Barack Obama, the e-mail culture and religious smears

I thought this might interest readers of this blog. You can watch a full report, via PBS, HERE .

Now, as you will know Barack Obama is one of the two main competitors for the Democratic nomination for the next US Presidential election. Forwarded, sent-on, bulk-posted (viral style) E-mails have been circulating in large number over e-mail networks suggesting that he is secretly a Muslim.

You can read the e-mail itself at There are perhaps two things of note about this. One is the smear campaign itself – but I guess not a great shock – and the kind of thing that happens with the Internet..

Secondly there is the idea that his being a Muslim is something that he would have to keep secret – and that Muslims are people who go about pretending to be Christians in order to deceive and gain power over others. It seems that to buy into the world view of this viral e-mail you have to begin in a culture of fear and paranoia that is itself rather frightening. Also disturbing is the realisation that the authors of this e-mail, while evoking honesty, God and values, are involved in a politically motivated act of deception….

[it is perhaps worth noting that the Fox News network reported these rumours – see HERE, in part, via John Gibson, the same person who openly mocked the death of Heath Ledger – and laughed about his demise HERE ]

To hear the tone of this coverage see and watch/listen to the video clip there of Fox News coverage…


A Good Death – how do we measure the value of ‘a life’?

Over at there is an interesting discussion that arises out of the death of the actor Heath Ledger.

His death is often described in media reports as a ‘tragedy’ – but how do we balance the value of a young life lost and an old life? Is the length the aspect that prevents us from seeing a death as tragic?

Does the author at UNFSB really think that Heath’s death was a ‘good’ one? Or is the idea of a short, wonderful life being better than a long, but maybe bland one a useful corrective to our usual view – or a naive and overly-romantic notion?


Julian Baggini Talk: All Invited

Popular Philosopher Julian Baggini will be giving a talk on communitarianism in Britain. In a recent piece for Prospect magazine, he writes that while the elite of Britain remains liberal, much of the rest of the population adopts communitarian views. This finding derives from his book Welcome to Everytown. You can hear him talking about his book and the recent Prospect article on the BBC Radio 4 programme Start The Week.

The talk will take place on 7th February from 6pm in the CEAL Building (CE102).

You can read more on the philosophy of communitarianism at the Stanford Encyclopaeda of Philosophy entry.

Cheltenham Ladies College Event – 2008

Cheltenham Ladies College is having its annual Religious Studies Event – and as last year (see the report by RPE students HERE) they have kindly invited RPE students to attend should they wish.
Details are below – but let me ( know if you are interested in attending (it is free!).

9.00am – 3.45 pm Thursday 7th February 2008
The Cheltenham Ladies’ College

Why Study Religion, Philosophy and Ethics?

Philosophy seems more popular in Schools than ever. [As noted HERE by Nigel Warburton]

In Scotland, the Herald newspaper has considered this – causing a number of its online readers to comment HERE about the value of philosophy. The comments are worth a glance as they reveal something of the public attitude to philosophy.

I wanted to ask our students (and other readers) to comment as to:

  • Whether there was any value in studying philosophy (to both individuals and society in general)
  • Whether academic disciplines such as Philosophy and Religious Studies should have to demonstrate a ‘usefulness’ in order to be considered worthwhile
  • What reasons motivate individuals to study these subjects. [See HERE for previous posts on this topic]
  • Why has there been such a rise in the numbers studying Religious Studies and Philosophy (often including ethics) at AS/A2 (‘A’ level to older people like me) here in the UK?


Here are the upcoming Gloucestershire Philosophical Society sessions-

1. 16th. January, 2008. Chris Eddy, Swindon Philosophical Society. :”Why I am not an atheist”.

Chris Eddy accepts Philip Kitcher’s challenge, in ‘Living with Darwin’, to articulate a form of belief in God which makes no occult claims, yet is also clearly distinct from secular humanism. The object of the talk is to counter “the meritocratic, ideological bullyings of Dawkins, et al.”.

2. 30th January, 2008. The Annual GPS Dinner will be held in the evening – further details of venue to be circulated.

3. 13th.February, 2008.Dr. Roberta Stevenson, University of Gloucestershire. “The meaning of old age in the 21st. Century: why we need a feminist and literary gerontology”.

Roberta Stevenson has been involved in a study of this issue over the past few years.

4. 27th. February, 2008. Leckhampton Seminar at the Brown Jug, Bath Rd. Cheltenham, 10.30.a.m.”Modernisation: a vacuous concept?”

5. 12th. March, 2008. Dr. Roy Jackson, University of Gloucestershire: “Nietzsche and Islam”.

Roy Jackson considers the important influences that Nietzsche’s teaching has had and continues to have on the evolution of Islamic spirituality.

Meetings scheduled for 16 January, 13 February and 12 March will be held at 7.30 p.m. in room HC203 Francis Close Campus, University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham.