This letter was submitted the ‘The Friend’, a Quaker periodical publication, recently Still awaiting the editor’s decision as to whether or not it will be published.

Dear Friends

At present we, in the Central Yorkshire Area Meeting (CYAM), are being urged, on instructions from Britain Yearly Meeting, to adopt a policy which will safeguard children and vulnerable adults.  I refer to the society’s intention to have at least two members of each meeting CRB checked and ‘cleared’ for ‘child safety purposes’.

If I may begin by relating some of my own experiences of the Criminal Records Bureau and the certificates it issues.  I am a member of a large recreational association with branches throughout the country some of which have already been pressured into CRB checking their leaders and administrators.  The results have been notable as many long standing leaders, well known and respected by other members, declined to take such checks and as a result no longer participate in social events; one can only wonder what dark secrets they had to hide. If they were the only ones to disappear maybe that would not be so bad but not only the refuseniks but their friends have gone with them, depleting numbers somewhat.  However, if a reduction in numbers is anything to judge by I think we can say those groups are now far safer than they ever were in the past.

In addition to the effect on numbers, CRB checks introduce an unhealthy and unwholesome atmosphere of distrust to whichever organisation chooses to use them.  The implication is that everyone is guilty and poses a potential threat to vulnerable people [almost a reinvention of ‘original sin’]. The way to lift one’s self above such guilt is to undergo a CRB check. In this manner those with certificates are deemed ‘safe’ and the others, not so; in this way CRB checking also has a divisive effect on a group or society.  If CYAM gets its way and each meeting complies with the ruling we will have two people at each meeting house who may be entrusted with the care of children and other vulnerable people – and no one else.

In reality a CRB disclosure certificate achieves nothing. It doesn’t show a person is trustworthy, has done nothing wrong and, most important, of all says nothing about what he/she will do in the future.  Even the phrasing used on a ‘clean’ certificate raises doubts, for example  ‘Police Records of Convictions, Cautions, Reprimands and Warnings – NOT RECORDED’. Why not a straightforward ‘NONE’? ‘NOT RECORDED’ has a subliminal message ‘no record found but he/she may have offended, we simply don’t know’.  It certainly doesn’t tell you that this person will not murder, assault or molest someone in the future.

Why are some people so enthusiastic about such a useless measure?  For those with a desire to keep others under their thumb the appeal is obvious as it is way of controlling people, of sifting out those you like from those you don’t while under the pretence of doing something good.

I have yet to see one benefit of this procedure but so far I have only seen negative effects – financial cost to clubs and societies, loss of membership, loss of participation within the remaining membership, further reinforcement of the deep-seated distrust and suspicion which pervades society as a whole and yet our Elders and Overseers, who I understand are selected for their deeper understanding of Quaker values, far from demanding that we find a way forward to a more sensible method of our own and thus set the standard,  are urging us to follow the sheep.  Our society has a long history of dissent, of standing up to unjust or unfair laws, of saying ‘no’ to imposed procedures and being prepared to take the consequences. This is surely such an occasion to insist on being different.

At risk of stating the obvious we are the Religious Society of Friends, we seek the truth, we endeavour to stand for the truth, we accept nothing but the truth and in our quest for the truth we develop a sharp eye which enables us to accept that which is of value and worth and reject that which is puff.

I feel our myopia is reaching chronic levels.

[bear+-+81459170.jpg]Now that Ms Gillian Gibbons is safely home maybe it is ok to speculate on the real reasons why she was imprisoned. It certainly takes some swallowing that anyone could possibly be upset or offended at a child’s toy being given the name of a human being. We can accept that there is a cultural difference between western countries and African countries when it comes to children’s toys; only in the wealthy western countries are children brought up with cuddly animal toys, and that has only been happening in the last century; but is that enough of a difference to create a situation in which someone can be offended by the eccentricities of a western teacher? How long did it take for the person to be offended? Instantly? This is something we have little or no definite information about but the impression gained, and it is only an impression, is that there was a lapse of time between the event and the complaint being made, which suggests that the information may have been passed around until it finally found someone waiting to be offended. It is difficult to visualise precisely what the plaintiff imagined he/she was going to achieve – publicity, a blow against the interfering West, closure of Unity school? All possible and all very short term gains, except the latter which may be so damaged and discredited it never reopens.

Ms Gibbons appears to be the innocent party on every count – she did not name the bear, and when the choice was first made by the schoolchildren she asked if it was ok to choose that name, so she showed cultural sensitivity right from the beginning. The complaint was made by a private citizen – a parent or a teacher, depending on which newspaper you read – but after that the Sudanese equivalent of the CPS would have taken charge. Wouldn’t it have been possible for someone with his head screwed on the right way round to have thrown the idea out before it even reached the courts? On reaching the court would it not have been possible for the judge to have dismissed the case? Or were there other matters to be considered.

This episode does Sudan no credit, which may be why the government responded to Lord Ahmed and Lady Warsi so well, it does the Islamic faith even less good and relationships between westerners and Muslims living in the west least of all. Unfortunately Mo the Ted is just the sort of stuff to make ideal ammunition for the groups of extremists and their sympathisers so it may not be unreasonable to expect trouble in the near future, from the Muslim nutters who look for any excuse to have a go at the decadent west and from the neo-Nazis who can’t wait to expel them from the planet.

In a recently published document, entitled Spe Salvi [Saved by Hope], Joseph Ratzinger [Pope Benedict 16th] warns the world of the evils of atheism.

“Pope Benedict XVI has launched a powerful attack on atheism, saying that it was responsible for some of the ‘greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice’ in history.”

In the document he goes on to assert that justice is not man made but is divine; if we try to create our own justice we end up in a world without hope. Precisely how the logic of this thinking slots together is unclear to me but I’m sure someone can put me right. This is just one more in a series of announcements, encyclicals and speeches, setting out the Pope’s ideas of how the church relates to all else in the world and how the world should relate to it. Earlier this year he asserted that the only way to God was via the Catholic church, thereby resurrecting the medieval notion that there is only one holy church [the Roman church] and that everything else is inferior and not worth bothering about.

But back to the more recent attack encyclical. I differ from His Holisox and feel that he missed the mark somewhat and I would like to put the record straight. There is no trickery in the words I use, no masking of meaning, no mysticism, no unsubstantiated assertions, only plain facts.

As a general rule atheists don’t . .

– hate you for being homosexual

– stand in your way if you want to learn more about science

– insist on being lead by celibate numbskulls

– interfere with education

– interfere with human rights

– hide priests who have been caught playing with little boys balls

. . . and looking further back in history atheists were never renowned for . .

– launching crusades against people in the Middle East

– instigating inquisitions

– putting people on stretching racks if they asked questions about the bible

– burning people at the stake because someone said they were b/witches

– collaborating with the Nazi party

. . but while the above statements are true I would accept that they do not represent an overwhelming proof that atheists never indulge in evil.

Making an attack of this kind and blaming the ills of the world on to some unconnected group is, to my mind, the mark of someone who is in a potentially weak or vulnerable position, or who feels that his organisation/faith/creed is not robust enough to withstand scrutiny or criticism from outsiders, which ought to be nonsense as Christianity has been around for a long time now. But maybe we really shouldn’t be too surprised at this outburst as the pontiff set out his stall at a very early stage, making it clear there would be nonsense, no namby-pambying or softening of the faith while he was in charge – so out went any notion of dialogue with other faiths, all ideas about modernising the Catholic church were scrapped and the way forward now, apparently, is to return to the Middle Ages as soon as possible. Without doubt, he is a focused man and with clear vision of where he wants the church to go – or as others might see him, narrow-minded, bigoted and with a penchant for all things medieval.