Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Gay Cake Debacle: A Rejoinder to Robertson

Free Church of Scotland Moderator, David Robertson, has written a piece concerning the now infamous Ashers Bakery “gay cake” case.

You can read the Ashers judgment here:

https://www.courtsni.gov.uk/en-GB/Judicial%20Decisions/PublishedByYear/Documents/2015/%5B2015%5D%20NICty%202/j_j_2015NICty2Final.htm

You can find Robertson’s article here:

http://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/Bake-me-a-Cake-and-Mark-it-with-B-for-Bigot

Upon reading this, I tweeted in frustration:

Yet another commentator who hasn’t bothered to read the judgment….”

To which Robertson replied:

yet another tweeter who presumes ignorance. Feel free to answer the points made in the article. If you can.”

Challenged extended!

Challenge accepted!

Robertson’s central point is that the ruling of the judge is an example of double standards being imposed. But before we get to that Robertson makes a few comments:

He states: “Ashers did not refuse a gay person a cake. They refused to bake a cake with a message supporting gay marriage. And that changes everything.” This is flat-out false; it doesn’t change anything, not under the law. Ashers offered a service whereby a customer could design their own cake and Ashers would bake it and print the design. In this case the customer – a gay man – chose a slogan – “support gay marriage” – which is defined as “political opinion” under the law, and Ashers, after first accepting the order, refused to follow through. In other words, they discriminated on the grounds of sexual orientation and political opinion – both protected categories in Northern Irish law, made abundantly clear in the judgment Robertson claims to have read. Moreover, Robertson ignores the fact that in law Ashers is a commercial business which exists for profit. Commercial enterprises are not legally identical with their owners. Ashers therefore doesn’t have a religious conscious which is protected by the European Convention on Humans Rights, and it isn’t a religious organisation which can appeal to certain legal exemptions. Again, the judgment makes this abundantly clear.

Next, Robertson asks:

Does this ruling now mean that a Jewish baker should be forced to bake a cake with a Swastika on it for the BNP (neither the sign nor the party are illegal in the UK)?”

If Robertson is speaking of the wider UK, then the answer is: no, because political opinion is not explicitly a protected category in England, Scotland or Wales. In any event, a Jewish baker could quite easily adopt a policy – which Ashers didn’t do – of rejecting all political or religious slogans, which is entirely legitimate under Northern Irish law.

Robertson’s other example also betrays a misunderstanding:

Would the equalities commission sue a Muslim baker who refused to bake a cake with a cartoon of Mohammed on it, for a Charlie Hebdo party?”

Firstly, Robertson incorrectly identifies the Equality Commission as the plaintiff in such cases. In the Ashers case it was not the Commission who sued – it was the customer, which again should be abundantly clear from the judgment. In any event, since a picture of Muhammad would not represent anyone’s genuinely held religious belief, political beliefs, or identity, it would be difficult to make a case for discrimination here. And, of course, a Muslim-owned bakery is perfectly entitled to refuse all religious slogans (and probably would).

Robertson’s misunderstandings continue to pour forth, as he claims that “it is ridiculous for a Christian who thinks that Same-Sex Marriage is against the Word of God to be compelled to bake a cake with a message supporting it.”

Again, this isn’t true. Remember, the issue is not with a private individual but with a commercial entity. Anyhow, Ashers cannot be compelled to bake a cake with a message supporting same-sex marriage. It has been announced today that Ashers are now only printing birthday and Christening cakes – and no one can compel them to put “support same sex marriage” on a cake. Why? Because they no longer put any such slogans on their cakes. However, the problem before was that they did offer a service, which they then denied to a gay man on considerations pertaining to sexual orientation and political opinion.

Robertson then points out that in his view there was no discrimination in this case because “a heterosexual asking for such a cake would also have been turned down.” However, the judgment makes it explicit that this is not relevant. After citing a number of case law authorities the judge said: “it is my view that….the correct comparator is a heterosexual person placing an order for a cake with the graphics either “Support Marriage” or “Support Heterosexual Marriage.”” The judge deemed it clear that Ashers would have made such a cake for a heterosexual, and thus were making decisions based on sexual orientation in refusing Mr Lee (a homosexual) his cake with the slogan “Support Same Sex Marriage.”

Now beginning to lose the run of himself, Robertson claims that the real discrimination in this case is against “the Christian baker who is being told he will have to close down if he is not prepared to provide cakes with messages that contradict his beliefs.” Again, this is simply flat-out factually incorrect. The baker was not told to bake cakes with slogans contradicting his beliefs or close down. Remember, the entity in question is a commercial “for profit” business – which in law does not have religious beliefs that can be protected under the European Convention of Human Rights (as the judgment – which Robertson has read – makes abundantly clear). In any event, as I’ve already explained, Ashers will continue to bake and sell cakes and will not have to print any slogans with which they disagree.

Anyhow, to the crux of Robertson’s point: “There is a double standard in British society.”

To demonstrate this double standard Robertson mentions the example of The Scottish Christian Party (SCP), who during the general election had their election leaflet rejected by a printer because the printer, says Robertson “did not agree with the messages on it,” and that “The messages were not illegal but nonetheless they refused. Could they not be sued for the same reason?” Robertson laments that “The fact is that there is a double standard in British society just now. The law is being interpreted and enforced in one way for those who represent the cause celebres of our culture, and yet used in a completely different way for those who don’t agree with the shibboleths of our elites.”

Now this baffles me entirely. Robertson is comparing apples with oranges. There are several significant disanalogies between the two cases. Firstly, the Ashers case involved a private individual with rights under the European Convention. The SCP is a political party which, like a commercial business, enjoys no such protection. Secondly, the two cases emerge in different legal jurisdictions! It’s astounding that Robertson hasn’t noticed this fairly obvious fact. Ashers were brought to court under the following pieces of legislation:

The Fair Employment & Treatment Order (Northern Ireland) 1998, and the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006.

Both pieces of legislation are mentioned in paragraph 1 of the Ashers judgment (maybe Robertson skipped paragraph 1?). Notice that both are uniquely applicable to Northern Ireland. They do not apply to Scotland. This clearly isn’t an instance of the law being interpreted and enforced differently in one case than another. It’s a case of different law applying in different legal jurisdictions! Perhaps Robertson misunderstands the nature of the United Kingdom. Our country is the United Kingdom of Great Britain (England, Scotland & Wales) and Northern Ireland. There is some legislation that applies to all jurisdictions, some applies fully to some jurisdictions and only partly to others, and some that is only applicable to one jurisdiction (which happens increasingly these days since Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales have their own regional assemblies with certain legislative powers). So, the legislation in the Ashers case simply doesn’t apply to Scotland. Scotland has its own equality laws. Note further that in the case of the SCP no case was brought before the courts, so unlike the Ashers case there was no legal interpretation or enforcement taking place at all. So, why didn’t the SCP case go to court? Simple: under Scottish law, political opinion is NOT explicitly protected as it is in Northern Irish law. The reason for political opinion being protected in Northern Ireland traces back to our political tensions and the grief that has come from political disputes here. Clearly Robertson has made a blunder. The law simply isn’t “being interpreted and enforced” differently in different cases, and certainly not to suit some grand anti-Christian or politically correct conspiracy. The laws in each jurisdiction are simply different, and thus cases that occur in Northern Ireland will be treated differently.

[It’s worth noting in passing that the Scottish Christian Party member in question – John Cormack – gives a slightly different reason for the rejection than Robertson gives. Cormack says, “The printer I had lined up refused to print the leaflets for me because they have a policy of not printing material that might offend people.” He claimed further the printer was afraid to print the leaflets – not that they refused do so for the reason Robertson claims “[they] did not agree with the messages on it.” Given that the Scottish Christian Party is borderline homophobic – it’s election material spoke of REAL marriage – capitals in the original – as opposed to, presumably, “fake” (though legal in Scotland) same-sex marriages – it is entirely legitimate for a printer to err on the side of caution and not print material which is potentially inflammatory or homophobic. Anyhow, I digress….]

I agree with Robertson in his desire that our Christian freedoms not be eroded, but what he splendidly overlooks is that he lacks no right or freedom whatsoever that a non-Christian enjoys. The law applies equally to Christian and non-Christian alike. And this was upheld by the Ashers judgment.

Stephen J. Graham

PS

On Robertson’s own blogsite he reproduces this article but includes two notes:

“1). The man who brought the law suit is a member of a homosexual group called queer space who just happens to visit a bakery which was well known for its Christian owners, miles from his hometown. All entirely coincidental!”

Again, Robertson is showing his ignorance of the case. Gareth Lee had previously been a customer of Ashers, because it was near the office where he worked. Coincidence? No. Conspiracy theory? Maybe….

“2) SSM is illegal in Northern Ireland. The judge is supposed to uphold the law yet he finds that a bakery which refused to put a message of support for something that is illegal, are the ones breaking the law! The law is sometimes an ass!”

Another misstatement. SSM is not “illegal,” it’s simply that there is no legal provision for it. Murder is illegal. Theft is illegal. SSM is not illegal. Moreover, the judge was not a “he” – the judge was Isobel Brownlie – a she.

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Filed under Discrimination, Equality

The Charismatic Movement & Princess the Hypnodog

Princess the Hypnodog made her appearance on Britain’s Got Talent a few weeks ago. You can view the act here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYHYgU6S2lg. If you’re too dog-tired to bother then basically the act went as follows. Volunteers from the audience were brought up onto the stage and after looking at the dog for 5 seconds they collapsed into a trance on the floor. Her owner then made the audience volunteers forget the number 7, so when they were awake and were asked to count their fingers they counted to 11 instead of 10. Intrigued, the Dark Lord of Britain’s Got Talent – Simon Cowell – took to the stage and stared at Princess, but nothing happened. Or did it? Seemingly for a period of time afterwards Simon was uncannily pleasant to even some of the oddest acts. Hypnodog had made Mr Nasty rather pleasant, at least for a time.

Or so we were meant to believe.

The camera captured numerous shots of an audience amazed that a dog could possess such powers. They seemed totally taken in by it. The reaction on Twitter was somewhat more sceptical. The majority considered the act a blatant fix and were enraged at Britain’s Got Talent for taking the viewers for fools. However, there remained a sizeable number of people who were seriously asking whether or not the act was real – that is, seriously asking whether or not a cute dog with a long tongue had the powers to put human beings to sleep after they looked at her for a few seconds.

But, of course, the whole thing was a trick. Dogs do not possess hypnotic powers. To be as generous as possible to Princess we can speculate that if the audience volunteers weren’t stooges they had perhaps been hypnotised prior to the show by Princess’s owner and “programmed” to fall into a trance when brought in front of the dog, thus making it look like the dog had hypnotic powers. As for Mr. Nasty, a little bit of clever editing on the part of the TV show made it look like for a time after the act Simon Cowell was being unusually pleasant, when in fact the few occasions on which he had been judging acts out of character were simply edited together and made to look like they all followed his being hypnotised by Princess.

The first thing I noticed about this episode was the difference in reaction between the live audience and those watching on TV. The latter were, on the whole, much more sceptical. Those at the live event were far more credulous. Thus what we have here is a case of the power of a live show. It’s dramatic, you get caught up in it rather easily; expectations are high, sceptical walls are lowered. Add to this a bit of human imagination and the desire to be part of something wonderfully bizarre – even other-worldly – and we have all the ingredients for, frankly, making people stupidly gullible.

Exactly the same thing happens at big charismatic rallies. Take for example Benny Hinn. I’ve had the, umm, pleasure of witnessing a Benny Hinn show first hand, and I’ve studied his techniques for some time. Hinn uses a powerful mixture of showmanship, psycho-hypnotic techniques, and plain old deceit to produce the effect that he wants. Someone who claims such a massively positive healing record could easily minister in hospitals and heal the sick there. However, notice that Hinn needs people to come to him – to where he has control: control of lighting, mood, security (certain sick people get nowhere near him), music, and the order of service. Hinn’s events are highly choreographed and scripted. Fundamentally he’s a showman who manipulates sick and vulnerable people into opening their wallets nice and wide.

All of this plays on sheer dumb human credulity. We are a gullible species. We take things as they seem to us, rarely pausing to ask if things really are as they seem. Of course, in evolutionary terms this is understandable. If you paused to wonder “Is that really a huge tiger bearing down on me” you probably wouldn’t be around long enough to think the matter through. Our natural reaction is to believe what we see: it’s a tiger, run.

Moreover, something seems to happen to us when we gather together in large groups, particularly in a certain atmosphere like a concert, show, or healing crusade. Extensive research has gone into human behaviour in such scenarios. Take Benny Hinn again. A huge crowd has gathered, full of hope and expectation. The singing begins, and during a chorus of “How Great Thou Art” – (the reader can decide if “Thou” refers to God or Hinn) – Hinn – like a demigod – walks onto the stage and begins to orchestrate the thousands of cognitive and emotional experiences that have already begun. People are encouraged to close their eyes, empty their minds, and open themselves up to God. Before long many in the crowd show all the signs of an opiate release in the brain: they may smile or laugh, they appear to have a certain glow about them, they may shake and begin to sway, and some might even cry. Soon, those who are most susceptible to hypnotic suggestion may experience other physical effects. Some might even notice pains begin to leave their bodies, and stiff joints starting to loosen. Soon – after passing through Hinn’s rigourous screening process where the sick and infirm are effectively auditioned to see if they are good enough to perform on-stage – these people come into Hinn’s presence to be declared healed, and then typically “slain in the Spirit” – using either the power of hypnotic suggestion or a good old fashioned shove. With this apparent display of the power of God, other people watching who are perhaps less susceptible to hypnotic suggestion have any remaining scepticism undone and finally come under the showman’s spell. It’s very clever, and Benny Hinn is an expert at it.

But, as with hypnodog, there are no mysterious or other-worldly powers at play. It’s all a combination of expectation, psychological tricks, careful choreography, and the simple human propensity to accept at face value the things we perceive.

How then do we avoid being fooled? By developing a sceptical frame of mind. By paying attention to what’s going on “behind the scenes.” By coming to realise that all is not what it seems at such events. My own exit from the charismatic movement involved research and reading. I discovered that when it comes to the claims of faith-healers and charismatic preachers there have been more than enough exposes to leave such claims dead in the water. When a preacher calls out someone in the audience – about whom he supposedly can’t know anything by natural means – he’s using a trick like the “pre-service prayer card” trick of Peter Popoff or WV Grant. Sometimes homeless people have been employed by certain pastors to pose as sick and infirm and rise out of wheelchairs. Numerous bodies of evidence demonstrate that the vast majority of faith-healing miracles are nothing other than psychosomatic reactions to the highly choreographed and emotionally charged surroundings of a service. It has been demonstrated time and again how healers perform tricks to make it look like the blind see, the deaf hear, and that legs are being lengthened. One man at a Reinhard Bonnke rally was proclaimed healed of blindness. Upon follow up by a researcher it was discovered he was never blind at all. In another instance a deaf child can be seen clearly lip reading and repeating words spoken by Bonnke: but she was declared healed of deafness. For those interested in how such tricks are performed, have a look at illusionist Derren Brown’s “Miracles for Sale” programme on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuP5uOI7Xwc

So, why, in the face of all this evidence, do charismatics still believe in such things? There’s no simple answer, but I want to suggest a few factors at work. Firstly, many are desperate. They are terminally ill or permanently disabled and the only hope they have left is the charismatic healer making grand promises about their miracle healing. Secondly, perhaps the kinds of people who attend such meetings simply aren’t the type of people to read, say, James Randi’s book exposing faith-healers, or watch a Derren Brown programme about the techniques used by healers and preachers to manipulate the masses. Recently during a Twitter exchange I sent several links to articles from this blog to a charismatic. Although he claimed to have read them, according to my website statistics none of those articles had in fact been accessed. My own experience is, sadly, that often Christians live in a faith bubble – listening exclusively to Christian music and reading Christian books by authors they largely already agree with. Thirdly, many of us live in almost perpetual boredom. Our lives aren’t terribly exciting most of the time. We might desperately want something unusual to break the tedium – whether it’s a dog with hypnotic powers or a healer breaking someone’s crutches on a stage. Many people desperately wish to experience the power of God in their otherwise mundane lives.

But of course we shouldn’t conduct our lives by wishful thinking. Reality simply doesn’t bend to our desires and dreams. I desperately wish that it was the case that deaf kids were regularly healed, or that wounded soldiers could grow back limbs. I’d even love to live in a world of magical dogs! But we don’t live in a fairytale. For better or worse the world is the way it is, and no amount of desire to the contrary is going to change it.

Of course, if you’re a charismatic and you don’t like what I’ve said here, then know this: the hypnodog made me say it.

Stephen J Graham

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Filed under Charismatic Movement, Faith-Healing, Miracles