December 25, 2011

"I'm about as secular as a person could reasonably be..."

"... but not secular enough to grumble about other people's enjoyment of what they regard as the birthday celebration for their spiritual savior," says Geoffrey K. Pullum, at Language Log.
From my kitchen here in Edinburgh right now, I can hear the bell of Broughton St. Mary's Church calling the flock in for the Christmas morning service, and it doesn't make me bristle. And I don't mind the huge Norwegian Christmas tree that is always erected on The Mound behind the Scottish National Gallery (a gift from Hordaland in Norway in memory of close ties during the Second World War) being called a Christmas tree. The nativity scenes put up here and there annoy me to the same extent as the menoras in some windows, which is to say, absolutely not at all.

The Christmas Eve carol service from King's College Cambridge, broadcast on BBC Radio 4, is worth hearing by anyone who appreciates high-quality choral music, and if some public funds are used to get the outside broadcast trucks to Cambridge and the mikes set up, I say good, spend it. The BBC's short sermon each morning, "Thought For The Day", studiously circulates through Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Islam, so determined are they to be eclectic in their spiritual uplift. I disappear into the shower rather than hear the platitudes, but I'm not inclined to campaign for removing them from the airwaves. Considering that the UK actually is a theocracy (the reigning monarch is both head of state and head of the uniquely established church that the state recognizes), it's all pretty relaxed and inclusive and not worth a serious person's protest time.
The UK actually is a theocracy... but a serious, completely secular person shouldn't mind it at all.


Donald Douglas said...

Aren't you stretching "theocracy" in the British case? Secular leaders rule. The monarch reigns, and the church is checked by state authority. It's not separation of church and state, okay? But it's not Tehran, by any stretch of the imagination.

DADvocate said...

The reigning monarch in the UK is virtually powerless and plays a symbolic role. Reading Pullum's post, he seems like a decent fellow I'd like to meet, unlike the atheists in California who don't believe in tolerance and freedom.

edutcher said...

Mr Pullum sounds like a class act.

What he appreciates are the last nods to civilized life in Dear Old England.

Donald Douglas said...

Aren't you stretching "theocracy" in the British case?

Some dictionaries cite the Anglican Establishment as an example of an establishment of religion.

vza said...

What a lovely, generous man!

Chip S. said...

Still a few sane, well-adjusted people around.

That's nice to know.

spunky said...

Weird. This came out just a few days ago too. Merry Christmas.

Maguro said...

Just having a state religion, as in the UK, doesn't constitute a theocracy - the government also has to claim divine guidance or rule in accordance with religious law.

Anonymous said...

So the Brits have it backwards, Maguro. The monarch, as head of Church as well as State, gets to specify what the religious law is!


Maguro said...

Yeah, Henty VIII pretty much established that point, didn't he?

JP said...

I agree 100%. As a fellow secular, I couldn't care less how others pray or celebrate their religion. Christmas is my favorite Holiday - family, food, exchange of presents, ... - what could be better.

Don't force me to conform to your views and in exchange I don't try to force you (or society).

jimbino said...

Besides being an stuffed shirt who depends on googling in order to determine proper English usage, Pullum doesn't have a clue as to why we freethinkers need to wage war against Christianism and all its ugly vestiges.

Every time we are denied our right to see pornography on TV, see uncensored films, buy booze or the morning-after pill in a grocery store on Sunday morning, drink beer at an Oktoberfest on Sunday in Georgia or Alabama, etc, we curse the Christianists.

Richard said...

"... The UK actually is a theocracy ..."

Ah, not really. Official government policy is not exactly purported to be guided by divine guidance. As Donald Douglas points out, above, secular leaders rule the UK, not priests.

traditionalguy said...

It would be a Theocracy dependent upon the Monarch's belief or un-belief and also dependent upon whether he is a Monarch anymore at all rather than a seriously wealthy play actor.

But King's College Cambridg's Chapel Choir Christmas Carols service is a serious matter.

That broadcasts the Word of God.And those seeds being broadcast may well come to life in the hearts of the listeners.

Terry said...

The complaints of religious laymen in the 18th & 19th century weren't that the English church was driving government policy, but that government policy was driving the teachings of the church. See Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford for contemporary thoughts on the content of C of E sermons in the 19th century (the book, not the godawful BBC miniseries).
I am nearly certain that the required Chapels of Orwell's public school upbringing are what led him to see religion only as a political tool of the established order (literally established, in the case of the Church of England).

The Crack Emcee said...

Christmas doesn't bother me. Christianity doesn't bother me.

Christians (and their enemies) can drive me up the fucking wall,...

SMGalbraith said...

Isn't it interesting - perhaps more revealing than interesting - that atheists rarely complain about the welfare state and the clear religious or sectarian basis ("We are our brother's keeper") for that state intervention in our lives?

They seldom seem to complain when politicians lecture us on our moral obligations to the poor and how greed is so wrong.

On what secular grounds are these claims derived?

To be clear: I'm not arguing against the welfare state. Just that the clear religious basis for those laws are seldom challenged.

YoungHegelian said...


On what secular grounds are these claims derived?

This is just then tip of the iceberg of the philosophical stupidity of the modern neo-atheistic movement.

How do they know what principles are theologically derived? Easy! Some local yokel stands up and says he finds X or Y in the Bible, or Torah, or the Koran. No need to work through some difficult historical genealogy of a concept!

At least, the Logical Positivists were much more honest about where scientific knowledge began and ended. And they knew that morality of any kind was on the other side of where science ended.

Terry said...

How do they know what principles are theologically derived? Easy! Some local yokel stands up and says he finds X or Y in the Bible, or Torah, or the Koran. No need to work through some difficult historical genealogy of a concept!

Ah! I gather you've watched Hitchens' debate the value of religion!

The Crack Emcee said...


Ah! I gather you've watched Hitchens' debate the value of religion!

No need - actions speak louder than words and you almost all act like jackasses.

Pick on the recently deceased on Christmas day often, there, Terry? get that from your parents or your god? I'm sure both are lovely.

Mindless hypocrite peasant.

Chuck66 said...

And believers in the Athiest religion think that having a WWI memorial cross in a desert makes the US a so-called theocrcay

n.n said...

Christianity has demonstrated extraordinary tolerance for competing interests in other faiths. Unlike some, including Islam, it does not demand its faithful to coerce conversion at the end of the sword. Unlike some, including the secular cult, it has not demonstrated a progressive inability to preserve individual dignity.

Whatever faith someone adheres to, if only an objective faith in their senses (and, occasionally, a selective representation), each should be judged by the principles it engenders, and its capacity to be compatible with both the natural (e.g. instinctive, procreative) and enlightened (i.e. conscious, individual dignity) orders.

Whether one believes in mortal gods, gods, or God, is immaterial and the arguments around this feature are unproductive. Although, the submission to mortal gods has proven to be the most disastrous for human lives and dignity.

Good luck, fellow travelers.

Carnifex said...

I disagreed with both sides using Hitchens death to "score points" like this is some sort of game. I don't know what game, but it was on full display here with both sides of the religious/atheist debate, both being mostly unseemly.

The problem with Christianity is that it is practiced by people. People are fallible, ergo their practice of religion is fallible. To expect anything else is unreasonable.

The idea of Christianity is much like the idea of Islam. To follow in the footsteps of one who is perceived to be ideal to God, if not god-like.

The unfortunate case for Islam is their "ubermensch" was a war lord from a barbaric culture. Christianities was a pacifist.

Regardless of your conviction of God/No God, I think we can all agree that we, you and I personally, can treat each other better.

Terry said...

Mr. Crack Emcee, I hope that whereever Hitchens is now, he is happy.
I just don't think he was very good at debating on the subject of religion. His opponents were worse. Whatever the initial resolution, he made the debate about whether or not God was moral by today's standards, and specifically his standards. Clever, but still a trick.

I do believe that, like Orwell, Hitchens was always aware that he was not at home among members of the social class he championed.

Craig said...

POTUS is head of state in the U.S. and head of government if his/her party has majority in the House of Representatives. Otherwise the Speaker of the House is HOG.

The Crack Emcee said...


Mr. Crack Emcee, I hope that whereever Hitchens is now, he is happy.
I just don't think he was very good at debating on the subject of religion. His opponents were worse.

That's a funny way to admit Hitchens always won - especially since he debated some of the most esteemed scholars on the subject.

As your answer proves, you guys got no game,...

The Crack Emcee said...

BTW - Things To Keep In Mind (Perspective)

Terry said...

Mr. Crack Emcee wrote:
That's a funny way to admit Hitchens always won -
Okay! I'll stop believing in God, then!
I don't know that Hitchens always won, but in the debates I've seen (with Tony Blair, for example) Hitchens made the debate about whether people who made the claim that they were God's representatives on Earth behaved more morally than Hitchens, rather than about whether religion was a force for good in the world. That is, he argued that that portion of humanity that was least like Christopher Hitchens was bad.
Blair should have caught on to the trick, since he (like Hitchens) made a living tickling the vanity of Boomers of a certain social class.

Suburbanbanshee said...

Apparently, being a famous religious leader or scholar makes one a great debater -- which is why every great scholar of Shakespeare is a star Shakespearean actor.

Oh, wait.