Religion & Politics Blog

The Worlds Shortest Political Quiz describes me as a left-liberal. I consider myself a non-fundamentalist protestant. I have little time for dogmatism or sectarianism in either politics or religion, but this blog will contain opinions. Read at your peril.

Fred Clark on The Satanic Panic

Great post by Fred Clark on the 1980s fundamentalist moral panic about D&D and Satanism. It all reads like ancient history now, like something out of the Salem witch trials.

Newitz’s account details one tangential battle of the Satanic Panic that arose in the 1980s — a moral panic that resulted in students being expelled from schools, young people being bullied by their peers or institutionalized by their parents, and dozens of innocent people spending years in prison for crimes that never even occurred.

The astonishing thing, as Newitz says, is that today, a few decades later, “D&D-influenced stories” are a noncontroversial part of mainstream American pop culture. That’s not what anyone would have predicted back during the Reagan years, when Satanic baby-killer politics first arose, bringing with it a whole host of demonizing delusions — a diabolical conspiracy of black-robed ritual abusers, fears of backward-masking messages in rock music, the presumption of a suicide epidemic among RPG enthusiasts. If you remember the 1980s, it’s jarring to step back today and realize how much of that has simply faded away and lost its power. The same folks who were able to bully D&D to the sidelines in the 1980s found themselves steamrolled when they later tried the same tactics against Harry Potter and his fans.

But, as Fred Clark explains, Dungeons and Dragons really was a threat to the world-view of a certain kind of authoritarian fundamentalism. It wasn’t the magic, or the monsters, or the made-up pantheons of gods.

It was the alignment system.

As I’ve explained before, D&D’s alignments have two axes forming a three-by-three matrix of ethical stances. One axis is Good vs. Evil, the other is Law vs. Chaos more or less as defined by Michael Moorcock in his Eternal Champion saga. Law is all about following the rules and obeying authority, and it’s easy to see why some fundamentalists might have a problem with making that independent of Good and Evil. Despite it actually being true, as evidenced by every totalitarian regime in history.

But, as Fred Clark correctly points out, denying the existence of Lawful Evil or Chaotic Good isn’t actually very good theology.

It says something about the sorry state of biblical understanding among biblical “inerrantists” that we were left to learn this from Gary Gygax rather than from Galatians, Isaiah, Amos or the Gospels. But once we learned it — once we came to see the possibility of it — then the whole ideology we’d been taught came into question.

But when the fundamentalist faith is as fragile as a soap-bubble, just about anything can not only be seen as a thread, but can actually be a threat.

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Charlie Stross on A Nation of Slaves

Charlie Stross ponders the nature of “bullshit jobs” and “wage slavery”, and has some harsh words for George Osborne:

Meanwhile, jobs: the likes of George Osborne (mentioned above), the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, don’t have “jobs”. Osborne is a multi-millionaire trust-fund kid, a graduate of Eton College and Oxford, heir to a Baronetcy, and in his entire career spent a few working weeks in McJobs between university and full-time employment in politics. I’m fairly sure that George Osborne has no fucking idea what “work” means to most people, because it’s glaringly obvious that he’s got exactly where he wanted to be: right to the top of his nation’s political culture, at an early enough age to make the most of it. Like me, he has the privilege of a job that passes test (a): it’s good for him. Unlike me … well, when SF writers get it wrong, they don’t cause human misery and suffering on an epic scale; people don’t starve to death or kill themselves if I emit a novel that isn’t very good.

Stross’ solution is something an increasing number of people from right across the political spectrum have been advocating of late, but has yet to appear on mainstream politics’ agenda: a basic citizen’s income.

The idea is that instead of running a complicated and often demeaning welfare system, everyone gets a basic income, sufficient for a no-frills lifestyle. Any income you earn over and above that will be taxed, but what’s left after tax is yours to keep.

Yes I’m sure there will be plenty of misanthropic disciples of Ayn Rand or John Calvin who will dismiss the whole idea as unworkable – give the masses “free money” and they’ll do nothing but watch TV, drink beer, and breed.  But the present system isn’t working too well either in that regard, is it? One thing a basic citizens’ income would do will be to kill the so-called “Poverty Trap” where people are financially better-off recieving benefits than working in low-paid employment. There is at least a chance that it will end the waste of human potential caused by our present system.

There are bound to be all sorts of unintended consequences, and it’s likely to have all sorts of knock-on effects on pay rates if people are no longer dependent on work for survival. One likely effect may be to make it much harder to recruit people to work for low pay in unskilled but unpleasant or soul-destroying jobs.

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RIP Tony Benn. I didn’t agree with everything he said and did, but he had a passion and integrity that made the vast majority of today’s politicians of all parties look like self-serving spivs by comparison. Politics is in dire need of more people like him.

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London’s Laundry Business

Very depressing picture of Britain drawn by the New York Times.

Britain’s ruling class has decayed not just to the point where Mr. Cameron is considered a man of exceptional talent, but to where its first priority is protecting its percentage on Russian money — even as Russian armored personnel carriers rumble around the streets of Sevastopol. But the establishment understands that in the 21st century what matters are banks, not tanks.

The Russians also understand this. They know that London is a center of Russian corruption, that their loot plunges into Britain’s empire of tax havens — from Gibraltar to Jersey, from the Cayman Islands to the British Virgin Islands — on which the sun never sets.

British residency is up for sale. “Investor visas” can be purchased, starting at £1 million ($1.6 million). London lawyers in the Commercial Court now get 60 percent of their work from Russian and Eastern European clients. More than 50 Russia-based companies swell the trade at London’s Stock Exchange. The planning regulations have been scrapped, and along the Thames, up and up go spires of steel and glass for the hedge-funding class.

So while Tories and their sycophantic newspapers tell us day after day that the EU is the root of all evil and we’re being overrun by foreign immigrants, the truth is that our ruling elites have completely sold out to foreign money. We might as well be living under occupation.

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It looks as though Julie Burchill is now treating feminists the way she used to treat rock fans. She has always been a nasty little bigot. I know having a bad attitude towards rock fans isn’t that big a deal in the larger scheme of things. But hating people because of their taste in music is strong sign of a nasty character flaw that’s very likely to reveal itself in more dangerous forms of bigotry.

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That Wil Wheaton Tumblrstorm

It’s very difficult to know what to make of the recent Tumblrstorm over Wil Wheaton’s use of the word “Spirit Animal”. I don’t know enough about Native American culture to know whether he’s actually caused genuine offence, or has fallen foul of yet more ill-informed internet outrage. I did notice the response from a Native American woman telling Wheaton he’d committed no offence and demanding that people who aren’t actually Native Americans stop trying to white-knight her culture.

Things like this make me wish I was better at being able to tell the difference between genuine, justified anger and empty self-righteous posturing. How much can you trust your own gut feelings when one party in an argument is saying the sorts of things you want to hear?

It’s never a good thing to give a signal boost to the wrong people, especially if you don’t know much about where they’re coming from.

What’s the best thing to do with this sort of thing, apart from the obvious one of not jumping in with both feet into a situation you know nothing about?

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It’s time to stop allowing climate change deniers from getting away with calling themselves “Sceptics”. They are not sceptics. Sceptics accept evidence-based science rather trying to fit facts to an inviolable pre-determined conclusion. In contrast, climate change deniers have a lot in common with young earth creationists. Which is why it’s hardly surprising that there is a significant overlap between the two.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 3 Comments

Very heartfelt blog post by Rachel Mann in response to the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement. It’s a reminder of what sticking to strict abstract principles to appease “traditionalists” does to actual, real people.

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You can always tell how vital any group of workers are by how often they withdraw their labour, and what happens when they do. There is a reason that lawyers, investment bankers and reality TV celebrities never go on strike.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 3 Comments

Despite what one former Archbishop would have you believe, there is no widespread persecution on Christians in the west. But it’s still true that whenever a foaming-at-the-mouth barking fundie spouts hate-filled claptrap in the name of religion, you will always get a secular backlash, with the usual suspects using said idiot as a means to attack religion as a whole. So can Demetri Marchessini please, to use a Biblical quote as a emphemism, just Go Forth and Multiply?

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