Don’t Talk

I get my phone and broadband from TalkTalk. I know, I was warned off them and I went with them anyway. I know that they are the most complained about internet provider in the UK, I know about all the problems with them trying to bill people after they have left. I went with them anyway because in this village it’s a choice of BT (and resellers) or TalkTalk, and BT couldn’t get me a phone line for six weeks after we moved in. BT can also only provide broadband at 6Mbps here while TalkTalk manage 18Mbps.

I haven’t had a problem with TalkTalk in the last three and a half months. Then yesterday, my broadband just stopped. Eventually after trying for a while, a web page that I tried to load was redirected to a message from TalkTalk which informed me that I had to call their billing department. I called up immediately to speak to them. They told me that I had missed a payment. I realised immediately that they had probably messed up the transfer of my direct debit to my new bank account and told them this. (I have just changed bank from Natwest to Co-op for ethical reasons. I filled in a form that allowed Co-op to transfer all my direct debits from Natwest.) They went and looked, and told me that the new bank account details had arrived with them on the 7th, and that the payment had been due on the 6th, and so it hadn’t worked. There’s a slight problem here – if the details changed on the 7th, then they wouldn’t have known any different on the 6th and would have taken the payment from Natwest. My account with Natwest was operational and had money in it right up to the 15th, so their explanation makes no sense. They received the new details and didn’t bother to take the money.

Worse than that, though, is that after the payment had failed because of their own stupidity, they didn’t bother to tell me. No phone call, no email, no letter. Nothing. They simply waited for three weeks, and then cut me off. I might have left it there if they had reconnected me immediately, but no. I paid them over the phone with my debit card and then was told that it could take up to 24 hours to turn my connection back on! It’s not a difficult problem to turn an account back on. My ADSL router was still connected the whole time, it’s just that they redirected every attempt to use it back to their own website. All they had to do was tell a computer to allow me to use my phone and the internet again.

I’m sick. I have ME, migraines, diabetes, and a host of other things. As such, I’m stuck in this house and often stuck in my bed unless I have help from other people. I also rely on communication with friends over the internet to prevent me from getting depressed enough to hurt myself. I have to be able to communicate with friends and family. I have a mobile phone, but in this house using it requires standing with the phone held up high in exactly the right spot. I can’t stand up for very long. Sometimes not at all. TalkTalk turned off my phone line and internet, both vital for my communications, because of their own mistake, didn’t bother to warn me, and when I fixed their problem, they took until the next day to turn my connection back on.

I want an apology from TalkTalk and an assurance that this won’t happen again.

Benefit Fraud Exposed!

Uh oh. We’ve been found out.

 

For those who cannot read the embedded Flash document above, you can download the PDF: The Daily Stigma or read about it on Mind’s website.

There is an article in the Guardian about it. How Mind’s spoof paper aims to set the record straight on benefit fraud

Why kids should learn to program computers

I believe that children should be taught computer programming at school and they should be taught it early on. There are arguments against this. Who needs to program a computer, anyway? When will the average person ever need to do that? That’s technical stuff. No normal person is interested in that. It’s for nerds.

Or is it?

Modern civilisation lives on knowledge. Information. Information is everywhere, in everything that we do. We learn, we write down what we have learnt; we create art, and store it, copy it, distribute it. We do newsworthy things and we broadcast news. This is the information age, and it runs on Information Technology.

In this information age it is vital that we can all produce, modify and access information and that means using computers. There are not all that many jobs that do not involve a computer in some way. Few people would disagree that using a computer to access the internet, produce documents and so on should be taught at school but I think it should go further than that. I think that children should be taught to write computer code; the lists of instructions that tell the computer how to do everything from adding up the numbers in your spreadsheet to moving an alien across your screen. (Not such different tasks as you might think!)

There is logic to my thinking. To the average person, a computer is a mystical object. It has, they think, a mind of its own. Computers DO things without reason or maybe just to spite them. Except that is not true, but without knowledge of what goes on inside the computer it seems like it.

Programming isn’t creating the computer, it’s operating it. It’s like driving the car rather than building it or being a passenger. Creating a computer program gives the programmer an understanding of what computers really do. Once it is understood how a list of instructions can add two numbers together or draw a picture on the screen it starts to become easier to work out why the computer always pops up that incomprehensible message when you try to do something that it doesn’t like. It is not just that learning programming makes it easier to understand computers either. Britain was – is – very good at creating computer software. When manufacturing has all moved to countries with cheaper labour, creating new computer software and games might be one of the few areas where people can make a living. Like all languages, learning to speak to computers is best done at a young age and those that do so find it easier to write software later in life. Then there is the joy of actually creating something yourself, and the convenience of creating something that works the way you want it to instead of the way that some distant programmer wants it to. There are plenty of jobs where it would be useful to be able to tell the computer what to do instead of waiting for someone else to tell it. Scientists need to store and analyse data from their observations and experiments. Sales managers need to be able to extract meaningful information from customer databases. Both of these situations could be speeded up by knowing what the computer can do and how to do it quickly.

A BBC computerSo if programming should be taught to enable people to make the most of the information age, how should it be done? In the eighties every school had a BBC microcomputer. Homes had Sinclair Spectrums, Ataris, BBCs and C64s. The important thing about those computers is that the first thing we saw when we turned them on was an empty screen waiting for computer code to be typed in. Sure, the first thing many people would do is type LOAD “” to fetch a game from cassette tape, but everyone would eventually get around to typing 10 PRINT “Steve is great” / 20 GOTO 10 and from there people would often become curious about what else they could tell this computer to do. The current batch of programmers in their thirties and forties are good at what they do because of early exposure to simple computers that practically demanded that the end-user programmed them. Modern computers just don’t present the same opportunity to program them. To program a modern computer you have to realise that you want to program the computer, and then find out what you need to install to help you do that before you can even get started. Free software is available on the internet to get people started but hardly anyone knows that it is there.

This is why I think that programming should be taught very early at school. Children can sit down at a computer that already has what they need to program it and can be guided through the steps. Some children might not enjoy it but they will at least have encountered the basic ideas that make a computer function, and have some understanding of why things work the way they do. Other children will discover a talent for programming that they might otherwise never realise, and they can go on to produce great things.

As well as teaching programming early on, I also believe that concepts like web browsing and word processing should be taught at a young age. These things aren’t optional, they are used in nearly every other subject at school. As using a computer is a fundemental skill to be taught to everyone anyway, I think that the IT GCSE must allow thost that are interested to go a lot further than that. A GCSE in IT should teach advanced programming and computer science, not things that everyone should already have been taught like how to make a Powerpoint presentation.

I realise that there are other demands on time in schools and also that many people will not be interested in computer programming. I should point out that there are plenty of things that people might not be interested in but should still learn the basics, for example, cooking. I’m not calling for years of lessons on the subject of programming. What I would like to see is just a few lessons somewhere between the ages of 7 and 14 (preferably nearer 7) which take children through creating a simple game. Just enough to capture the imagination and explain simple concepts. Children at that age would hopefully still be curious enough to be interested.

Apart from teaching programming in schools, there should also be more opportunities to learn at home. One intriguing project that might help with this is the Raspberry Pi project. Raspberry Pi is a tiny computer the size of a credit card which will connect to a TV just like those eighties computers and will have all the tools necessary to learn programming already on board. It should be a case of plug in and start writing code. The best bit, though, is that the Raspberry Pi is expected to cost about £15. These things should become ubiquitous and everyone should have the chance to program a computer.

Fight for healthcare

The above video, made by Chelle Denise (@purplegimp on twitter) is heartbreaking. I challenge you to watch it all the way through without crying. She tells us of the realities of living and dying in the US health care system.

A couple of weeks ago there was a debate held by CNN and the Tea Party for Republican party presidential candidates. Ron Paul was asked if a person without health insurance should be left to die if he needed intensive care. He replied “That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to take care of everybody…” That reply received rapturous applause from the audience. The audience were actually applauding the idea of leaving someone to die. (See the video here.)

Chelle desperately needs reconstructive surgery and bone grafts to remove infection caused by Sjorgen’s disease in her jaw and keep her alive. She cannot take the drugs that would treat her lupus and rheumatoid arthritus until having the surgery, as the other drugs would destroy her immune system and allow the bone infection to kill her. And yet, her insurance provider have refused to cover her surgery.

Just think about that. She HAS health insurance, but this company have made a decision to deny her vital surgery to fix something which threatens her life.

In her video Chelle also talked about her friend Jennifer who died recently from cancer. Jennifer was taking an expensive cocktail of medicines to control her pain, paid for by social security disability benefits. When she was admitted to a hospice they did not want to pay for the expensive pain medication upfront even though it would be reimbursed to them and so they switched her from drugs worth $500 a day to methadone which costs merely $8 a time. Methadone (Synthetic heroin) brings with it a range of horrible side effects and it left Jennifer exhausted by causing her to vomit continuously for several days. Even though the methadone was stopped and the previous medications reinstated as soon as the switch was discovered, it was too much for her and she died soon after.

These two stories are a clear example of what happens when healthcare and health insurance are run for profit. Insurance companies don’t care if someone will die because of their choices. All they care about is keeping the costs down and getting out of making payments. They look for loopholes and tiny mistakes just so they can squeeze a bit more profit from their customers. And even when they do pay up, you see choices like that made for Jennifer, where a business operating medical facilities can decide that they don’t like the negative effect on their cash flow of paying for proper medicines that prolong life, even when they would get it back. It’s not just that they are stingy with their money to maximise profits, they won’t even pay to save life now and get the money back later.

Another hearbreaking story in Chelle’s video is that of Steph. (@Steph_in_NC on twitter) Steph is seriously ill with Lupus and Celiac disease. She should not be working, but she does work even though it is hurting her because her family need the income. In theory she could stop work and claim social security benefits but in the US it takes between one and a half and three years to process a permanent disability claim. Steph and her family might be homeless and starving before support is given. I don’t know the reasons for that, but it is indicative of a country where care for each other is horribly absent.

This lack of care and support is obvious when you look at the lengths that Republican politicians have gone to to oppose president Obama’s health care reforms. The idea of everyone contributing to health care insurance and everyone benefiting equally seems to terrify  the rich and those who want to be rich. After all, if money can’t buy you some inequality, what is the point of it? I wonder if those Tea Party supporters that applauded the death of those without health insurance would also cheer the death of people who do have cover? I suspect that some are just stupid – supporting the Tea Party as a poor person in the vague hope of becoming a rich person who will benefit from that has to indicate a lack of thinking – but perhaps the richer supporters are happy for those with health insurance to die anyway. It means more money for the shareholders of those health insurance companies.

The ideas of the Republicans and the Tea Party might fit the ideals of Ayn Rand’s objectivism, so influential on US politics in the last few decades, but they are inhuman and cruel. (And also completely out of step with the claims of most supporters of those two groups to be Christians. The bible is pretty big on social justice and caring, but they obviously read a different bible.) The state of health and welfare in the US is shocking and outrageous. Health care and support for sick and disabled people and those without employment is well within the means of the nation as a whole. Instead the wealth, and therefore healthcare, is hoarded by the rich just so that they can feel better than everyone else as they watch the poor die in the street.

This must not be allowed to continue in America, or in any country. This is why I – we – fight so hard in the UK to prevent the Tories from opening up the National Health Service to competition from private companies. This is why we fight to block the government’s efforts to cut the income of sick and disabled people so ruthlessly. For everyone’s sake we must fight this abuse, in the UK, the US, and all over the world.

 

 

A message to a Christian relative

This was originally a private reply to a relative who tried very hard to get me to go to a Christian healing meeting. I have decided to reproduce it here so that everyone understands my thoughts on this.


As I am sure you understand if you have read my blog, the matter of who God may choose to heal or not, and the way in which Christians go about healing services is a very sore point that is a major cause of my realisation that God does not exist, which in turn is a big driver of my depression.

I realise that you want to help and that you are acting in the way that you think will help me. However, I ask you please do not involve me in anything to do with God or Christianity. I no longer believe that God exists and I have no intention of ever returning. I am trying to work through the resulting emotions in my own time and being asked to attend a healing service, or any prayers at all, just triggers depression and anger. I don’t mind you praying for me, I just don’t want to be involved with any prayer.

I am quite happy to chat about anything else and don’t want to push anyone away.

Thank you for caring.

Welfare Reform Bill: Contact a Crossbench Lord

This guest post written by DarkestAngel and provided to me by Sue Marsh.

As you may be aware, the Welfare Reform Bill passed its second reading
in the House of Lords and has now moved onto committee stage.

Last Wednesday, Lords tabled a “highly unusual” motion to send the bill to
Grand Committee, which will take place in side rooms, rather than a fully accessible
public room. The motion was voted through, 263 votes to 211, and the bill will now
be sent to the Grand Committee.

The main difference between a Committee and a Grand Committee is that no
votes take place during a Grand Committee. Therefore, amendments will not
be voted on individually. There is also no public gallery and less room for all
peers to attend at once.

The reasons given for taking this step were that a bill of this complexity would
block up the chamber and delay other bills. Also, that too many people would
want to take part in the debate and it would take up too much time. However,
It now appears that the Main Chamber will actually be sitting empty during Grand
Committee

Several Lords have stated their objections to this:

“There is a great deal of consternation that is being expressed by disabled
people about this decision.
Noble Lords have received a number of e-mails. There is both a practical and
a symbolic significance to this decision. Disabled people feel that their democratic
right to observe the proceedings at the Committee stage is being severely curtailed
by any decision to take the whole of the Committee stage off the Floor of the House.
I think it is wrong . As well as this, we are now starting a week earlier than
previously announced – when some Lord’s may still be on holiday – this is because
the recess dates were changed late in the day. I’m concerned also about my
fellow peers who are wheelchair users. Apparently we may be meeting in a
committee room upstairs, which is larger than the Moses Room, though
still far from ideal. It had already been accepted on this side that some of the
Committee stage should be taken in Grand Committee, but there are clauses
in the Bill that are highly controversial. It is not just about experts coming in;
it is about people who feel that their lives or livelihoods are at stake. “

Baroness Lister

“I am very concerned that we are debating a bill that has many aspects which
are yet to be finalised. This is a most unsatisfactory situation which many
people have expressed concern about. Yesterday matters were made worse
by the Coalition Government insisting that the bill is discussed in Grand
Committee and not in the Chamber of the House of Lords. It will make
scrutiny more difficult and cause real problems for members of the public
who want to come and observe proceedings.”

Lord Kennedy

“I am seriously concerned about the ability of all noble Lords to participate
in the proceedings on this Bill. The noble Baroness has rightly drawn attention
to the shortcomings of the Moses Room. Those shortcomings are just as
apparent on the Committee Corridor. Several colleagues have told me in
clear terms that the rooms upstairs are not much better and that a lot of
furniture will need to be moved to facilitate those who have difficulty with
mobility and to enable lobby groups and those who are interested in the Bill
to participate and observe proceedings.”

Lord Bassam, Opposition Chief Whip

Some also stated their approval:

“I would prefer that every bill were considered in Grand Committee. It avoids
votes at an early stage of examining the bill, the atmosphere is more intimate
and business-like and we can spend more time on the detail. It feels to me
like a more normal less stilted way of discussing an issue. The Education Bill
was on its 10th day in committee yesterday for example whereas in the Chamber
it would be rushed through more quickly. There is room to spread out one’s
papers on a table in front of the speaker, the Minister has his support team
of bill experts immediately behind him to consult and because it is not televised
there is usually precious little grand-standing and posturing. It is easier to
interrupt to question without it seeming rude. A technical bill like the Welfare
Reform Bill in particular is best examined outside the Chamber. Then it
returns to the Chamber for the important Report Stage when the
important votes are taken.”

Baroness Murphy

We have three main concerns regarding this development:

• Firstly, access is poor. We are concerned that wheelchair users in particular
will be affected by this, not to mention members of the public who wish to attend.

• Secondly, we are still unsure if live streaming will be available allowing
campaigners like us and the general public to follow debates and scrutinise
them properly and democratically.

• Thirdly, amendments will not be voted upon in Grand Committee, all
amendments must be agreed upon unanimously. Just one objection can
prevent any attempt to fix the faults of this bill.

We would like to urge you all to contact crossbenchers in the House of
Lords (details below) to express your own concerns over this development.
We suggest asking for live streaming so that we can at least see events as
they happen, not 3 hours later and, of course, raising your objections to
the bill so that the Lords understand how it will, as it currently stands, affect so many of us.

We made a difference last time. We can make a difference this time.

Contact details for crossbench peers in the House of Lords

Continue reading “Welfare Reform Bill: Contact a Crossbench Lord”

A useless doctor

I went to see a psychiatrist today. It was the third time I’ve seen one. I don’t think I’ll be going back.

I asked my GP to refer me for help with my mental health because I have depression that has not responded to anti-depressants. It includes frequent negative thoughts that keep me stuck in a loop for hours and fairly serious thoughts of suicide. I want help to stop getting caught up in these negative thought spirals and regain some control over my mind.

Unfortunately, the doctor that is now in charge of my mental health seems to think that trying to fix my chronic fatigue is more important than stopping me planning my own death. I have M.E. but he always refers to chronic fatigue which is a symptom of M.E. The first time I saw this doctor he focussed entirely on chronic fatigue. He told me that I shouldn’t be taking pregabalin (Lyrica) as “that is for neuropathic pain not chronic fatigue.” He seemed to ignore the fact that I was taking pregabalin because I am suffering from neuropathic pain. He proposed that I take amitriptyline instead as that is normally given for chronic fatigue syndrome. I actually interrupted him to inform him that I had M.E. which is a physical neurological condition of which chronic fatigue is a symptom but he simply acknowledged this and then carried on. I grudgingly decided to try the amitriptyline since it IS normally the first drug given to patients with M.E. – it helps with muscle pain and headaches and better sleep, but it is an anti-depressant and so I thought it might be worth trying again. If it shut the doctor up and it helps me sort the depression too then it might be worth it.

My visit to this doctor today was completely useless. He started by recalling that we “discussed” my chronic fatigue and that he gave me amitriptyline. I informed him that apart from making me sleep all day, every day, and having more suicidal thoughts, it had done nothing at all for me. He then went in to a long winded speech about how pacing works and is good for chronic fatigue. I pointed out that I had been to lots of sessions at an M.E. clinic a few years ago to learn about pacing, that I had had M.E. for eleven years and managed to pace as best I could as the illness got better or worse, and that I knew pacing well enough to write about it for other people. I said “I’ve had M.E. for eleven years and know how to manage it, but I really need to know how to stop the loops of negative thought and the suicidal thoughts.”

I don’t think I could have been clearer, but he carried on, talked about disuse syndrome and said I need to exercise otherwise I will get fatigue caused by doing too little. I told him that my pacing routine includes as much exercise as I can do at any given time. Not to be outdone, he then talked about free radicals, told me to take anti-oxidants and vitamins, and finally blamed my fatigue on my diabetes, which seems to be the only other thing apart from depression that he doesn’t think is his job to treat.

So I’ve been referred for help with mental health, and instead have been told not to take drugs that save me from searing pain, given a drug that put me to sleep all the time, and had the psychiatrist try to treat my M.E. while consistently referring to it as Chronic Fatigue. What I haven’t had is any advice on preventing or getting out of negative thoughts, or stopping me thinking about suicide. It isn’t even relevant whether my M.E. is physical or mental in nature; I desperately need help to regain control of my mind before I hurt myself, and all this doctor cares about is my fatigue.

Good news for those on ESA, bad news for the NHS

Liberal Democrat conference voted on Saturday for a motion criticising employment support allowance and Atos work capability assessments. In addition they passed an amendment to the motion which contained much more interesting statements. Page 20 of Conference Extra [PDF] gives details of amendment one for motion F6.

This amendment means that LibDems oppose limiting ESA to one year for those that have made national insurance contributions, demand that people with “serious and uncontrollable life-threatening conditions” are given unconditional support instead of having to attend work-focussed interviews, and are in favour of giving legal help to those appealing against being declared fit to work. They also want Atos to be forced to improve their performance, and in future, for the role of assessing people as fit for work or not to be carried out by government or non-profit groups.

While this has come late in the day, the Welfare Reform Bill has not yet been passed by the House of Lords and so now that the LibDems have adopted this motion and amendment I am hopeful that LibDem peers might oppose aspects of the bill that conflict with it and either amend the bill or send it back to the house of commons to start again. I don’t know how binding this motion is on the LibDem peers but their previous stance does not have the backing of the party. In fact, when this motion was voted on there were very few people that voted against it at all.

There were some excellent speeches in favour of this motion and amendment and I have uploaded some of the best to Youtube – see further down. You can also view the whole afternoon’s proceedings on iPlayer for a limited time. The motion was originally written by George Potter who contacted a few different people for help. In his speech he used Sue Marsh of Diary of a Benefit Scrounger as his main example.

However, it’s not all good news. Many LibDems wanted to debate the governments plans for the NHS in the Health and Social Care Bill, also waiting to pass through the Lords. They held a vote on whether or not to debate and vote on the bill during the conference. The vote was 235 in favour of debating it versus 183 against, but unfortunately they needed a two thirds majority to win and so the bill will not be debated. This means that the Health and Social Care Bill will still go through the house of Lords with LibDem support although it might just about be possible to stop it if all the cross-bench peers vote against.

Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes spoke during the opening of the conference and talked about opposing ruthless and extreme right-wing policies that the Conservatives are pushing through. They seem to think that they can win back support by opposing the Tories. I think they are wrong. The biggest things that they needed to stop were the cuts to welfare and the massive changes to the NHS, and before that, the scrapping of funding for universities and the introduction of huge tuition fees. I think it’s too late for the LibDems. They don’t seem to have noticed.

 

Videos from the Liberal Democrat Conference 2011 Continue reading “Good news for those on ESA, bad news for the NHS”

From Christian to Atheist

I used to believe in God, up until about a year ago. My mother is Catholic and my father protestant so I was raised as a Catholic. I missed my chance at confirmation because of a house move, and so I was put forward for confirmation much later than normal. At the time I had some problems with the Catholic church and I had a hard time deciding whether I wanted to be a Catholic or a protestant. I was never in any doubt that I would remain a Christian though. In the end I chose to be confirmed into the Catholic church, partly on the basis that I could work to change the parts of it that I had a problem with. I was stupid to ever think that.

My parents were part of a Christian group that lived as a community all together in one set of buildings. This group prayed and ate together, and those that didn’t go out to work elsewhere would work within the group on their own farm or running a guest house and retreat centre. The Christians in this group were of many different denominations and all went to different churches on Sundays. As a result although I was a Catholic I was in contact with Christians of all denominations that were living and praying together, and had a faith that affected me every day in everything that I did.

At university I joined the Christian Union. In a very short space of time I was playing guitar for them and became a worship leader. (Someone who picks the songs, organises other musicians, and leads the congregation for the singing part of the service.) I ran into some problems with other Christians not believing that Catholics were Christians, but I defended my position well and continued to be accepted by the CU and to lead their worship.

I met a nice Christian girl who introduced me to other friends and took me to rock and goth clubs. (We later married.) I had no problem remaining a Christian while attending such things, and again was able to defend this to other Christians that thought it was not appropriate. In fact by attending those clubs while holding Christian beliefs and values, and by showing those beliefs without forcing them on anyone, I actually made a good impression for Christianity on many of my non-Christian friends. Whether or not the people I associated with and the music I listened to had a damaging effect on my faith, I don’t know. But I will admit that it reinforced in me the idea that people could be moral and caring without religion.

I really believed in God. I really believed that Jesus had died in my place as punishment for my sin. I honestly thought that the Holy Spirit came down to earth and guided me. One of the reasons was that I experienced different feelings during my prayer and worship. A worship session can take the mood and the feelings of a whole congregation and change them. A standard worship session would open with a prayer, then have a loud praise song or two, (or more) then perhaps a quieter song or two, and then a mix of prayer – maybe with background music, and quieter and more repentant songs. At the end there would be either a talk or sermon, or a couple of louder songs to wake everything up again. The whole process took me and others into “a state of worship” which I can’t describe. It was like a drug. It was an entirely different emotional state, one focussed on God but blissful and comforting.

How do I explain the other things that I previously took as evidence for God? I was what is called a Charismatic Catholic. Unlike many Catholics we prayed in tongues (Making sounds believed to be other languages to talk to God, called Glossolalia) and prophesied. (Spoke messages believed to be given to us by God.) I never heard an actual voice from God. After a time of prayer or singing I think my mind was in a state a bit like meditation and I would have thoughts that fitted a situation, so I would say them. Sometimes those thoughts matched a situation that I did not know about, and then that would be taken of confirmation that the message was from God. I now believe this to be similar to the way in which astrologers, mediums and fortune tellers extract information about someone through careful questions and then adjust their prophecy as it comes out until it makes someone respond thinking that it is a message for them. Except in the case of Christian prophecy, everyone does it to each other. I think that faith in what is happening leads to a doublethink that causes everyone there to accept each other’s prophecy while being able to fabricate one themselves and believe it to be God. Another form of this was in reading from the Bible until finding a verse or a chapter that had enough similarities to the current situation to apply. Sometimes this would take the form of opening the bible at random and picking a verse. Of course if it doesn’t apply then the reader quietly moves on to something else, so that the only random picks that we told to each other were the applicable ones. It looked like it worked.

Then there was healing. When injured or sick or just suffering from a headache we would pray for each other. It usually involved “laying on of hands” – placing hands on the person being prayed for while praying. For big problems that meant lots of people gathering round, placing hands on the person and praying. I saw people healed. Although what I actually saw was people say that they felt better. I now believe that to be a placebo effect, which is a lot stronger than you may think. I myself have prayed with people for a headache, or a stomach ache, or a sore thumb or something equally minor and seen them get up and get on with stuff, claiming to feel better.

I have always had a skeptical worldview, wanting to see evidence of things before I would believe them – except where Christianity was concerned. Over the last eleven years I got skeptical about more and more aspects of Christianity, and got more annoyed with people saying things that I thought were stupid up to the point where I began to think a lot of it was stupid. I realised that people would pick and choose which laws in the bible they wanted to apply. This isn’t entirely irrational, because Christians believe that after the coming of Jesus we entered a new covenant with God which replaced the old covenant – that previously in place between the Jews and God which required all the laws to be kept. This new covenant made the laws of the old testament of the bible obsolete. One specific example is that St Peter was told that he could eat pork which was previously forbidden. However, what happens is that some rules have been kept, like those on homosexuals, and others abandoned, like menstruating women staying away from everyone or people not going to the toilet inside the camp. (Hands up Christians who have an inside toilet!) This double standard on laws and rules is intensely annoying to me.

I remember some years ago going back to visit my parents and going to prayer meeting with them. People there were praying for several people who were long-term sick, and praying for healing. I knew that these people had been prayed for many times before. They were still ill. I didn’t like it, but I pushed the thought to one side and ignored it. There were also a few other things said which I disagreed with but I kept quiet and just decided to leave that out of my own faith. As I said, I started to get more and more skeptical about many beliefs and practices. I personally had a more stripped down core of faith which did not include things that I thought were stupid. I still had problems with the Catholic church, and I started going to an Elim church with my wife instead. This was also a lot more convenient and nicer to go to church together than to separate places. In 2009 we moved back to my parents hometown and at that point I never really went back to church because I couldn’t find one that I liked.

In 2010 I came across Boobquake. Boobquake was a joke experiment intended to make a point about religion. An imam in Iran had blamed an earthquake on women revealing too much. Jen Mcreight proposed on her blog, BlagHag, that women all over the world should wear low-cut tops on the same day to see if it made a statistical difference to the number of earthquakes. The idea quickly spread all over the world and made headlines everywhere. As a result of that story I started reading BlagHag. Jen writes mostly about skepticism, atheism, feminism, science and cool geeky stuff. From there I started to read other skeptic and atheist blogs, and realised that I was a skeptic.

In October I went a Catholic Conference – a weekend of prayer and worship. My parents were in charge of the music and I was helping, in spite of serious doubts about Christianity by now. For most of the weekend I attended the parts with music and went and sat in a different room for the talks and the prayer sessions. I was, to my surprise, actually able to engage with the music to worship properly, and reached that state of worship that I described earlier. Perhaps it was because I was making an effort in order to play the part that I had been asked to. But my absence for the other parts was noticed by other people and when questioned on it I simply answered that I was not in a spiritual state to cope with any of those parts right now. At the end of the conference there was a healing session. In that session the speaker spoke about healing and groups of people prayed with those who were sick and asked for healing. I was there at the start of the session for reasons that I can’t remember. (Perhaps I didn’t get out in time.) After just a few minutes I could not stand what was being said any more. I have been sick since late 2000. I heard (or misheard) several times through the years that those with enough faith would be healed. Christians close to me assure me that this is not what is taught in the bible or by the church but that hasn’t stopped others from saying it. My parents suffer, one from severe spinal problems and one with diabetes and complications of that, and they have not been healed, even though I know of no one with a stronger faith than them. One of my sisters has suffered from ME for even longer than I have and has still not been healed.

I walked out of that room. I discovered that I wasn’t the only one, either. Several other people had left that session and I broke down in the rest room as I talked to other people, and I admitted that I was struggling to believe. I still wanted to believe – I intended to read some important books and to re-examine my faith. Then, though, I attended the final session of that conference at the request of my mum. In that session the speaker talked about St Therese of Lisieux. He talked about how Therese was so sick that she could not get out of bed and could not eat except for communion bread. He talked about how she would wait to hear of someone who did not accept God, and then she would “suffer for them” until they accepted God. She believed that her pain was for those people. I just could not accept that a loving God would either cause this woman to suffer for other people, or accept her dedication of suffering to these people.

In November I had to have surgery and spend several weeks in bed for the second time that year. Before I had even recovered from my surgery I got flu. Twice. That kept me in bed most of the time from then until Christmas. I think it was some time around this stage that I started to become depressed. Towards the end of November I wrestled with the existence of God after an argument in some circles that skeptics had to be atheists. I concluded that I was uncertain of the existence of God, and I stated that it was causing me problems. By Christmas Eve I had become very depressed and as I was on a train to stay with family I had my netbook with me but no internet access and so I decided to write. I wrote something which contained as many grievances with Christianity as I could think of at that point and I declared that I was no longer a Christian. In my horrible depression, I posted that article on my blog late on Christmas Eve, not thinking about anyone else and certainly not what it would do to my family. I am sorry to say that I upset my mum horribly and I am sure that I upset others too. I am so sorry that I ruined their Christmas.

In losing my faith I had lost something so deeply embedded in my life that the only thing I can compare it to is the possibility of being abandoned by my wife of eleven years, or of her death. I fell apart that night. I became suicidal. That night it was about -17c outside and I intended to go outside and freeze to death. I completely intended to die, so as to avoid (I thought) being abandoned by my family because of my lack of faith and so as to avoid the loss that I felt at no longer believing in God. I honestly don’t know how I did not go through with it but I somehow survived that Christmas and spent most of it hiding in my bedroom, leaving others to assume that I was ill.

Since Christmas I have tried my hardest to avoid thinking about it all. On a few occasions when I have tried to revisit my loss of faith or talk about it I have ended up in severe depression again. I still feel the loss, of feeling a connection with God, of being able to pray, and most of all of being able to worship with music. I have thought that perhaps I should try to pray and sing to God anyway, but I have changed from agnostic to atheist. I cannot make myself pray when I no longer believe that anyone is there to hear it. I have always had a black-and-white attitude to everything, and if I believe that there is no God then I cannot become a hypocrite and pray to one anyway, no matter how much I want to. I envy those with faith now. I think they are deluded to believe in God, but that belief is such a comfort and a hope for them that perhaps it is worth being deluded. But I can’t do that.