Tuesday, 27 March 2012

"Did you sacrifice a goat too?"

“We said a prayer for you”
“Did you sacrifice a goat too?”

Three MP’s have written to the Advertising Standards Authority wanting to overturn a rule which bans claims that prayer can heal. Gary Streeter (Con), Gavin Shuker (Lab) and Tim Farron (Lib Dem), wrote;
We write to express our concern at this decision and to enquire about the basis on which it has been made. It appears to cut across two thousand years of Christian tradition and the very clear teaching in the Bible. Many of us have seen and experienced physical healing ourselves in our own families and churches and wonder why you have decided that this is not possible.
Certainly the recent outpouring of Christian sentiments for Fabrice Muamba have illustrated that plenty of people still do believe in the power of prayer. However, how many believe there is a direct causal link between their prayer and the health of another human being is questionable. Isn’t it just polite to say ‘I’ll pray for you’? 
As a good secularist I would rather say ‘you’re in my thoughts’, and wish the person well. I would also like to hope they have access to good medical assistance because I believe our health is best attended to by trained medical experts rather than being at the mercy of a ‘benevolent’ God who counts up the numbers asking for us to be saved and comes to a decision based on the votes; it’s like a transcendental popularity show; Britains Got Religion.
To be clear I don’t wish to stop people praying for the sick. I just don’t think it wise to say it has a causal affect on an individuals health. These three MP’s don’t want us to overturn several thousand years of Christian tradition, but I don’t want us to negate several thousand years of scientific advancement. 
Conservative Gary Streeter says;
You might be interested to know that I (Gary Streeter) received divine healing myself at a church meeting in 1983 on my right hand, which was in pain for many years. After prayer at that meeting, my hand was immediately free from pain and has been ever since. What does the ASA say about that? I would be the first to accept that prayed for people do not always get healed, but sometimes they do.

So lets be clear; these three are not just claiming there is some purpose for prayer as a recognition of well-wishing. This is a direct claim that if enough people pray for you you will be healed. And they try a very cunning trick to back up their claim, they accuse the ASA of providing no scientifc proof that prayer does not heal. In other words, science should prove that prayer cannot heal the sick, and until then we should presume it does. In which case, shouldn’t we providing prayer on the NHS along with homeopathy? 
I don’t claim to know for sure that prayer does not heal the sick, but I certainly think the claim lacks verisimilitude. Given the choice I would rather put my faith in that great British religion, the NHS. I don’t want thousands of people praying for my health (an unlikely prospect anyway), but we can all have a direct causal affect on the health of millions by paying our taxes and ensuring the sick are cared for and the vulnerable protected. That is what I believe in.

The 50p Conundrum

‘Hands up in the cabinet if you’re going to benefit from this tax cut?’
Certainly Ed Miliband’s response to Osborne’s budget last Wednesday was one of his finest parliamentary performances as leader of the Labour party. However, I cannot help but question the wisdom of targeting this budget as the ‘millionaires budget’. 
Before the last election the Labour government introduced the 50p top rate of tax, laying a trap for Osborne and Cameron; would the Old Etonians pledge to cut tax for the richest and risk looking out of touch? They didn’t take the bait and the 50p rate was accepted by all as a necessity in the age of austerity; now it is Osborne’s turn to lay a trap for the Labour party. Strategically this a clever political move by the Chancellor. He’s given the 50p rate two years, proving some timid commitment to ‘we’re all in together’, and allowing the semblance of enough time passing to prove it’s counter-productiveness. Scrapping the top-rate of tax in the 2010 budget would have been rash. two years into government looks considered. 
So why can’t the Labour leadership accuse the government of cutting taxes for millionaires? The simple fact is that this is only a workable strategy if they are going to pledge to reintroduce the 50p rate. If they are not planning on reintroducing the 50p rate they heading down a political dead-end by spinning a narrative of ‘tax cuts for millionaires’ which they, for all intents and purposes, will not reverse. If this is the case, then the 50p rate is neutralised as an issue in the next election. The Labour leadership need to make their mind up if they are going to accept the new 45p rate or raise it back to 50p because it is integral to their response to this budget, now and in the longer term.
Clever Osborne.