Why I’m not watching the News any more

I’ve reached the point where I can’t watch or read mainstream news reports. I’ve had difficulty with them throughout the pandemic with their incessant reporting of Covid cases and deaths completely devoid of context (how many cases were serious enough to cause hospitalisations? How many deaths were ‘of’ Covid rather than ‘with’ it? How many of the deaths were excess deaths; how many people die in any given period normally?) Ignoring context, the media became intent on fostering anxiety and panic. Their reporting was not independent; in the UK at least they parroted uncritically and relentlessly the government’s position. This, in turn, was shaped by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and in particular the predictions of computer modeller Neil Ferguson. Ferguson, regularly interviewed on BBC news programmes, was, as he now admits, wrong on every occasion. Very wrong. The pandemic was nowhere near as drastic as he repeatedly said it was going to be (I’m not disputing how serious it was. It was not, however, anywhere as near as bad as he kept predicting it would be). Yet the government and the media continued to rely on his predictions as if they were fact.

All of which is the reason I reduced my watching, listening and reading of the news to a minimum. Headlines only. Early in the summer of this year, the UK government felt the need to restore some normality to society, it asked the mainstream media to reduce its reporting of Covid statistics. All media outlets immediately complied. Conservatives can never say again that the BBC in particular is biased against them; it has done their bidding throughout the pandemic.

This is not, however, the reason I am abandoning the news, giving up even on headlines. I am tired of predictions, conjecture, speculation, forecasts and extrapolation. None of these is news. They are attempts to see the future, something that we are incapable of doing. Of course we need to be aware of potential consequences of decisions or actions, our own, governments’ and society’s. But reporting those possible consequences as fact, as outcomes that are inevitable, fait accompli, like Neil Ferguson’s hopeless predictions, is not what news reporting should be about. Its job is to tell us what has happened, how, where and possibly why (analysis). That it extends itself well beyond this by determining for us what a particular development means ‘for the future’ or ‘’in the long term’ is nothing more than supposition. It also, dangerously, leads to some self-fulfilling prophecy, such as we’ve seen in the reporting of recent supply chain difficulties. That these were restricted to specific areas was not reported but the possibility that these difficulties could, possibly, maybe, result in food shortages was. Result? Panic buying and food shortages in some areas. The same happened with supposed fuel shortages. Christmas is now in danger according to the UK media.

With Covid largely off the agenda, the news media find themselves in need of something else with which to fill schedules; some alternative source of doom and gloom. The mainstream (in the UK, at least) has opted for climate change, replete with forecasts of catastrophe, destruction and extinction. Of course it’s possible that if we do not act collectively to reduce the human contribution to climate change, that these outcomes will come to pass. It’s possible but it isn’t certain to be the case. Who remembers the media reporting that by this point in the 21st century we would be living in an ice age because of climate change? (This speculation is still about and has traction in some quarters).The news is that climate change is happening. That’s it. What we might do about it is for some other source that doesn’t claim to be delivering news.

I am tired of the narrative of the day, be it #MeToo, Brexit, BLM, Covid, climate change. Tired of its promotion by the media, of the prediction and conjecture that goes along with it, but only while it attracts sufficient viewers or readers. When something more ‘newsworthy’, sensational and alarmist comes along, what was once narrative of the day is dropped. There’s a new bandwagon to jump on! This time though, I’m doing the dropping first.

 

Are You Born Again?

Someone handed me the above card in town yesterday. ‘Are you born again?’ No, mate, and neither are you. As Bart Ehrman shows in Jesus Interrupted, and as I’ve written about before, the story of Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3 is a literary construct (as are the gospels in general.) The pun between ‘born a second time’ and ‘born from above’ only works in the Greek, where ἄνωθεν (anothen) can mean either ‘again’ or ‘from above’ (though it’s usually the latter.) Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely Jesus spoke Greek. Here’s Ehrman:

  In the Gospel of John, chapter 3, Jesus has a famous conversation with Nicodemus in which he says, ‘You must be born again.’ The Greek word translated ‘again’ actual has two meanings: it can mean not only ‘a second time’ but also ‘from above.’ Whenever it is used elsewhere in John, it means ‘from above’ (John 19:11, 23). That is what Jesus appears to mean in John 3 when he speaks with Nicodemus: a person must be born from above in order to have eternal life in heaven above. Nicodemus misunderstands, though, and thinks Jesus intends the other meaning of the word, that he has to be born a second time. ‘How can I crawl back into my mother’s womb?’ he asks, out of some frustration. Jesus corrects him: he is not talking about a second physical birth, but a heavenly birth, from above. (Jesus Interrupted, p155)

So Nicodemus is made to misunderstand Jesus, confusing ‘born again’ with ‘born from above’, and Jesus has to tell him what a twit he is. Translators of this chapter haven’t understood the point of the story either, making Jesus say, in John 3.3, ‘you must be born again’, when the rest of the narrative makes clear he means, ‘you must be born from above’ (i.e: be renewed by God who sits in Heaven on high.) 2000 years later, Christians, thanks to these translators, still make the same mistake.

There’s even more poppycock on the back of the card. The born again, it seems, avoid sin like the plague. Sure they do. Just ask all those kids molested by priests, preachers and Christian youth workers.

So Long, Jesus – the new book is here!

My new book, marking a final farewell to Jesus and his cult, is available now from all Amazon outlets. So Long, Jesus and Other Lessons From Life collects together the religiously-themed posts that have appeared on this blog over the past three years. A great Christmas present for those of your friends who might be considering saying their own farewell to Christian mumbo jumbo. This is the book you’ve been waiting for! 

So Long, Jesus and Other Lessons From Life – get it before the rapture!

Is It Me?

Is it me?

Has the world gone completely mad during the pandemic?

It’s one of the two. In the UK, we have panic buying of fuel because of a shortage in some areas of delivery drivers and the consequent closure of a small number of petrol stations. According to a leading motoring organisation, we have over 5 times the usual number of people putting the wrong kind of fuel into their cars (diesel instead of petrol or vice versa.) There have even been some fights. The would-be German chancellor, Olaf Scholz (not yet, Olaf!) blames Brexit, which is a rather curious thing to do when Europe too, as well as the US, is likewise suffering from a shortage of delivery drivers. Perhaps it’s Covid, with some foreign drivers having returned home at the start of the pandemic, never to return. Perhaps it’s the poor working conditions for drivers in the UK or the fact that some companies have driven down their wages, making the job less attractive.

We have civil servants, who, despite their title, are neither civil nor cognisant of their duty to serve the public. Rather, it is, apparently, the public’s duty to comply with all of their demands. I’ve been dealing today, for example, with the DVLA, the agency that handles driving licences in the UK. They want my son, who lives in Australia, to renew his UK licence. He has explained to them by email why he won’t be doing so, only to be instructed to send his explanation in writing. You might think an email is in writing, but you’d be wrong. An email simply won’t do. It must be a letter in the post. Explanations are unacceptable in any other form.

Is it me?

Many civil servants are still working from home following the lockdowns and are reluctant to return to the office. A number of services are unavailable as a result, including queries about tax and pensions, as well as applying for various government permits. Perhaps I’m being unrealistic or unreasonable, but are these people, all of whom have been on full pay throughout the pandemic, working or are they not? Is ‘working from home’ now a euphemism for ‘avoiding dealing with the public we’re meant to serve’?

I don’t know. Maybe it is me.

I’ve been collecting together some of posts from this here blog into book form, as I’ve done several times in the past, using Amazon’s Kindle Direct. (What a splendid Christmas present it will make when it eventually goes on sale – I’ll be sure to let you all know when it does.) Amazon, however, emailed me a couple of hours after I submitted it yesterday, asking me to confirm whether the author of the book (me) is alive or dead. Apart from the pointlessness of this request, I do wonder how, if I were dead, I would confirm the fact.

Doctors (GPs) are now diagnosing people by phone, with many resisting the efforts to get them to resume face-to-face appointments. It took me three weeks to secure an in-person appointment with a doctor recently. I almost put ‘my’ doctor there, but as I’d never seen this particular doc before and am unlikely ever to see him again, I’m not sure ‘my’ really applies. Meanwhile, the Labour Party, the only serious opposition to the UK government, is currently embroiled in an argument about whether only a woman is in possession of a cervix. Many members of the party are reluctant to say and those who have, have been subject to verbal abuse. It is, obviously, the burning issue of the day.

It must be me. Perhaps I’m just getting old and grumpy. Maybe I’ve been locked up (let’s call it what it is) too many times during the last 18 months and, like my fellow Brits, am now facing the possibility of being locked up again this winter because successive UK governments have failed to get to grips with an ailing health service.

If it’s not me, then quite possibly world really has gone mad.

 

Jesus v. Covid (and the winner is…)

Two years ago, a few months before Covid hit, I wrote a post entitled ‘God’s Very Good Creation’ that included the picture above. The post concluded that ‘Jesus can’t save you from the common cold, let alone death’. How the past 23 months have borne that out! We hear almost daily of anti-vax pastors, preachers and assorted evangelicals, who have trusted the Lord to save them from Covid, dying of the virus. The Lord failed to come through for them despite their faith in him and his promises.

I recognise there are Christians who like to tell us God doesn’t work like this. He’s not, they say, a dispenser of health and healing, a fairy godmother who fixes those who love him just because they pray in earnest that he will. They’re right of course; God doesn’t work like this. (God doesn’t work, period.) So why does the Bible tell us he does?

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven (James 5.14-15).

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will… their hands on the sick, and they will recover (Mark 16.17-18).

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son (John 14.13).

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them (Matthew 18.19-20).

At best this is delusional wishful thinking, at worst, out and out lies. Surely the men who made these fantastic claims knew that God wasn’t like this at all, that magical thinking and ritual didn’t really cure illness? (Perhaps we should expect nothing better from people who believed that God had granted them eternal life.) Despite their dishonesty, some believers today are still prepared stake their lives, quite literally, on the same false promises, discovering when it’s too late, that they are empty and meaningless. The Lord will not and has not saved anyone from Covid nor anything else.

Worse than that, however, is how Christian anti-vaxxers affect others; dissuading the gullible from having the vaccine, spreading infection and providing the means, the culture, for the virus to mutate. They also take up space in ICUs that people with unavoidable medical conditions need but can’t access because of them – like the child in this story. It’s also likely that, should health services become overwhelmed this winter because of the unvaccinated contracting Covid – the overwhelming majority of hospitalisations are of the unvaccinated – the rest of the population will need to go into lockdown again. The UK government, while saying it wants to avoid further lockdowns, has not ruled them out should the NHS need ‘saving’ once more.

Sarah Palin has said she will not get the vaccine because she ‘trusts in the science’. No, it doesn’t makes sense (when has she ever?) Palin believes her own immune system will protect her, failing to understand how vaccines work – by priming the immune system to produce anti-bodies against disease before coming into contact with it.

Palin and those similarly motivated by the fatal combination of ignorance and religion, who refuse to protect themselves and others, are selfish and socially irresponsible . Their actions are as far from loving one’s neighbour as it’s possible to imagine.

 

What Does The Evidence Tell Us… About Vaccinations?

Vaccinations: do they work? There is unequivocal evidence that the vaccine prevents serious infection, hospitalisations and death from Covid-19. There is also evidence emerging that immunity reduces as time goes by but even after three months vaccinated individuals still have between 61% (AstraZeneca) and 78% (Pfizer) immunity. (Can you believe that the US’s CDC approved the made-in-New-York Pfizer vaccine only at the end of August? Millions of people in the UK have had the Pfizer; I had my first in February and the second in May, without any adverse effects.) Yesterday, the UK government decided to give booster shots to the over-50s. I will certainly be having mine and have booked my flu shot too.

Why? Because the vaccine is the only way through this. We can be certain none of those currently available contain computer chips, DNA altering chemicals, aborted foetus cells or tracking devices. In this case, absence of evidence is evidence of absence. The needle-phobic idiots who peddle nonsense, like the vaccine being the precursor of the Mark of the Beast, prolong the pandemic and its restrictions when they deter others from having the injection, and contribute to hundreds more unnecessary deaths. (Deaths from the vaccine itself are not unknown but are far fewer than those claimed by some online sources and certainly fewer than deaths from Covid itself.) 

The bulk of hospitalisations in the UK and US are of unvaccinated individuals. A report by the New York Health Dept puts the figure as high as 96% in the city, with a similar figure for the UK. Health line reported two weeks ago that,

The vast majority of people (in the US) who have died from COVID-19 were unvaccinated. Fatal cases of COVID-19 among vaccinated people are either very low or virtually zero in 48 states.

The vaccine does not and has never guaranteed 100% defence against the virus and it is possible to contract Covid after two injections. A 70 year old friend of mine did so recently. His symptoms, however, were mild and after isolating for 10 days he was fully recovered. Who knows how he might have been without the vaccine. The data for those hospitalised after two jabs appears to show an increasing statistical rate. This is to be expected; the more people who are vaccinated the more cases there will be of infections among the vaccinated. The closer we come to being 100% doubly vaccinated, the closer to 100% will be the infection rate among doubly vaccinated people. Most infections of the doubly vaccinated are not serious.

Previous pandemics, mainly of varieties of the flu, have lasted about two years. Covid, though related, is different, but our bodies can and do learn to defeat viruses, and will this time with the help of the vaccine. Like the remnants of older viruses, Covid will be around for a long time to come but the vaccine is the best means of dealing with it.  

 

What Does The Evidence Tell Us… About Masks?

Masks: do they work?

Back at the start of the pandemic, England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Witty, and his US counterpart Anthony Fauci had this to say about wearing face coverings:

In terms of wearing a mask, our advice is clear: that wearing a mask if you don’t have an infection reduces the risk almost not at all. So we do not advise that. (Witty, February 2020)

There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask. (Fauci, March 2020)

The World Health Organisation was still saying in December 2020 that,

the use of a mask alone, even when correctly used, is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection for an uninfected individual or prevent onward transmission from an infected individual. (Google ‘Mask use in the context of COVID-19’.)

While in February this year, The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) concluded that,

Evidence for the effectiveness of non-medical face masks, face shields/visors and respirators in the community is scarce and of very low certainty.’

Why did experts like Witty and Fauci say initially that masks were inadequate, only later to change their minds? Because, I would venture to say that they were aware of the scientific studies, carried out prior to Covid-19, about masks’ effectiveness in preventing the passage of other SARS viruses, including influenza. At best, these concluded that even wearing surgical masks, as opposed to the supermarket varieties, has a limited effect on the transmission of either influenza or Covid. This is hardly surprising when the average distance between strands of fabric in a mask is between 5 – 200 micrometers, while the virus is 0.1 micrometers in diameter. In other words, the gaps in the fabric are between 500 and 2000 times larger than the virus. (Though this article argues that there is still a chance such masks can stop some transmission of the virus).

Other studies seem to bear out the limited nature of masks’ effectiveness. This one, by the University of Waterloo in Canada, concluded that masks filter only 10% of the airborne virus and that moderate ventilation offers better protection.

Similarly, The National Center of Biotechnology Information found that

There is uncertainty about the effects of face masks… The pooled results of randomised trials did not show a clear reduction in respiratory viral infection with the use of medical/surgical masks during seasonal influenza.’

The Influenza Journal, reviewing 17 studies on mask wearing, said,

None of the studies established a conclusive relationship between mask/respirator use and protection against influenza.

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) advised that healthcare workers,

should not use cloth masks as protection against respiratory infection. Cloth masks resulted in significantly higher rates of infection than medical masks, and also performed worse than the control…

(More studies are cited here.)

Specific to Covid is this study from Denmark which examined how far masks protect the wearer from infection (it did not seek to discover the extent to which they might prevent the spread of the virus to others.) It reported:

Infection with SARS-CoV-2 occurred in 42 participants (with) recommended masks (1.8%) and 53 non-mask wearing (2.1%). Although the difference observed was not statistically significant, the 95% CIs are compatible with a 46% reduction to a 23% increase in infection (my emphasis.)

The report suggested that social distancing was as likely to have caused the small reduction in infection rates.

While it is anecdotal, it was my experience that once mask wearing was mandated in the UK, people started to ignore social distancing measures, on the assumption, presumably, that everyone was safe behind their masks. Moreover, as the BMJ and others have pointed out, there is also evidence that mask wearing can be detrimental to one’s physical and mental health. And then there are all those discarded masks, infested with bacteria and virus particles that thoughtless numpties leave on the street for someone else to have to deal with.

So, why did the various experts and organisations change their minds about masks? Was it because more data became available about their efficacy? Unfortunately not. Instead, mask wearing became both politicised and polarised. As journalist Laura Dodsworth points out in A State Of Fear, face coverings became a means of social control and of giving us all a false sense of security (p113). It was and is wrong for politicians to mandate either the wearing or not wearing of masks. If people find some psychological reassurance from wearing them they should be able to do so. Those who don’t should not have to. In the UK, where indoor mask wearing was mandatory only up to July 19th, there has been a sharp decrease in mask wearing with only a small increase in hospitalisations due to Covid. (These admissions are not necessarily the result of less mask wearing; mass social events have returned during this period.) I have rarely worn a mask since July (only when asked, in fact) with no ill effect for myself or others. I’m trusting in the vaccine and other preventative measures. As the ECDC said in February:

the use of face masks in the community should complement and not replace other preventive measures such as physical distancing, staying home when ill, teleworking if possible, respiratory etiquette, meticulous hand hygiene and avoiding touching the face, nose, eyes and mouth.

It is these other measures that minimise the chances of contracting or spreading the infection, not face coverings. It is beggars belief that we had to be told, and taught how, to wash our hands once the virus took hold. That daintily expressed ‘respiratory etiquette’ is important too. I would advocate regular face washing followed by nose-blowing into a tissue; while I’ve no evidence for it, I feel sure these have prevented me from getting colds and flu for most of my life. Physical distancing remains an important measure, though large gatherings make it difficult to achieve; in such circumstances masks might compensate to a limited extent by providing some small degree of protection  

So, masks: do they work? It looks like they don’t, not to any significant degree anyway. Let me give the final word to a doctor whose letter was published in The Daily Telegraph last week:

SIR – A paper published in 2016 by the American National Institutes of Health reviewed previous clinical trials of the use of face masks in operating theatres. It concluded: “Wearing a face mask neither increases nor decreases the number of wound infections following surgical operations.”

A simple experiment will show why: if a lighted candle is held in front of a mask the flame cannot be extinguished, no matter how hard one blows. However, if the candle is held to the side of the mask it is easily extinguished.

Moreover, the obstruction of exhaled air by the mask increases its pressure and the distance it will travel.

Hence the wearing of a mask will increase the area in which the exhaled air is dispersed. In this context it is interesting that in one clinical trial a slight but not statistically significant increase in infections was associated with the wearing of masks.

There simply is no sound scientific evidence for the wearing of masks to prevent transmission of infections. On the other hand, a controlled trial is not required to show their dehumanising effect.

Dr Max Gammon

London SE16

What Does The Evidence Tell Us… About Lockdowns?

 

Which brings us to the measures used to combat Covid-19. What should we believe? What politicians tell us and impose on us? What the media says? It’s not as if these sources speak with one voice – though in the UK most mainstream media has parroted exactly what the government has told them. I wanted to see for myself what the evidence, all of which is linked below, actually says. This turned out to be easier said than done. Nevertheless, most of it is out there – the scientific studies, the data, the non-politicised recommendations. First, what they say about…

Lockdowns: do they work? What does the evidence tell us? Lockdowns work in the sense they relieve pressure on health services (the NHS in the UK) at a time when demand is already high, in the winter. They ‘work’ insofar as they defer the spread of Covid-19. They do not eliminate the virus and they don’t prevent deaths. Covid related deaths in the UK were at their highest during the lockdowns of spring 2020 and last winter. While in a significant number of these were elderly people in care homes, two thirds of excess deaths were among the general population. How could the virus spread so widely when everyone was confined to their homes? There appears to be no answer to this question, though this controlled study published in the Lancet replicated the same outcomes. Experts argued, of course, that the mortality rate would have been even higher if we had not been locked down. However, Sweden, which didn’t lock down at all, registered 14,626 excess deaths (0.175% of the population), higher than other Scandinavian countries but well below the totals for France, Spain, Italy and the UK, all of which locked down for extended periods of time. (I am unable to find the percentage rate for the UK. The fact the pandemic straddles two years seems to have made it impossible for statisticians to have worked out the figure.)  

Countries like Australia and New Zealand where lockdowns have been used as the primary means of Covid avoidance are now in a perpetual cycle of lockdown, opening up when infections appear to have been eliminated, locking down again when any new infections are detected. New Zealand did so recently after one new case was discovered (up to 651 at time of writing). Such a reliance on (ineffective) lockdowns has resulted in a low uptake of vaccination: around 30% having had both doses in Australia, 24% in New Zealand, compared with approximately 76% in the UK and Sweden with an uptake similar to that of the U.S., 51%. There would appear to be a correlation between a reliance on lockdowns and a reluctance to take the vaccine. Australia and New Zealand are locked into this perpetual cycle: closing down areas and cities every time the virus reappears and in turn deterring vaccine uptake, making further lockdowns inevitable.

As a deference mechanism, lockdowns only work if there is a preventative measure down the line to defer to; zero Covid is unachievable and is therefore not that measure. High levels of vaccination are. The UK emerged from most lockdown measures on 19th July and although there has been an increase in Covid cases since then, most have not been serious. The diagram below demonstrates that hospitalisations remain low. This has been attributed to a high vaccine uptake; about 60% of hospitalisations are of the unvaccinated. Official figures suggest that ‘82,100 hospitalisations (have been) prevented in over-65s and almost 24 million infections prevented across England.’

Neither do lockdowns work in terms of preventing deaths from causes other than the virus. There has been an increase in excess deaths from causes other than Covid-19 during lockdowns. Some scientists are speculating a flu epidemic in the northern hemisphere this coming winter because, thanks to Covid lockdowns, flu data has not been available from the southern hemisphere’s winter months from which to develop an effective vaccine. (Speculating is a crucial word here.)

Here in the UK, even with high vaccination rates and low hospitalisations, we fear we could be locked down this winter should the NHS become overwhelmed yet again, this time with a conjectured flu epidemic. We must, as we were told last winter, ‘protect the NHS’. Lockdowns were imposed in large part to help the mismanaged service cope, something it claims not to be able to do every year even without a pandemic. Nevertheless, last year we were persuaded the NHS was our Saviour in need of saving itself. There were even regular, socially distanced worship gatherings every Thursday evening. Yet, according to a Freedom of Information request by the Guardian newspaper during the first wave in 2020 ‘a total of 32,307 patients admitted with other conditions had contracted covid-19 while in hospital, and 8,747 (27%) died within 28 days.’ (verified by the British Medical Journal.)  The UK government has had at least 6 months to initiate reform in the NHS (and arguably a further 6 before next January’s annual crisis rolls round.) So far they have done bugger all precisely nothing. 

On the basis of the evidence, the UK government cannot justify further Covid lockdowns. You can of course judge for yourself whether you think lockdowns are effective and worthwhile, even if ultimately you may well not be given any choice about being subjected to them.

 

 

 

Falling Into Belief

Texas author David Heeren appeared on a UK TV channel the other day in its ‘Uncancelled’ slot, wherein a sceptical presenter interviews, usually while trying to keep a straight face, individuals who have, or have had, a world outlook at odds with any conventional narrative. This is to express it kindly in the case of David Heeren. David believes that the Second Coming is not far off; in this he has much in common with other evangelical Christians. Where he differs from most of them is that David believes the end-times sign of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 24.30 is… a comet.

In fact, David sees comets everywhere in the Bible. Amongst others, there’s the star of Bethlehem, the fire that descended to destroy the followers of Baal and the comet that parted the Red Sea. David has this to say about the last of these:

The rod Moses stretched out toward the Red Sea was a mirror image of the “arm of the Lord” in the sky above his head. A comet-generated tornado parted the sea and froze it in place long enough for three-million or more Israelites to pass through. A comet-produced earthquake cracked the frozen walls, releasing the sea waters to flow back over the Egyptians.

He finds 54 such ‘cometical’ appearances in the bible. He is obsessed both with comets and with the Second Coming. David is evidently on the fringes of an already lunatic movement (Christianity, that is) but, and here is what is astounding, David claims his books, 17 in total, five of them about the End Times, are best-sellers. If he’s to be believed, other people swallow his unadulterated guff and pay good money to do it.

 Last night, the guest in the same slot was Radhia Gleis. Radhia was part of a new age cult, Buddhafield, for 22 years before finally breaking free a few years ago. She and others came under the thrall of a charismatic individual called, variously, The Teacher, Michel and Andreas but whose real name is Jaime Gomez (pictured above). Cult members believed him to be a enlightened being who would lead them into ‘universal love and spiritual awakening’, until, that is, some recognised the level of control Gomez exerted over them and discovered he was sexually abusing young men. (The documentary, Holy Hell, about the cult, can be seen on Netflix. Buddhafield still exists, with Gomez its leader though now called Reyji (‘god-king’) and operating out of Hawaii.)

All of which, Buddhafield and Neeren’s nonsense, serves to underline how readily people will believe almost anything: stories of resurrected godmen, returning saviours, portentous comets, the honeyed words of charismatic charlatans. How crucial it is we see and evaluate evidence for ourselves. Demand to see it. Find it, read it, assess it as objectively as we can; not through a lens of preconceived ideas, be it conspiracy theory, religious worldview or prevailing narrative. We are too easily manipulated and duped not to evaluate what we are told.

Of course, we are not always capable of minimising our preconceptions nor of evaluating evidence objectively. We come with a range of psychological needs and respond emotionally to what the guru, preacher or group offer. Members of Buddhafield speak of the sense of belonging and purpose that involvement in the group offered. Many talk about how they finally felt loved. Even those young men abused by Gomez professed at the time a belief in the enlightenment offered by The Teacher, completely at odds with how he was using them for his own sexual gratification. This is how cults, political and religious movements and churches work. They offer enlightenment, forgiveness, fulfilment, purpose, eternal life, peace and joy – you name it, they’ll claim they can provide it – and our critical faculties are overruled by psychological/emotional need.

I know, I’ve been there.

 

What Christian Music Tells Us About God

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Have your ever noticed how the unchanging God’s musical tastes… well, change?

In the time of David, or so we’re told in Psalm 150, he liked nothing better than the sound of lutes and harps. When monasteries were all the rage, he was pacified by the monotonous chanting (‘plainsong’) of those very same psalms. He went all highbrow a few centuries later with the likes of Bach and Handel, but found out later still that he preferred bad poetry set to rousing tunes, such as How Great Thou Art and Amazing Grace (the latter by slave trader John Newton.) Not to show partiality, he’s also been known to be turned on by some good ol’ gospel music. Last night on TBN, a TV network of spectacular mindlessness, he was brought to orgasm by a third-rate hip-hop track that, like a primitive enchantment spell, repeated Jesus’s name ad infinitum. Which reminded me of a Christian rock group of that name that performed back in my youth, when God was into sub-standard glam rock. It is amazing, isn’t it, that God’s musical tastes keep pace with our own.

On the other hand, maybe it’s that we delude ourselves into thinking our changing musical preferences, be it for lutes and harps, glam rock or hip-hop (ten years past its sell-by-date), are what please the Lord. He is not a God of changing tastes but one who is a reflection of whichever culture projects its idiosyncrasies, musical or otherwise, onto their conception of him. He truly is made in our image.