Archive for February 2011
Their aim is an end to abortion throughout the UK and they plan to make this happen through peaceful prayer. Their name is ’40Days For Life- London’ and their next campaign is kicking off in a weeks time in London.
According to their website:
“From March 9th 2011 – April 17th 2011 our community will be one of many cities joining together for the largest and longest coordinated pro-life mobilization in history.”
40 Days for Life is a focused pro-life effort that consists of 40 days of prayer and fasting, 40 days of peaceful vigil, 40 days of community outreach. We are praying that, with God’s help, this groundbreaking effort will mark the beginning of the end of abortion in our city — and throughout the UK.
At first it seems like a harmless protest, they’re entitled to speak out about their beliefs, right? Besides, they’re not being viscious and abusive as the pro-life movement in the US is known to often be. However, as March 9th draws closer I have a cold and terrible concern that has been growing in the back of my mind. The very fact that these people are going to be on the streets with their peaceful protest brings me more fear than the idea of the violent protesters being out there in their place.
It’s all because of a conversation I had with the leader of the London branch of ’40 Days for Life’ last year. I got in touch with him after the Daily Mail ran an article about them entitled: The new abortion war; Doctors murdered… clinics firebombed. Could Britain follow in the steps of the militant U.S ‘pro-lifers’?
At the time I hadn’t known they were in the UK and it surprised me that pro-lifers were so active in this country. The title of the article had shocked me as I knew the extent of the violent ‘pro-life’ protests in the US and I couldn’t imagine such a thing coming to the UK.
The Daily Mail article reported that the British organiser of ’40 days for life’ (which is widespread in the US already) is Robert Colquhoun who is 28 and trained for the priesthood but now works in finance in the City. The Daily Mail said:
Robert paid about £280 for a ‘starter protest kit’ that he bought on the internet from 40 Days’ head office in America.
‘It’s a brilliant idea,’ he says. ‘They give you the best training I’ve ever had. It’s all online and really clever. And then they send the basic resources — the big banner and the signs — and you adapt them to the local campaign. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. We need to get the message across here.’
In return, he’s provided regular updates to the 40 Days HQ in Texas. ‘They’re very interested in how it all works in the UK and how the campaign’s been going in London, so we’ve been feeding all our findings back to them and they seem really pleased. The group’s grown exponentially in America, so we’re hoping it will take off here.
‘We’re hoping for at least 1,500 local volunteers by Lent. This is just the beginning — we have so much to learn from America.’
The last part of that quote scared me very much indeed as he didn’t elaborate on what he meant by ‘so much to learn from America’. Would that be how to firebomb clinics and kill people? How best to use placards with dead babies on them to shock people arriving at abortion clinics? How much did the London branch of 40 days want to learn from pro-lifers in America?
Being the proud skeptically minded person that I am, there was no way I could simply take the Daily Mail’s word as fact so I did what anyone should do, and I contacted Robert directly who very kindly answered most of the questions I had about their campaign, their aims and their beliefs.
As I have said above, I was aware of the ‘pro-life’ movement and protests in the US, but it was always something I only knew a bit about as it had never been something I had to deal with on a local level. London isn’t local for me, but it’s a bit closer than America (if that makes sense).
My knowledge of the way in which pro-lifers justify their actions wasn’t top notch and so for me, this was a great way to really understand the people behind the scary Daily Mail headline that suggested that Pro-lifer activists could already be in the UK.
What follows is my conversation with the leader of the London branch of ’40 days for life’:
Hayley: Thank you for sparing me some of your time, I appreciate you are busy with your campaign. In the Daily Mail article there is a link between breast cancer and abortion mentioned that suggests abortion can increase the risk of cancer. I was wondering where the link with breast cancer comes into play as I saw that many cancer charities deny such a link.#
I was also wondering how exactly abortion was a sin? I saw in the article “We don’t love sin, we love the sinner” but I don’t understand how abortion is a seven sin. Also, do you not feel that making abortion illegal or less accessible, girls and women will still abort in “back street abortion clinics” which can seriously harm them?
Robert: Abortion is a sin because it is the deliberate ending of the life of an unborn child. This is contrary to the will of God. Since abortion has been legalised, it has grown exponentially and has been encouraged throughout.
We encourage people of faith and conscience to pray and fast for an end to abortion. So far six women have changed their minds about having an abortion as a result of our initiative and we have helped to build a growing consciousness about the humanity of the unborn child.
Hayley: You say “Abortion is a sin because it is the deliberate ending of the life of an unborn child. This is contrary to the will of God” but does God not order people in the bible to kill children – and does he not, himself, kill children?
Whoever strikes his father or mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:15 NAB)
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. While he was on his way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him. “Go up baldhead,” they shouted, “go up baldhead!” The prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two shebears came out of the woods and tore forty two of the children to pieces. (2 Kings 2:23-24 NAB)*
Please tell me why your God feels it is okay to murder children, but it is not okay to “murder” unborn children?
Robert: The Old Testament passages you have used are out of context from their true meaning.** The most important passage is from the Old Testament 10 commandments: You shall not kill. Abortion in fact violates all the ten commandments:
If you’ve had an abortion yourself- there is wonderful hope and healing available from this ministry that I highly recommend as truly excellent. <a link was provided via email>
Hayley: You say that six women changed their minds about having an abortion. Were they Christian? If not, do your campaigners have any right to tell other people how to live their lives? Isn’t it a bit arrogant of anyone to presume they can dictate wrong and right to another human?
Robert: Those who changed their minds were from a variety of different backgrounds. Many of them did not know that there were people who were willing to help them with many practical needs which were the primary reasons that they were having abortions. They all felt as if they had no choice but have an abortion. We do not impose, merely propose an offer of unconditional help to those in need.
In terms of dictating right or wrong to other humans: that is what the law does by giving a list of laws by which society is governed. No laws would equal anarchy. In the case where the law in an injustice, a further difficulty arises.
Hayley: I was worried because I read in the Daily Mail article that somebody involved with 40 days in London feels that the methods used in America to campaign and target people attending abortion clinics need to be used in England too. What was meant by that? Some of the campaigning in the US is dangerous and violent and has led to murder.
Robert: The Daily Mail article was extremely misleading because only peaceful and prayerful means are used in our campaigns.
Hayley: What do your protest entail? For example, do you use graphic images on placards like in the US?
Robert: we have a prayer vigil for 12 hours a day: we have signs saying ‘pray to end abortion’ but no pictures of aborted babies as we don’t think that it is effective of pastorally effective to do that in that context.***
Hayley: Do the protesters really have the right to condemn women to a lifetime of raising a child they didn’t want? I know they may grow to love the child and that is great! However, you don’t know what led them to that clinic, what their backgrounds are, why they chose to abort the baby due to their backgrounds, positions, lifestyles. How can you be sure that you aren’t condeming a child to a terrible life?
Do you follow up with those women to ensure they are okay? Or do you just send them on their way?
Robert: We have a prayer vigil, not a protest. We don’t condemn or judge anyone, merely pray and offer help to those in need.
We offer counselling and help so they are not just sent on their way, so many have been helped thanks to our presence. To learn more about what abortion really is, visit: <link provided to me is available on request due to the graphic nature>
Hayley: But will the banning of abortion not result in women just seeking abortions elsewhere? We’ve seen that happen in the past. Backstreet abortions are dangerous and potentially fatal. Is that okay with you? That you could be condemming women to dance with death in order to live their life how they wish to live it?
Robert: We are not mainly interested in changing the law, but praying for an end to abortion.
Hayley: Do you not think that by protesting abortion you are actually infringing the human rights of the very women being labelled as ‘murderers’? I know people believe they are protecting the human rights of the unborn child and there is a lot of debate regarding the stage at which abortion becomes ‘murder’ but when is it ever okay to disregard one persons human rights for anothers? I don’t think it ever is. #
This is where the conversation ends.
The claim that six women had their minds changed by the campaigners is what worries me the most about the peaceful protests that are kicking off on March 8th. The ’40 days for life’ campaigners have no right to tell a woman what to do with her body, and they have no right to try and change a womans mind. I would also question whether they have the training or qualifications to deal with people who may be in a fragile state of mind.
I accept that the claim made by Robert is that the women in question were made aware of the fact that there were alternatives and that there was support they could get.
A doctor is more likely to be able to give somebody access to suitable resources and the correct advice for their situation than a religious stranger on the street.
Peaceful protests or not, pushing your own beliefs onto others at a very difficult time in their lives in fundamentally wrong. Not only that though, threatening them with damnation from your god is cruel.
Beware London, 40 days for life are coming.
# No answer provided for the questions about the link to breast cancer as spoken about by ’40 days’ campaign members and no answer provided regarding the potential for human rights infringement.
*I’m sure some will say that I have quote minded or cherry picked these bible quotes, however, there are many instances of children being murdered by the will of god. I just chose two I was aware of.
** I’m not sure how one can take the story of children being killed at the will of god out of context, but hey ho…
***but providing such graphic pictures and videos is alright in an email to a woman you don’t know, apparently?
This weekend I am going to be mostly interviewing potential paranormal investigators. The recruitment drive that Wiltshire Phenomena Research ran at the beginning of this year (as covered by the BBC, BBC radio, heart FM, the Wiltshire Times and so on…) is very nearly at its end and I can’t wait to see what sorts of people we accept onto the team. We’re going to spend a whole day in Warminster conducting the interviews at the very lovely Athenaeum Theatre. I’m really looking forwards to meeting the people that made it through the selection process!
The following week we are then embarking on the team training so it’s all go at the moment, but I’m glad that WPR feels as though it is coming back together after the hassle of last year which was the result of having the wrong sort of people involved with the team. Now that I have quit as a volunteer for the ‘Weird’ conferences that were seriously loosing the vision they had set out with, I feel as though I am able to (and have already managed to) focus my time on more positive things.
I wanted to write a quick blog post to round up a few things that I think are of interest and need sharing.
Bath Skeptics in the Pub finally launched on Tuesday 22nd Feb with a talk by me called ‘Why aren’t ghosts naked?’ – it was lovely, after so much work had been put in by myself and the other Bath Skeptics volunteers to see the room at The Hop Pole full up with people who had turned out for the event. There was standing room only when the talk kicked off and I kept noticing people poking their heads around the door into the room now and then – turns out it was the bar staff who wanted to come and see the talk. We even had some people there who were under the age of ten which I think is fantastic!
Our next event is on March 8th with a group discussion led by Rose Shapiro, the author of ‘Suckers – why alt med makes fools of us all’. It is at The Hop Pole again from 7:30pm. Rose will be selling some copies of her book and I’m sure she will be happy to sign them (or the ones you already own!)
I overdosed on homeopathy in the middle of Bristol with Rose alongside the Bristol skeptics back in 2010 for the original ten23 overdose and it was a pleasure to meet her and get to talk to her. I don’t think I can put in to words how excited I am that she has agreed to come along to Bath Skeptics.
Following on from the Q.E.D conference held in Manchester at the beginning of February, the lovely Kylie Sturgess (who I actually got to meet at QED) has recently published a video that contains snippets from the weekend (including a bit from the Ghost Investigations Today panel that I sat on). It’s a great overview of the weekend and it really brings it all back. You can watch the video here, it’s well worth it even if you didn’t attend.
Also worth a mention is a survey being conducted by Becky Smith as part of her PhD in Parapsychology (she is based at Coventry). Becky needs as many people as possible to fill this survey in – it doesn’t take long and is actually quite fun once you get going. I filled it in and if you could take a few minutes to do the same then it would be really helpful.
Also worth a mention is the fact that the GhostFest SouthWest 2011 now has tickets on sale. The paranormal conference is raising money for Muscular Dystrophy Campaign (Registered Charity No. 205395) I will be delivering a talk as part of this conference about how the paranormal is often used as a marketing tool and how urban legends and folklore are born of this.
Other speakers include A.S.S.A.P, Richard Skeates, Richard Jones, Ciaran O Keeffe and CJ Romer (whose talk I am looking forward to the most).If you live locally then please come along – it will be really fun and you might learn something interesting. Tickets can be ordered by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
As you may or may not know, I am a Wiltshire based paranormal researcher who investigates ghostly experiences and alleged hauntings with a healthy dose of skepticism and from a completely rational approach. That means I don’t use any of the gadgets that are usually linked with ghost research (EMF meters, motion sensors, thermal cameras etc.), and I don’t use any of the popular spiritual methods such as ouija boards, seances, tabble tipping etc.
There is a location in Wiltshire that I have been investigating with my paranormal research team, Wiltshire Phenomena Research (WPR), for at least four years now. The location is anonymous and so I can’t name it, or even suggest where in Wiltshire it is because of this.
We are the only group of paranormal researchers that are allowed access to this building for research purposes. Many other teams have asked for access to the building to conduct ghost hunts there but they have been denied. I know this because the people who manage the location tell us.
You might think that we have a system set up with them to ensure that we’re the only team allowed access, but we don’t, and it’s rather nice to know that the people who run the location trust us enough to allow us access.
However, other paranormal research teams from the local area (and trust me, there are lots) have noted that WPR are the only team allowed into the building. How do they know if it’s anonymous and we don’t name the place? Well, there happened to be a time when I was in the front area of the building in question, and the founder of another paranormal team happened to walk past the window… it was a bit awkward.
Anyway, other Wiltshire based investigators, some of whom are actually based in the town the location is situated in, have taken note of the fact that WPR are allowed access to the building, and have questioned this. In fact, one local researcher suggested on a Wiltshire community forum that the reason that we are allowed into the building when noone else is, is because:
“it’s who you know, not what you know”
I only came across that comment today while researching the location and it made me laugh because firstly the investigator in question is someone who uses pseudo-science and nonsense spiritual methods on their investigations – and secondly, there is absolutely no special arrangement in place between us and the location in question. None of the WPR team have a connection with anyone at the location.
It’s certainly not a case of “who you know” but, I am confident enough to suggest, a case of “what you know”. See, the WPR team spend a lot of time ensuring that the knowledge we have of our subject is up to date and current. We always double check ourselves to make sure that what we are doing is correct and not at all pseudo-scientific or illogical – we don’t jump to conclusions when we have strange experiences and we try to offer reasonable explanations or solutions to what has been reported to us.
I’m confident enough to say that this is why the WPR team are allowed access to the location when nobody else is – because our reputation with the location speaks for itself and they know they can trust us and they know that we will not mess them around or baffle them with nonsense.
I would like to take this moment to politely suggest to the Wiltshire based investigator who make the suggestion that it was “who you know, not what you know” that perhaps they ought to ask themselves why they are denied access while actually living in the same town as the location, rather that accusing the WPR team of having some sneaky system set up to ensure only we get access.
That is where the answer lies. It’s not me, it’s you…
This weekend at The Arc Theatre in Trowbridge, Wiltshire there is a production called ‘When I was Ten I could fly’ starring Eamonn Fleming. It’s all about childhood beliefs and questioning what would happen if those things we thought were real as children really were.
Not only that but it looks as belief systems we have as we grow older. Do we truly ever grow out of silly beliefs?
I’m quite excited about this show because last year I was travelling into town to put up a display for the theatre with our director at the time, Andy Burden, who actually helped write ‘When I was Ten’. We were discussing the Ten23 overdose and people who use homeopathy and believe that it works.
He confessed that his mother-in-law was a homeopathy fan and that he found it really interesting how we all hold beliefs and ideas that make sense to us, but not to others. He then told me about the show he had helped to write called ‘When I was Ten I could fly’ that looks at these very ideas.
The show has been described as “A funny insightful journey from Action man and Seances to Debbie Harry and the Hubble Telescope. A comedic hour of rambling insight and pertinent nonsense”.
What I’m trying to say is, if you are near Trowbridge and you, like me, deal with “nonsense” belief systems on a day-to-day basis then please come along and see the show. Let me know if you’re coming and I’ll be sure to say hello!
You can find more information by clicking here. It’s going to be amazing.
p.s. if you’re under 26 you can get in for free. Simply ask about the ‘A night less ordinary’ scheme when you book.
Here’s a thing that really annoys me.
At skeptical orientated events, ghost research is seen as quirky, funny, possibly outdated, a waste of time.
At paranormal events skepticism is seen as the enemy, closed minded, untrustworthy, odd.
I slot in between those two somewhere and it’s starting to grate. I have just read this blog post* by Andy Russell regarding the QED conference in which he says:
Of the 12 1 hour sessions in the main hall, 2 were about ghosts (maybe 2.25 if you count the bits in Bruce Hood’s talk). I guess ghosts are quite fun and there are some serious issues related to them (e.g. exploitation of vulnerable people) but it felt like a bit too much. Surely there are other issues we should be thinking about?
2 out of 12 panels is nothing. Absolutely nothing. Skepticism in ghost belief and ghost research is as relevant as any of ‘type’ of skepticism out there, not to mention the fact that skepticism in general DOES think about other issues way more than ghosts. Alt med for example, gets HUGE coverage, as does creationism, anti-vaccination, the list is endless…
I find opinions like “ghost don’t exist. move on” quite tedious. Five years ago I was a believer in all sorts of ghost related “woo”, an afterlife, stone tape theory, demons, evil entities, exorcism… However, I managed to see sense and become a much more rational investigator. To be told that the lessons I learnt aren’t worth the time and effort, that I should move on, is a slap in the face. I have seen the misinformation that is spread between believers in ghosts, I have heard the lies you get told to make you buy a certain gadget or protective amulet, I’ve seen the nonsense through the eyes of a believer and I know for certain that there is a huge need for people countering such nonsense.
The sort of attitude I encounter from people who refer to themselves as skeptics is the reason that skeptics are met with a frosty reception at paranormal conferences they are asked to speak at. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, delivered skeptical talks to a theatre full of believers and been cornered by the spiritualists…
Dismissing ghost research is rather lazy, in my opinion, because it shows a complete lack of understanding of how skepticism can (and does) play a role in paranormal research.
I am confident enough to say that skepticism (and related events) are not ghostly enough. I actually commented at QED that it was nice to see belief in ghosts getting more coverage. You only have to look at levels of belief in ghosts to see how relevant ghosts are.
You only have to think about how beliefs in something as harmless as a ghost can lead to beliefs in things that are harmful – like families being told that the EMF in their home can cause cancer (ghost hunters love their EMF meters, and misinterpret the readings), how epilepsy is actually a demonic possession, how poltergeist are the devil, how your house is cursed, or haunted by a ghost that will rape you in your sleep, how paranormal researchers can ‘clear’ the spirits away but you’ve got to pay them first…
When it comes to a belief in ghosts there is a very thin line between harmless and harmful.
I “get” that some skeptics may not be interested in ghosts, but please don’t dismiss the work that rational ghost researchers do because, well, to be honest, it’s a horrible thing to do.
Paranormal research should be relevent to people of a skeptical mindset, and if you are a skeptic who thinks otherwise, or doesn’t understand why, I urge you to do a little bit of digging before making closed-minded remarks, undermining a lot of research that is done by a lot of people.
However, do feel free to go and tell Joe Nickell, James Randi or Ben Radford that skeptical analysis of ghosts is a waste of time. I’m sure they’ll have something to say about that.
*not all points raised in my blog post are in relation to Andy’s blog post
I figured I could write a long blog post about how amazing QED was and how much I loved meeting everyone and making so many new friends while listening to fantastic talks from fantastic speakers and being able to take to the stage in front of 300+ people to talk about ghosts with Chris French and Trystan Swale. I’m not going to though because the picture above sums up my opinion of QED.
Thumbs up from me, can we have another QED please?
Some paranormal researchers are either pseudoscientific, outdated, or pretentious and arrogant. Below are a few people/organisations that I think are worth following and working with whom I hold great respect for.
Think of this as an #FF on twitter (early i know, but I’m unable to blog over the weekend as I’m at the QED conference, y’see.)
ASSAP – I’m a member of ASSAP and their website and publications/newsletters are well worth reading (even if you don’t agree with the content 100% of the time)
PSI – Paranormal Site Investigators are a team based in Swindon whom partly inspired me to become more rational in my research. They are headed up by Dave Wood & Nicky Sewell who are both very lovely & savvy people.
CJ Romer – CJ keeps showing up on my television. He’s a past RI guest and is an investigator/researcher whose brain I often like to pick. Visit his site and be sure to check out his blog.
APRU – The APRU is based at Goldsmiths and headed up by Prof. Chris French. It’s always worth checking their site out, especially to see if you can help in any of the ongoing research. Currently they’re looking for people who experience sleep paralysis…
Tony Youens – I met Tony during a talk I did for the Nottigham ‘skeptics in the pub’ group. Tony is the founding member of A.S.K.E, he says it like it is & has been on too many TV shows talking about skepticism to count. His website has some great articles on it about people like Derek Acorah and Most Haunted etc.
BARsoc researchers (obviously) – Check out the researchers page and be sure to look out for the BARsoc members. They’re a great (& intelligent) bunch of people who I hold a lot of respect for. Except for Trystan. He’s just a knob.