It’s the end of the world as we know it

Well, it’s finally here – the apocalypse, came round quickly didn’t it? Do people really believe that the world is going to end today? Did the Mayans even believe that the world would end today?

A quick perusal of The Mayans on Google reveals a certain amount of conjecture on the subject, as you’d imagine.

It seems that the Mayans tracked cycles of time within greater cycles of time, based on their observations of the heavens over a prolonged period. The 21st December 2012 was significant in that it marked the end of one of these cycles with the intersecting of the central point of the milky way and the plane of the ecliptic creating a “sacred tree”. So using this tree analogy, a lot of “spiritual” folk are not claiming that this will signal the end of the universe, but rather the dawning of a new era of spiritual enlightenment — the age of Aquarius.

As you’d expect the astronomers see it slightly differently, responding to the claim that the sun will be aligned with the centre of the milky way for the first time in 26,000 years Dr Strous states:

“The Milky Way has no clear central line, so there is uncertainty about when the solstitial point crosses that central line. Different groups of people can each use reasonable definitions for the central line that yet deviate from one another. If we estimate (for example) that the uncertainty about the “best” central line of the Milky Way is half a degree (which is only a small fraction of the width of the Milky Way), then the corresponding uncertainty in the date at which the solstitial point crosses the central line is 0.5°/360°*26000 = about 36 years.”

Some wishy washy notion about the dawning of the age of Aquarius may be essentially harmless, but the sad point to all this is that some apocalyptic beliefs can have devastating consequences. The brilliant ‘what’s the harm?’ lists numerous cases of suicide and mass murder associated with predictions about the coming apocalypse.

People have really short memories; there have been numerous end times predictions since the turn of the millennium. Last year it was Harold Camping managing to convince some of his more gullible followers to get rid of all their earthly possessions in preparation for the rapture, this year it’s the Mayans turn, next year there will be someone else.

Just remember folks, all these “end times predictions” have one thing in common — NONE OF THEM EVER HAPPENED!

See you tomorrow.

Belfast Peace Gathering

Another protest in Belfast — how very Northern Irish. Whether it’s a protest against government cuts, fighting for abortion legislation, the killing of a police officer, we do love a good protest — but despite what some say, such gatherings are vital. Sure, creating hashtags on Twitter, shouting about how awful it is on Facebook, and creating memes are a large part of what it is to show disapproval, physically rallying in the centre of town shows that the people are serious about taking a stand. Armchair activism is vital for getting movements off the ground, but it needs to be taken to the streets.

Over 1,000 people gathered at the City Hall for an hour. Then at 11.55 whistles, horns and drums came out. Screams could be heard all around and the clapping was contagious. The atmosphere was electric. There was no tension in the air. Everyone was happy to be out. If anything, it made us simply feel better about the people who live here. As one placard said: “It’s a piece of land, and we all have to live on it.”

This was a non-political event. Organised on the ground by a very small number of individuals, which rapidly spread over the course of just a few days, this is the way in which our society will continue to move forward. This is about more than a flag, this is about informing the small, violent, minorities that we do not want violence. The very fact that many did not turn up today due to fears for their (and their childrens’) safety from a counter-protest, is a sad fact in itself. However, today was peaceful, and we can only hope that tomorrow will be peaceful.

The next step is ensuring that the positive attitude that everyone went away with can be shown in the party policies, that our government leaders can lead us away from violence. That the fight for peace can resonate in the minds of those who continue to disrupt the peace. Whatever the outcome, we came together and showed our support. For peace. For no violence.

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

Few Surprises in the NI Census Results — But What of the Atheists?

census 2011 logoThe 2011 Census data released today continued the growing trend of religiosity losing its majority populace throughout the UK. In Northern Ireland 16.86% of the population responded as having “no religion” or “did not state religion” whereas the response for “persons with no religion or religion not stated” in the 2001 census was 13.88% — this marks a small increase of an increase of 2.98%.

In England and Wales the number of people selecting “no religion” increased from 15% in 2001 to 25% in 2011.

The NI data reveals 48% of the resident population are either Protestant or brought up Protestant, a drop of 5% from the 2001 census.

However, the numbers show that 45% of the resident population are either Catholic or brought up Catholic, yet only 41% Catholic on census day.

  • 41% Catholic
  • 19% Presbyterian
  • 14% Church of Ireland
  • 5.8% other Christian or Christian-related denominations
  • 3% Methodist
  • 0.8% other religions and philosophies

Putting this with the figures for national identity — the first time this question has been asked — the overall statistics become much more interesting as well bringing a better understanding of the politics of people in Northern Ireland. Just 25% regard themselves as Irish only. This just shows there is not a definable correlation between religion and national identity/voting pattern.

According to the BBC

7% say they either belong to another religion or none

And the UTV reported this as

Just over 5% of people in Northern Ireland said they do not belong to any religion

Each news outlet is taking different data to be the correct response.
The BBC are giving the number of 6.75% of those who “who did not state religion” for Question 17 which asked “What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?”. While UTV gave the number of those 5.59% of those who answered “none” to Question 18 which asked “What religion, religious denomination or body were you brought up in?”.

Neither of these take into consideration the 10.11% of people who answered “No Religion” under the same Question 17.

This inaccuracy of the data reporting is extremely important, and it’s a shame to see the media portray the numbers incorrectly. The numbers of those who have no religion are

Jill Farquhar states why this is important:

As politicians use the census statistics to form policy and allocate resources this type of misrepresentation is extremely significant. The use of data conflating religion with religious background produces an image of Northern Ireland which is significantly more religious and significantly less diverse than is actually the case. This reinforces the Catholic/Protestant binary and justifies the continued intrusion of religion into lawmaking in NI (see the restrictive abortion legislation for example).

More broadly, the conflation of ‘religion’ with ‘religious background’ perpetuates the idea that the religion of our parents defines our own religious identity and produces religion as something essential to the individual rather than something which can be changed, challenged and/or rejected.

For the purposes of the NI census, it seems, atheists really are ‘catholic atheists’ or ‘protestant atheists’.

Based on the data in English and Wales, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has calculated that if the change in Christianity shown between 2001 and 2011 continues, then Christians would be recorded as being in the minority from September 2018.

This is highly significant data as we watch rationality become the norm, yet there are still continued efforts to be done in education, particularly in Northern Ireland, which has seen a rise in Atheism and secularism, and indeed a growing progressive liberal community, however this has been much smaller than elsewhere in the UK.

Below is the data comparing the 2011 census data with that from 2001:

#Flegmovies

Every once in a while a trend kicks off on Twitter which flies in the face of the serious issue taking place elsewhere. This humour is a particularly passive method of showing the disdain of the majority for the violence and unruly behaviour from the minority.

Sure, it’s a throwaway “hashtag” game on Twitter, though the very fact that it spread so quickly shows the support it garnered by local people. Many of the offerings from Twitter users were accurate displays of disparagement and frustration, through the clever replacement of words and choosing of titles. Here are some of the best examples:

Well Done Belfast — No Surrender

After the vote on Monday in the City Council to remove the Union Flag as a permanent fixture on the City Hall, instead having it fly on certain days in the year, riots broke out at the city hall, and since then across Belfast by loyalist thugs.

On the upside, the “No Surrender Woman” meme to come out of it has brought much needed laughter in the face of the terrible destruction and violence taking place.

Some original footage

Belfast Vigil in Memory of Savita Halappanavar

Yesterday evening a candlelit vigil took place in Belfast where many people gathered to quietly demonstrate and remember the death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year-old Indian woman who died in University Hospital Galway on 21st October this year.

Abortion is already a very hot topic in both North and South of Ireland, however, this recent case brings new light on the fact that the Irish government has refused to legislate on abortion for twenty years, since the X Case in 1992.

The 1992 Supreme Court judgement gives women a constitutional right to access abortion when their lives are in danger, including from the risk of suicide. However, the European Court of Human Rights has said there is a notable gap in the theory and practical implementation of the right to a lawful abortion in Ireland because of the lack of corresponding legislation. TheJournal.ie

Over the last two days vigils have been held in Galway, Dublin, Cork, Limerick and London. This is not an issue which is going to go away and something must be done to ensure that such an atrocity doesn’t occur again. That the innocent life of a women is not at risk because the government is under the thumb of the dogma of Catholic church.

Savita and her husband repeatedly informed doctors of the pain she was in and requested that an abortion be carried out due to the complications of the pregnancy. Doctors had found that she was miscarrying and that the fetus would not survive, however they were told that due to a “fetal heartbeat” they would not carry out an abortion as “this is a Catholic country”.

Because her cervix remained fully open for this time, Savita was in prolonged danger of infection, comparable to having an untreated open head wound. Savita developed septicaemia, and she died on Sunday 28 October, a week after entering hospital.

By then doctors had removed the foetus, but only after its heartbeat had stopped. If they had removed the foetus when it was clear that it could not survive, Savita’s cervix would have closed earlier and she would have been less likely to develop the infection.

There are few words but anger at this response. No good moral judgement was carried out in the decision to allow this woman to die. This is a human issue, and more pressure must be put on the government to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. In doing so, full detailed legislation must be laid out for cases of abortion to ensure that all medical professionals are educated on when medically induced abortions can be carried out — medicine must not be dictated by mythological doctrine.

Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland has provided full details this case and others surrounding.

(Photographs and video by Phil O’Kane)

Woman Dies from Miscarriage in Galway After Denied a Life-Saving Abortion

It is being reported that that a woman died on Sunday 28th of October in University College Hospitals, Galway, after it was found she was having a miscarriage, yet doctors refused to perform an abortion.

The woman, Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year old dentist who was married for four years and hoping to start a family, was 17 weeks pregnant. Her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, said that she had been in severe pain and on discovering she was miscarrying had requested a medical abortion. She was told by doctors, “this is a Catholic country”.

Galway Pro-Choice released a statement:

Savita was first admitted to the hospital on October 21st complaining of severe back pain. Her doctor initially told her that she would be fine, but she refused to go home. It became clear that her waters had broken, and she was having a miscarriage (spontaneous abortion). She was told that the foetus had no chance of survival, and it would all be over within a few hours.

However, her condition did not take its expected course, and the foetus remained inside her body. Although it was evident that it could not survive, a foetal heartbeat was detected. For this reason her repeated requests to remove the foetus were denied. By Tuesday it was clear that her condition was deteriorating. She had developed a fever, and collapsed when attempting to walk. The cervix had now been fully open for nearly 72 hours, creating a danger of infection comparable to an untreated open head wound. She developed septicaemia.

Despite this, the foetus was not removed until Wednesday afternoon, after the foetal heartbeat had stopped. Immediately after the procedure she was taken to the high dependency unit. Her condition never improved. She died at 1.09am on Sunday the 28th of October.

Had the foetus been removed when it became clear that it could not survive, her cervix would have been closed and her chance of infection dramatically reduced. Leaving a woman’s cervix open constitutes a clear risk to her life. What is unclear is how doctors are expected to act in this situation.

There are a number of takeaways from this horrible incident, and much needs to be done to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Now is the time for detailed abortion legislation to be introduced in Ireland. It is unacceptable that a doctor can refuse to offer life-saving treatment on the basis of religion.

Choice Ireland spokesperson, Stephanie Lord said:

“Today, some twenty years after the X case we find ourselves asking the same question again – if a woman is pregnant, her life in jeopardy, can she even establish whether or not she has a right to a termination here in Ireland? There is still a disturbing lack of clarity around this issue, decades after the tragic events surrounding the X case in 1992.”

How honest, now, is the term “Pro-Life” to describe those fighting to prevent a woman’s right to make a choice on her body. This case has simply gone against what many people like to state, that women do not die in this day and age from pregnancies. They do.

In a piece in the Irish Times, John Fleming, Bishop of Killala, County Mayo, states:

‘Choose Life!’ – this is the campaign call of the Catholic bishops of Ireland to raise public awareness that every human life is beautiful and that every human life is precious.

The Constitution recognises “the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect” that right. The clear intention, therefore, is to protect and cherish equally the lives of both the mother and her unborn child.

In fact, Ireland, without abortion, is recognised as one of the safest countries in the world to be a pregnant mother. This is something about which we should be proud and is a tribute to the excellent care provided by hospital staff who treat both mother and unborn child with equal dignity and respect as people in their own right. Clearly, if the life of the mother is threatened, by illness or some other medical condition, the care provided by medical professionals will make sure that she receives all the medical care needed.

As stated by the European Centre for Law and Justice:

Even considering the broad European consensus on abortion, the Court considers that it doesn’t limit the sovereign right of Ireland to prohibit abortion, because of “the acute sensitivity of the moral and ethical issues raised by the question of abortion or as to the importance of the public interest at stake” (§ 233)

Apart from those positive holdings affirming that there is no right to abortion, the ECLJ must strongly reject the erroneous assumption of the ECHR of the existing of a “lawful abortion in Ireland in accordance with Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution” Article 40.3.3, adopted by a referendum held in 1983, reads as follows and doesn’t recognize any right to abortion : “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” The Court’s interpretation of article 40.3.3, may lead to a forced recognition of a right to abortion.

Our thoughts go out to the family and friends of Savita Halappanavar.

Abortion Clinic To Open in Belfast

It was announced today that the Marie Stopes charity will be opening a sexual health clinic in Belfast on Thursday 18th October — the clinic will offer abortions to women “within Northern Ireland’s current legal framework”.

A spokeswoman said: “Medical abortion up to nine weeks’ gestation will be available at the centre.

“Our provision of early medical abortion will be the same service that is currently available from the NHS in Northern Ireland, available only within the current legal framework: that is, if a woman’s life is at immediate risk or there is a risk of ‘real and serious’ long term or permanent damage to her physical or mental health, she may have an abortion in Northern Ireland.” — The Detail

Abortion is a particularly hot-topic in Ireland, both North and South of the border, however what the planned opening of the clinic has done is to make the debate more relevant and is playing a large part in educating people about the legal stance on abortion in Northern Ireland. It has come as a surprise to many that abortions are legal in through the NHS. While this service is only available under highly regulated circumstances where the life or mental and physical well-being of the pregnant woman was at immediate risk. It is clear that many eligible women in Northern Ireland are turned away from this service under the NHS as doctors often do not know the full extent of the law.

From the BBCNews website:

Q. What is the law on abortion in Northern Ireland?

The law in Northern Ireland is as it was in Britain before 1967. The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act makes all abortions illegal. The 1929 Infant Life (Preservation) Act was extended to Northern Ireland in 1945 and allows abortion to preserve a mother’s life. Also the Bourne judgement 1938 – case law allowing abortion in circumstances of risk to mental or physical health.

While the service is available under these circumstances through the NHS, programme director Dawn Pervis has said that the clinic offers “a safe place for women and men to find support, be provided with help and counselling, to feel that they are being listened to and not judged. It is a matter of choice, every step of the way. A woman may decide that she does not want to choose a termination. If she does, then offering early medical abortion cuts out the stress of having to travel outside Northern Ireland to access those services.”

The Marie Stopes website details the abortion pill procedure.

Women over 16 will be able to avail of the abortion service provided, however the clinic also provides a number of other serivces:

  • Abortion
  • Contraception
  • Female sterilisation
  • Well Woman screening
  • Cervical screening
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Chlamydia tests
  • Gynaecological checks
  • Menopause checks
  • For men

  • Vasectomy
  • Well Man screening
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • HIV testing
  • Chlamydia tests

In a statement released this morning, Alliance MLA, Anna Lo said:

“I would like to welcome the opening of the first Marie Stopes clinic in Northern Ireland. I will be giving them my full support and I would like to send my warmest wishes to Dawn Purvis the director of this clinic.

“They will be operating within the current law, so I am deeply saddened by the criticism that some people have directed towards this development.

This is a step forward in the right direction for Northern Ireland, especially considering that we are decades behind the rest of the UK on this issue. There is still more work to do to offer women full choice but this is a ground breaking day for women in Northern Ireland.

We should not be forcing women to travel to Britain to even have a termination that would be legal in Northern Ireland. We are putting extra pressure on women by forcing them to travel across the Irish Sea to have a termination.

I hope people can treat this issue with the sensitivity that it deserves and not use inflammatory language that puts stress on women who will have to make a difficult decision.”

It is this support and and counselling which is vital and this clinic makes it easier for women to seek the help they need. It is important to stir opinion and making women aware of what their options are. It is also worthwhile noting that 9 weeks actually looks like: an inch long, the head very big in proportion to the rest of it, eyes out to the side, brain cells still unconnected, some spontaneous movements purely due to reflexive activity, no conscious awareness.

Christ on a Bike, it’s Blasphemy Day!

Sure it’s easy to joke about religion — like, really easy — and while International Blasphemy Day isn’t a designated berate religions or offend people of faith, but rather a day to stand up for freedom of expression. The fact that in some parts of the world it is still illegal to criticise religious beliefs is ludicrous. In the US criticising religion may become a criminal offense, however, as the US Constitution demands separation of Church and state this would surely be unconstitutional — however Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania have laws against blasphemy.

In the UK, Blasphemy laws were abolished in 2008.

On the other hand, in 2009 Ireland moved to introduce blasphemy laws stating that “publishing or uttering blasphemous matter” may be punishable of up to €25,000.

In Northern Ireland blasphemy and blasphemous libel are still punishable by law. An amendment to the law was planned in 2009, but this was withdrawn.

“… this is not about any hostility to religion. On the contrary, the problem is that one person’s religion is another person’s blasphemy. The vice in the common law on blasphemy, which has never been used in Northern Ireland, is that it immediately leads to demands by, for example, Muslims that it be extended to their religion-something which has, extraordinarily, been done in the Republic. Thirdly, it is there to protect Christianity, which is regarded as divisive by non-Christians.” — Lord Lester of Herne Hill 5th Nov 2009

So the question now is, in this country, will we be arrested for stating that God is a big doo doo head? Why can we not be rude about a god, a belief system, or indeed simply criticise faith without the fear that we could potentially be arrested for doing so?

I’m not going to post any silly cartoons which may be considered extreme by some fools — we are a serious people — however, I will continue to question why it is that full freedom of expression is not granted to the people of this Island? Both north and south of the political border. We fully and completely condemn such a law which discourages free speech.

“Every great truth begins as a blasphemy.”
– George Bernard Shaw

“Blasphemy is an epithet bestowed by superstition upon common sense”
– Robert Green Ingersoll

Can we also see that those who do believe in God will stand up for the rights of those who do not?

Go now, to love and serve blaspheme to your heart’s content.

All Things Skeptical — Sunday Summary

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