the events dramatised actually happened.

I have watched and enjoyed many dramatisations of historical events – from very old history to very modern history – and thought them to be intellectually stimulating and, to say the least, providing “food for thought.” They are the kind of programming that make it worthwhile to be a person with an inbuilt curiosity about what goes on in the world and what might make people do what they do. Human nature in action, dramatised in a way that one might or might not agree with, but at least the best drama makes you stop and think.

Although this particular dramatisation was good (even compelling) TV, it did not do anything to promote what the world really needs – thinking people. To paraphrase Carl Sagan (very loosely, in my own words): we live in a technological world where hardly anyone understands it; we’re finished if so many people are going to spend their lives believing so much claptrap when we actually need more people who will be interested in reality.

CARL-SAGAN-007

Entertainment is OK, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that modern society is heavily dependent on science and technology. Some of the best science fiction has inspired many of today’s scientists to do what they are now doing, and I would argue that TV should produce more science-based fiction rather than woo-based fiction. However good a drama might be in its own right, I think there’s a case to be made for TV producers to keep a firm eye on what is real.