Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Quit It - Part Three



Part Three of dispatches from the front line after ONE YEAR without smoking


Have I smoked in the last year? No. Not one. Do I still want to? Yes. Will I give in? The hell I will.

The addict part of my brain will always be there but it’s become a puny, mewling thing.

One of the strongest triggers now is leaving a cinema; my first thought is still to light up. Last week I dreamed I was smoking and really enjoying it; for the next couple of days I really wanted one. An ex-smoker I know said this still happens to her occasionally, even after years.

People keep saying that I must feel so much better. In theory, my immune system should now have recalibrated, the cilia and cells in my airways regrown. My risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke has dropped to less than half that of a smoker. But it’s only in the last couple of weeks that I’ve actually started feeling well after being almost constantly ill for more than eight months - not just with post-smoking coughs and colds but with non-respiratory viruses.  The GP tells me this is normal. Bloody marvellous.

I’ve just got back to my pre-quitting weight. Maintaining it is hard and means not even looking at lovely, lovely sugar more than once a week. I’m eating less overall than I was too, which is a real challenge.

My knees have adjusted to the extra cardio and my bum muscles are a bit firmer than they were.

I’ve saved myself a couple of thousand pounds (my brand, Silk Cut Silver, now sells for £10.45 in my local supermarket, of which £5.19 is tax). Am I saving the NHS money? I may not need it for smoking-related diseases but if I live longer, I will need it for other things.

Since I quit, standardized cigarette packaging has been introduced and the ten pack is no longer available. The idea is that the drab boxes with big ugly health warnings will make more people quit and put children off starting. The evidence for quitting is very slim but there is some evidence that the boxes are less attractive to teenagers. 

Most of the legislation, constant price increases and public health strategies are aimed at preventing young people from starting. They won’t put off the addicts – and certainly wouldn’t have made me stop.

You can see why vaping is becoming more popular with its pretty colours and no health warnings or gruesome images. So far. Evidence is growing of the dangers of vaping if it is not used as a short-term quitting aid. 

Some tobacco companies have started selling tins to avoid the new packaging rules and keep their branding visible. One expert said “The fact that these tins appeared almost immediately prior to the branding and size restrictions coming into force is suspicious.” It’s not suspicious, it’s predictable. They are not going to go down without a fight for a global industry currently worth $770 billion a year.

I’ve learnt a lot about quitting in the last year, some of it scientific, some of it personal. The main messages are:
  • Quitting is bloody awful but if it was easy everyone would do it. I am super special sparkly
  • There is no good time to stop. This last year has been a bugger for many reasons
  • It’s different for everyone
  • Think before you open your mouth around a quitter
  • There will be consequences. Quitting is damage limitation, not resetting to zero
  • There are both genetic and cultural components to addiction
  • Public health information and support is very inadequate
  • It’s really important to get support from anyone who will listen to you constantly whining
  • Punching people won’t make you want to smoke any less

So that’s my year of quitting. Now give me that damn cake.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Beyond Belief


A Comres survey commissioned by the BBC for Palm Sunday** does not look good for the Church of England despite a predictable effort to spin the findings.

In the survey, 51% of people surveyed identified as Christian. Half of the people surveyed said they didn’t believe in the resurrection, while only 31% of people identifying as Christian said they did. Only 17% of people thought the Bible version was literally true while 26% believed but thought the Bible shouldn’t be taken literally.

Although Christmas is now far more celebrated, the resurrection is the core tenet of Christianity and Easter is its most important festival. No resurrection, no Christianity.  To quote the Bible: Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. (John 11:25) And yet more than two thirds of Christians don’t believe that.


Belief and church attendance have been falling for quite some time. The figures for belief in this survey are slightly better than those in a YouGov survey from last year which found that only 46% of people identify as Christian. This was a much bigger survey and so is more likely to represent the population as a whole (nearly 12,000 as opposed to around 2,000 people). The YouGov survey also found that more people believe in ghosts than in a Creator.
  
According to the current survey, 37% of people identifying as Christian never go to Church. Another survey by the Church of England itself found that only 2% of the population go to the Church of England at Easter. The flock really has strayed far from the Good Shepherd (probably because they know he’s going to herd them off to the slaughterhouse so we can all eat our traditional Easter roast lamb and rosemary). 

The survey also looked at belief in life after death. It found that only 46% of people said they believed in it and the same number said they didn’t. If you don’t believe in an afterlife then the Church’s carrot and stick tactics are not going to work on you.

Sidebar: of those who do believe in an afterlife, 56% were women and 36% were men. I looked at why women may believe more than men in many kinds of supernatural phenomena (and non-evidence based medicines) here.

The Church is fighting a rearguard action and trying to spin the findings that 20% of the non-religious believe in some sort of life after death and that 9% of non-believers do believe that the resurrection happened.

The Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend David Walker,said: "This important and welcome survey proves that many British people, despite not being regular churchgoers, hold core Christian beliefs”. He describes the results as “surprisingly high levels of religious belief among those who follow no specific religion, often erroneously referred to as secularists or atheists”.

Let’s unpack this a bit. Firstly, the Church doesn’t have a monopoly in life after death belief. About a third of the people (32%) who believed in some sort of life after death believe in reincarnation, hardly a Christian doctrine.

Secondly, 9% believing in the resurrection is not a ‘surprisingly high level’ when you look more closely and see that these are people who ‘do not belong to a religious group’ according to the survey. They are not identified as non-believers or claiming to be atheist or secular, he’s just grasping at straws because any kind of belief, however small or tenuous is better than nothing.  He does deserve credit for his top skills at ignoring all the stats that don’t reflect well on the Church though. That’s quite an impressive mental contortionist act.

Thirdly, he is conflating atheists and secularists. Atheism means no belief in God whereas secularism is a political belief in the need for separation of Church and State. You can be religious and secular, as many people are.

Like a lot of Easter eggs, the Bishop’s claims are hollow and crack under the slightest pressure.

There is also dissension in the Christian ranks. Reverend Dr Lorraine Cavenagh is the acting general secretary for Modern Church, which promotes liberal Christian theology. She said "Science, but also intellectual and philosophical thought has progressed. It has a trickle-down effect on just about everybody's lives.

"So to ask an adult to believe in the resurrection the way they did when they were at Sunday school simply won't do and that's true of much of the key elements of the Christian faith."

A cynical person might say that the Church wants us all to believe like children at Sunday School do. Many of these children also believe in Santa.

Would it be mean to point out that in 2002 a survey found that a third of Church of England clergy don’t believe in the physical resurrection? That’s a bit of an own goal. It’s also unfair to people who do believe if they’re being led by people who don’t.  

These findings follow the Cadbury Easter egg fiasco where self-proclaimed vicar’s daughter Theresa May and Archbishop Sentamu got very hot under the dog collar about Cadbury’s and the National Trust dropping the word Easter from their eggs and egg hunt. I wrote about that here (short version – it’s not true).  

Does any of this really matter to most of us who are more interested in hot cross buns, chocolate eggs and maybe some roast lamb next Sunday?

The Bishop of Manchester also said: "This demonstrates how important beliefs remain across our society and hence the importance both of religious literacy and of religion having a prominent place in public discourse."

This is the crux of the matter. The Church will not give up its power and influence. It will not give up unelected bishops in the House of Lords or its tax-free benefits or state-funded Church schools and hospital chaplains or its general right to meddle in people’s lives. It wants the right to cherry-pick who gets to go to its schools, to mislead children in sex education classes and to discriminate against women and non-hetero cis men.

Church leaders are deluding themselves about the relevance of their beliefs and their jobs in a multi-cultural society. Yes, this country has a Christian heritage, religion has shaped society and history but it is not the sole influence. Societies evolve and the Church is looking increasingly like a dinosaur just before the meteors hit. Or, to add another simile, the Church is like a ferret that will not let go once its jaws have locked on.

However, this survey is no reason for celebration. Politicians won’t do anything to secularise the country because they’re afraid of losing votes. Anglicans (Church of England) are more likely to vote Tory, for a start. This government is very good at ignoring research it doesn’t like in any area and at dismissing ‘experts’ as irrelevant. 

So the Church of England has the last laugh. Whatever surveys show, there is no prospect of change any time soon. It’s much easier to hold onto power than to gain it. Inertia, cowardice and the status quo prevail.

Happy Easter.



** Palm Sunday is the one before Easter where the Bible says Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey and people waved palm leaves at him.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The E Word



As if Theresa May didn’t have enough to deceive the British public about at the moment, now she decides to wade into the Great Easter Egg Debate. This is basically the Winterval, ’they’re cancelling Christmas’ non-story with added chocolate.

Cadbury’s and the National Trust have been running a joint egg hunt for 10 years. This year they’re calling it the Cadbury's Great British Egg Hunt instead of the Easter Egg Trail.

According to May, dropping the Easter is ‘ridiculous’. According to Archbishop Sentamu, this is ‘spitting on the grave’ of the company founder, John Cadbury, who was a Quaker.

May said: "I think the stance they have taken is absolutely ridiculous. I don't know what they are thinking about frankly. Easter's very important... It's a very important festival for the Christian faith for millions across the world." She also reminds us that she’s a vicar’s daughter.

Firstly, Cadbury is not dropping Easter from its promotions. As a spokesman point out: "A casual glance at our website will see dozens of references to Easter throughout." A ten second look at their website shows ‘Enjoy Easter fun at the National Trust’. Yes, the E Word is right there.  They also have a section called Easter Products  that says ‘Our eggstensive range is packed with perfect treats for the Easter season!’. Yes, it’s a terrible pun, but, again, the E Word is right there.

The National Trust website  says Join the Cadbury Egg Hunts this Easter. In fact, the page mentions the E Word five times.

Secondly, dear Archbishop, stop being a drama queen for one minute and you may remember that Quakers don’t even celebrate Easter because they believe every day is holy. 

Thirdly, both the Archbishop and the vicar’s daughter seem to have forgotten that there is nothing in Christian doctrine about the mass consumption of poor quality chocolate at Easter, whether it is shaped like an egg or a rabbit. These are wholly pagan relics. I wrote about the pagan originsof Easter here .

Fourthly, calling it the Great British Egg Hunt should make all the Brexiteers happy. We’ll have none of that Middle Eastern religion that was imposed on traditional British beliefs around 1500 years ago. Keep Britain’s Spring Festival British.

Fifthly, if Easter is as important as the two of them are trying to make out, how come only about 2% of people bother going to Church to celebrate what is the fundamental basis of Christianity?  And that’s according the Church of England’s own statistics. 

All of those armchair Christians really should stop their advance towards diabetes for an hour and go to their nearest church – if they even know where it is.  They may be able to sing some carols but how many Easter hymns do they know? How many gave something up for Lent? It’s not as if Cadbury and the National Trust are barricading church doors to keep people out.

Sixthly, the real story here is that Brexit could mean more expensive or smaller chocolate bars. Cadbury’s have already reduced a pack of six Creme Eggs to five with only a slight decrease in the price. A spokesman for thecompany has said that it may well have to pass on higher costs to customers by raising prices or selling smaller products for the same price. And it’s not even a British company any more, it’s owned by US company Mondel─ôz International. I suspect the ghost of Mr Cadbury would be far more bothered about that.

Cadbury’s are probably far less worried about what Theresa May thinks than about the fact that six out of ten of our favourite chocolate products are made by their rival Mars, including the top slot, which is taken by Maltesers.  

Finally, a vicar’s daughter and an Archbishop really should know that it’s a sin to tell a lie. They won’t be getting any eggs this year because the Easter Bunny knows if you’ve been naughty or nice. Santa sold the Bunny his list – customer data sharing gets everywhere.