Limited freedom of speech is a wonderful thing. Recently, Britain's libel laws have been tested in two prominent cases. Dr Simon Singh (no relation, even though he's also a Dr. Singh, just like me) was eventually cleared of libelling the British Chiropractic Association. His Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Singh Ji Maharaj (also called Singh, but this one's not a Dr. like I am - still no relation) attempted to sue Hardeep Singh (not a Dr. like I am - no relation).
The libel laws are there to limit freedom of speech by protecting individuals and institutions from factually inaccurate defamation, but these cases illustrate that they're too strong. Limited freedom of speech will have to be a bit less limited from now on. As Voltaire said (even though no one can actually find where he said it) "You may be a blithering idiot sir but I will defend to the death your right to limited freedom of speech."
One of the Sikh Gurus actually did defend to the death the right of Hindus to limited freedom of speech. That's right, he actually defended limited freedom of speech for people from a completely different religion (which just goes to show what a wonderful religion Sikhism is).
Many brave people have fought and died to give us the limited freedom of speech we enjoy today. So what should you not do with your limited freedom of speech? Well you certainly shouldn't defame the weak and the helpless. And you shouldn't set out to hurt other people by, oh I don't know - as a random example - mocking their religion by saying it's all either silly or obvious. We need stronger libel laws to prevent that sort of thing.
While you must certainly never yield your limited freedom of speech to those who would try to intimidate you into silence (and I have no particular religion in mind here), you shouldn't go around irresponsibly criticising silly things.
I'm so glad I live in a country with limited freedom of speech.
Mother Theresha May'sh changed her mind about homoshexlity (hic!). And y'know what, sh'been amazin what'sh happend (hic!) in the lasht few years. It'sh become quite normal to be homoshesual now. 'N where shivil shociety goesh, the church, wif it'sh great moral authrority (hic!) and leadership, followsh. Did you know? No lishen t' thish. Did you know we've got a thespian bishop now? Ishn't that nice?
But shum people aren't ash moral ash ush are. Shum bitsh 'o the church are shtil talkin like we did in the 1980s. Show we've told them Afrcin churshes, we've made it (hic!) made it absholutely clear to them that if they (hic!) if they can't be nice to homeseleshuals then they can jusht bloody well shtay Anlicans (hic!). Know what? They wanna throw out all the cuddly toysh!
'N shumn places shtill put gay people'n prishon. Shnot fair! The Bible'sh all 'bout love 'nd we're gonna lead the fight fur gay rightsh, jusht like we did here in the UK.
Y'know what? I've changed my mind about homemadesexinthecity. I'm the ex-bishop 'o Shrofork, shwat I do (hic!).
The Conservative idea of the Big Society didn't go down too well among voters. This could simply have been because it was badly explained, or possibly it was too technical and confusing for ordinary people to understand. So, in an effort to clear up the confusion, I will now explain it to you.
When we say "Big Society" we actually mean "small society", or what sociologists call "civil society" or Liberal Democrats call "being liberal" or Catholics call "being Catholic". It is a plan to fix our broken society. People, and I include secularists in this, have values, which is why they join things like scout groups. (Unless you're a secular atheist of course, in which case you may want to join a scout group but you won't be allowed to on account of you not having any values.)
Churches, charities, political parties, scout groups, trade unions, Greeks, the Hebrew Prophets and families are all part of it. Churches, especially Christianity and Islam, who love everyone, are particularly good at being part of it. Businesses that want to make a profit are bad and they're not part of it. Bad businesses, bad. Free market economics is bad, which is why the Conservatives have always been against it.
We Catholics, with our ethics and our bell wringing, regard being part of it as our religious duty. We remember the famous quote "never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.".
Many people, and I include secularists in this, don't have religion any more and so don't have values. That's why they don't understand what "Big Society" means. Thankfully you have me here to clear things up for you. So that is what it is.
Saturday, 22 May, 2010, 08:20 AM - WinterRating 2 out of 5 (A little platitudinous)
Wasn't the previous item, about not having finished the translation of the bible into Patois yet, just fascinating? I'm sure the vast majority of Today Programme listeners were delighted to find out that the project had been started and had now reached the significantly newsworthy stage of being over two years from completion.
And now for my Thought For The Day, a small reflection from a faith perspective in an otherwise cold and ruthlessly secular news programme.
People often say things that they regret. Henry II accidentally asked why no one would rid him of this troublesome priest. He was most terribly upset when someone did.
Lord Triesman, the famous Labour peer that everyone had heard of before last week, accused the Spanish and Russians of match fixing, thus hoping to win their support for the English 2018 World Cup bid. He was most terribly sorry too.
Then there was Gordon Brown with his bigoted woman comment that he hoped was just going to be a private insult but turned into a very public one. He was so sorry that he spent 40 minutes in her house apologising with all the sincerity that a politician can muster.
Somewhere in the Big Book of Magic Stuff it says we should watch what we say. Somewhere else in the Big Book of Magic Stuff it says something very similar, which just goes to show what good advice it is. Jesus, the second lump and visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend, was called "The Word" because he said a lot of things and every single one of them was right because he was the second lump and visible bit of the Invisible Magic Friend.
So say the right things in public and don't say the wrong things.
Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic Studies and Public Understanding and Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam, University of Glasgow
The first abortion advert will appear on TV on Monday. Packaged like a new breakfast cereal or washing up liquid, the Mary Stopes Clinic will be introducing their "buy one, get one free" abortion offer.
Abortion is a complex moral issue. No, honestly, it is! So rather than discuss this I'd like to concentrate on advertising instead. You get adverts for everything these days: breakfast cereals, washing up liquid, DVDs, electrical gadgets, sofas, clothes, wine, abortions. This isn't really going anywhere, is it? Let's broaden the subject again.
The media - they do like to show things don't they? And we can either be interested or not interested. It's a bit like religion, isn't it? They have so much in common, such as church bells and calls to prayer from the minaret.
So, in summary, as Professor of Islamic Studies and Public Understanding and Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam, University of Glasgow, let me just assure you that those of us with an Invisible Magic Friend have meaning in our lives. The rest of you don't. So there.
How much is a million, a billion, a trillion? The answer is they are very big indeed. Very, very big. This means that when the government commits to billions in cuts they are in fact cutting a lot - billions in fact. Greeks national debt is very, very big. Our national debt is very, very big too.
This all goes against the rules of the Invisible Magic Friend who says we shouldn't borrow or lend money. So capitalism, which relies upon businesses borrowing money to invest, is a very bad thing. As a writer, celebrity and Christian let me just assure you that the Invisible Magic Friend is a fantastic accountant and keeps a very wary eye on your household spending. Fortunately, as the parable of the prodigal son shows, the Invisible Magic Friend will always forgive you for getting into debt provided you come back believing in him and praising him and saying how wonderful he is.
Wednesday, 19 May, 2010, 08:43 AM - SinghRating 4 out of 5 (Highly platitudinous)
And in today's news: what I did on my holiday.
We went on a really nice cruise around the Mediterranean. We went to Egypt, where we were told that the Egyptians invented everything. Then we went to Greece, where we were told that the Greeks invented everything. Then we went to Ephesus, where we learned that whatever civilisation they belonged to invented everything.
The truth is that everybody invented everything. This is much the same with religion. I went to a Hindu funeral the other day. What struck me about it was how similar it was to other funerals. This similarity is not because of a deep human need to mourn the passing of our loved ones but is in fact a reflection of the fact that all religions are really the same. In fact, they're so similar that I hardly needed to set up the Interfaith Network twenty years ago. This is now the premier interfaith organisation in the country and has brought us to the happy situation we have today, where all faiths mingle freely and don't try to segregate children to prevent them being contaminated by some other, bad, faith.
So interchangeable are all the different faiths, that we regularly quote each other's scripture. Sikh teaching, as revealed by one of our Gurus, is particularly strong on how similar all the different faiths are. We go out of our way not to try and stress differences, like some other, not quite as good faiths do. It's because of this stress on how similar we all are, that we Sikhs don't feel the need to wear particular head-wear or carry ceremonial weapons, or even wear special underwear.
Even politicians are learning to work together now. I have high hopes that we shall soon see the abolition of all those dreadful Conservative, Liberal and Labour primary schools. As always, where religion leads the way, the rest of the country eventually follows.
Tuesday, 18 May, 2010, 10:34 AM - Not TFTDJoshua McAuley was 15 years old and about to start his GCSEs. He went out to buy some sweets yesterday but never made it back home. Joshua was hit by an out of control car that pinned him to a shop front wall. He survived the incident but needed massive amounts of blood. As a devout Jehovah's Witness he refused a transfusion. Hospital staff begged him to change his mind but he remained adamant and died as a result.
What a tragic, stupid, infuriating, pointless waste of a young life. All because he'd been the victim of indoctrination by a bunch of clueless fantasists.
Come on BBC, give us someone from the Jehovah's Witnesses on TFTD to defend this murderous insanity.
I'm really lookin forward to a shmall sherry at Lambeth Palash (hic!). They've got an eshibition on. There'll be lotsh 'n lotsh o' lovely blibles to (hic!) to fondle.
IN THE YEAR 1539 (hic!), Thomash Clomwell installed a bimbo in every church in the land, but Trumpton didn't have a bimbo, sho they 'ad to burrow Camberwick Green's bimbo inshtead. Anyway, Trumpton'sh vicar started lookin (hic!) lookin at the bimbo and saw that it had "property of Camberwick Green" written on it. Sho he croshed out Camberwick (hic!) Green 'n, 'n (titter), (you're gonna love this), WROTE "PROPERTY OF TRUMPTON" INSHTEAD, HAHAHahahaha! (hic!) Oh, Oh, you gotta laugh. That'sh jusht a little vicar'sh joke that ish.
Anyway, where wash I? The blible'sh been used to jushtify all shorts of very bad thingsh (hic!), very bad thingsh like shlavery 'n wimmin. SHUM PEOPLE STINK, no THINK, Chrishtians should be pacific, 'n shum people think we should beat the livin daylightsh outta our enemies. Jeshus wash very ambidextrous about it. We've jusht agreed to dishagree 'bout that one. Then there'sh other thingsh. Shhhhhh! You know, sexy thingsh (hic!). Shum people get very upshet about, you know, sexy thingsh. They want to throw out all the cuddly toysh.
On ish deathbed, W.C. (hic!) Fields sent for a bimbo 'cos he shaid 'e wanted to look for shum holes.
Oh, Oh, you gotta laugh. I'm the ex-Bishup 'o Shuffock. Shwat I do. (hic!)
The Pope talks a lot. He just talks and talks and talks and talks and talks. A lot of what he says is actually quite nice: there should be more justice and human rights - that sort of thing, the sort of thing that only a Pope would think up, because no one else is really that interested in justice and human rights.
Yet, typically of cynical old journalistic hacks, the press seize on one tiny bit of all those thousands of good words. On the eve of Portugal legalising gay marriage, the Pope had the audacity to praise:
"Initiatives aimed at protecting the essential and primary values of life, beginning at conception, and of the family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman, help to respond to some of today's most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good."
See? Not a word about gay marriage! Everyone just jumps to the conclusion that the Pope was out gay bashing again. I mean, when has the Pope, or indeed any other Catholic bishop, ever said anything nasty about gay people? What the Pope actually meant was, "I think gay people are lovely and they have such fantastic dress sense! They're all just fab lovey, fab I tell you!"
It may surprise you to learn that the Catholic Church is one of the biggest supporters of equality for gays. In every part of the world, it is we Catholics that have been at the forefront of pressing for new laws to bring justice for gay people. Did you know for example, that the Catholic Church in England and Wales will no longer sack a Catholic teacher who is in a Civil Partnership? I bet you didn't know that? That's right, we actually treat them like normal people. Isn't the Catholic Church just amazing?