Arsenal looked pretty damn good against Juventus last night. I’d love it if they won the Champion’s League, not just because they’re a British and London team but because it would be a bit more sand kicked in the face of Roman Abramovich.
This article about atheists in Texas (via Pharyngula) is just mind-bogglingly odd to me. I grew up in secular, middle-class London where the default position was a casual agnosticism, so the image of atheists as a secretive minority, afraid to give their name in a newspaper interview, seems surreal. The flipside of that is the presentation of atheists as fiercely rationalist and potentially campaigning ideologues, who go to atheist meetings. What do you do at an atheist meeting? All sit in a room together not believing? It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. Just like Christians, most of the non-believers I know are that way because they were brought up like that. I’m wary of attempts to make atheism into either an alternate belief system or a political cause. I mean, I don’t believe in unicorns either, but I’m not about to go to any meetings about it.
Of course, I can see that if I lived in America, it might seem more important, both because of the overwhelmingly religious culture and because the constitutional separation of church and state makes it into a political issue. There’s an irony in the fact that in the UK, which has a constitutional intertwining of church and state, we tend to be suspicious of overt religiosity in our politicians, while American politics practically demands it.
I remember a few years ago reading an article in the Economist which argued, in the context of abortion, that the US Constitution actually tended to inflame political debates, because the insistence on absolute and inalienable rights makes both sides inflexible and removes the chance of compromise. Specifically, it means that, whereas in Europe, the focus of the debate tends to move quite rapidly onto specifics which can be farmed off onto technical committees – the maximum age of a fetus that can be aborted, whether a woman has to see a doctor before getting an abortion – in the States, there’s always this central totemic Supreme Court decision that hangs over the whole subject, and the possibility of the decision being overturned. Once the sides have branded themselves in the rhetoric of absolute rights – the ‘right to life’ and the ‘right to choose’ – it becomes all-or-nothing. Similarly with obscenity and hate-speech laws vs. free speech, or the right to bear arms.
I don’t know whether the separation of church and state has played an important part in shaping American religious culture; the French, who have the same constitutional separation, seem to be pretty Godless. It certainly politicises the debate on teaching evolution in schools and prevents the obvious compromise of teaching Genesis in religious education classes and Darwin in biology, though. And although I completely agree that natural selection is the only origin theory children should be taught in biology, the debate shouldn’t be about constitutionality. It should be about teaching the overwhelming scientific consensus.
MPs have just voted by a large majority for a total ban on smoking in all enclosed public places, probably coming into effect in 2007. It was expected beforehand that there would be some exemptions – pubs and/or private clubs – but in the event the more draconian version was passed.
As a non-smoker, this can only improve my life, but I’m still slightly startled that it’s happened. A few years ago, it would have been a wacky extremist idea, surely? It’s surprisingly hard to think back. I was even more surprised by a survey they quoted on Newsnight that 48% of the public would support making smoking completely illegal. 24% of people smoke, so presumably that 48% is 2/3 of all non-smokers. Even more (the high 60%s) would support a ban on smoking when pregnant or a ban on smoking in a house with a child.
Only a few years ago cannabis legalisation seemed to be around the corner; I guess that’s now less likely, although allowing it in private homes on the same terms as tobacco would have a certain logic.
Anyway, no more shampooing other people’s smoke out of my hair the morning after going to the pub – that’s got to be a Good Thing.