Introducing ‘Faith Watch’ – a monthly round-up of the errors, disasters and absurdities following in the wake of religion around the world, by our assistant editor, Daniel James Sharp.

Destruction during the Gaza War in 2008. Credit: DYKT Mohigan. used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

The blood-soaked holy land

The Israel-Palestine conflict today involves a tangled and tragic web of disputes, but it is ultimately rooted in competing religious ideologies. So long as fanatical Jews, Muslims, and Christians see Palestine as their personal holy land, it is hard to see how the conflict will ever be resolved.

In such a politically complex dispute, with so many historic grievances and so much suffering on both sides, it is hard to understand what is really happening on the ground, let alone get any sense of how the conflict could or should be ended. Some form of the old two-state solution, moribund as it seems now, is probably still the only viable path to peace. So long as bigotry and fanaticism reign on all sides, however, that outcome is unlikely to be realised.

Even if a compromise is reached, as Kunwar Khuldune Shahid argues in his essay on Hamas and Islamist-leftist extremism, ‘the solution is still set to be as arbitrarily imposed as the problem was.’ We hope to offer further reflections on the conflict from different perspectives in the coming weeks.

A heroine honoured

In other, somewhat brighter, news, the Iranian feminist Narges Mohammadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on 6 October. Unfortunately, Mohammadi is currently languishing in a Tehran prison for her anti-regime activism, particularly her opposition to the hijab. The Iranian mullahs are the paymasters of Hamas and are almost certainly responsible for the attack in Israel – which was, coincidentally, launched the day after the Nobel was announced. But Mohammadi represents something very troubling for the mullahs: the growth in Iran of a mass movement for secular democracy and equality between the sexes. Let us hope this movement succeeds sooner rather than later.

An Islamic party pooped

An application to form a Party of Islam in the UK was rejected by the Electoral Commission last month. The application, sent just days after Hamas’s attack on Israel, seems to have been put together rather shoddily. As EU Today reported:

‘In its official application, the Party of Islam states “We are a party who has been created to help all of the minority in the land of Great Britain have a voice.”

The Party of Islam has also stated its intention to “help all of the minority in the land of Great Britain have a voice,” further stating: “We will make sure that all problems which lingure (sic) in the great country of Great Britain is defeated.”’

Everyone should be free to set up political organisations of whatever stripe they want, of course, but one does wonder what exactly the Party of Islam would stand for.

Would a PoI prime minister disestablish the Church of England? Would there be a Mosque of England in its place? Would blasphemy laws be reenacted? What stance would the party take on, say, the Batley Grammar School teacher who is still in hiding after displaying an image of Muhammad in his classroom in 2021? What would their social policies look like?

Given that another, now defunct, Islamic political party wanted to bring back the death penalty for homosexuality, is it too far-fetched to wonder whether such parties are really just Islamist outfits exploiting the language of inclusivity to further their theocratic agenda? Surely not! But who knows? Perhaps, just in case, it is time for Britain to adopt something like the First Amendment and become a properly secular country…

Christians against…sponges?

On 4 November, Freethinker contributor and National Secular Society historian Bob Forder gave a lecture at Conway Hall entitled ‘Condoms, Sponges and Syringes: The 19th century pioneers of family planning’. Curiously for a lecture unrelated to abortion, it drew the ire of an evangelical ‘pro-life’ group, who turned up to protest, parading some gruesome images.

A strange turn of events, to be sure, but the anti-spongers are entitled to their freedom of speech, and they caused no serious disruption. As Bob Forder told The Freethinker, ‘there were no interruptions apart from some raucous hymn singing when they left.’

Yet another gay orgy scandal for the Catholic Church

Finally, it is always amusing to have new additions to the ancient canon of stories about debauched and perfidious priests. Grzegorz Kaszak’s resignation from his post as bishop of the diocese of Sosnowiec, Poland, was accepted by Pope Francis late in October. No reason was given for the good bishop’s resignation, but it is curious to note that, under his reign, Sosnowiec has seen more gay sex scandals than the sweetly innocent might expect from a diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.

In 2010, the acting rector of a Sosnowiec seminary got into a fight in a gay club. This August, one of Kaszak’s priests was arrested for trying to prevent paramedics from entering his apartment after a man, having overdosed on erectile dysfunction pills during a gay orgy, collapsed. The priest later said, ‘I perceive this as an obvious attack on the church, including the clergy and the faithful, in order to humiliate its position, tasks and mission.’ Well, of course!

1933 satire of catholic debauchery from the Spanish republican anti-clerical magazine la traca. wikimedia commons; public domain.

Sexual scandal is hardly new for the Catholic Church. Gay orgy scandals, in particular, seem to be as popular among priests as poppers are at…well, gay orgies. Or take another example, just for fun. In 2017, Luigi Capozzi, private secretary to Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, was arrested by the Vatican police for snorting cocaine during another such orgy in the cardinal’s apartment (the cardinal, it should be noted, was not present).

The church continues to claim divine authority to pronounce on morality and condemn gay people while running an organised system of child sexual abuse—another thing that would be funny if it were not true.

As for the hypocrisy of its priests, who uphold anti-gay doctrine while bedding half the men in their dioceses—well, let them have their fun. They could, after all, be doing much worse things—like preaching. Though if you need a supply of erectile dysfunction pills for your orgy, you probably have no future in the business.

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Further reading:

The Israel-Palestine conflict

Bloodshed in Gaza: Islamists, leftist ideologues, and the prospects of a two-state solution, by Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

Religion and the Arab-Israeli conflict, by Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

Islamist ideology and anti-Semitism

The radicalisation of young Muslims in the UK: an ongoing problem?, by Khadija Khan

Iranian resistance to theocracy

The ‘Women’s Revolution’: from two activists in Iran, by Rastine Mortad and Sadaf Sepiddasht

Batley Grammar School case

Blasphemy in the classroom, by Emma Park (New Humanist)

Free speech in Britain: a losing battle?Freethinker

Abuse in the Catholic Church

The Pope’s Apology, by Ray Argyle

    1. Competing religions are only a part of this story. For me – a hardcore atheist Jew – only a small and irrelevant part. I don’t believe “God bequeathed the land of Israel to the Jews.” On the contrary, after centuries of expulsion, dispossession, and slaughter, a remnant found itself (1948) with political sovereignty in a small piece of “Palestine.” The day after the British (who had controlled the area after winning it from the Ottoman Turks in WWI) left, the armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan invaded. Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and Morocco also sent fighters. They all intended to drive the Jews into the sea. To the world’s astonishment, they failed. Several similar effort followed over the years. Iran is currently prosecuting another – the Gaza attack being part of a much wider effort that includes working actively to acquire nuclear weapons and disrupting trade, diplomatic, and security ties that are being formed with several of the Sunni Arab states (who now view Iran as their most serious enemy).

      Israel exists as a Jewish state, not because of an imaginary supernatural bequest by God, but because Jews realized that having their own state was necessary to protect and defend Jewish lives whether religious or not.

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