Reclaiming atheism

What with the way the world is at the moment, I've been thinking a lot about social justice. I find myself confronted with sexism, homophobia, and even racism, with increasing frequency both offline and online. Possibly it's just because I'm becoming more conscious of these things as I become more educated about the world, myself and the power dynamics therein. But even empirically it seems like the dark forces are massing.

Recently, we've seen extreme misogyny coming from both sides of the Atlantic in unrelated incidents. Homophobia, racism and religious bigotry are everywhere we look. And that's just in the last few days, and these are far from isolated incidents.

At university, one of the places I found camaraderie was in the newly founded atheist society. Here I found people who celebrated rationality, free thinking and evidence-based argument. The society, too, was not (just) about drunk philosophising and debunking. In our inaugural year we lobbied the union, we protested antisemites, we collected money for AIDS charities, we specifically promoted interfaith dialogues. We were awesome.

But after university, much to my chagrin, some of the largest atheist communities I found outside the bubble were weird maelstroms of assholery. All those vices for which I thought a clear head would hold no hiding place, were still rife.
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Misuse of Terrorism Act 2000 44(2)

I just watched the compelling documentary Taking Liberties, which prompted me to finally send my complaint to the IPCC, and finish off this draft.

I was travelling Oxford to Cambridge, and had missed my connection at Paddington Station, London. With insufficient money for a hotel, I decided to just sleep in the station and catch the first train back to Cambridge. It was a cold night, so I plugged my headphones into my iPod, switched it to Pseudopod, pulled my Warwick Atheists hoodie tight around me, and sat on a light for warmth. For the next hour or so, I moved between sitting on lights and sitting with my back to a lit sign on a stall, trying to get most warm and most comfortable. There were a few other people in the station — perhaps in similar circumstances, perhaps homeless and seeking shelter from the outside wind. After some time I was dosing and listening to Pseudopod still, when I was woken (about 01:45 am) by a couple of officers in uniform who informed me that they were conducting “random” stop-and-searches under new anti-terrorism regulations. They asked me why I was there, and various other circumstantial questions. They asked to look in my backpack (which contained clothes, university work, laptop, wires).

Here’s a copy of the receipt they issued me before leaving me to sleep, if you're interested:


I looked up “44(2)”, which means “section 44, subsection 2”, presumably, (the only official justification for the search given) and found it in the Terrorism Act 2000. I quote:

Terrorism Act 2000

Power to stop and search

44. Authorisations.

(2) An authorisation under this subsection authorises any constable in uniform to stop a pedestrian in an area or at a place specified in the
authorisation and to search —
(a) the pedestrian;
(b) anything carried by him.

(3) An authorisation under subsection (1) or (2) may be given only if the person giving it considers it expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism.

From this, it doesn't seem like "random" searches are authorised, since they by definition can't be justified as "expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism.

I am submitting a somewhat abbreviated version of this to the IPCC in the form of an official complaint.

Faith schools

I've just posted a short essay on faith schools, based on a talk I once gave for a Warwick Atheists event called "The Importance of Atheism". The essay was prompted by a friend of mine's suggestion:

Got an idea for a blog article for you to do: "Faith Schools = Child Abuse?".

Do it, doooo eet. There could be a Bear Ass in it for you ;)

Well, I'm not sure if I'd go as far as to say that faith schools are child abuse — those are strong words. But I certainly think they're heinously bad for a number of reasons.