Catholic Mischief in Glasgow


Even those who agree with the great Christopher Hitchens that religion poisons everything might be surprised to learn that the toxin extends its reach even to football (soccer). Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, has two major football teams - indeed they are Scotland's two top teams - Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers.

By long tradition, the fans of these two teams break down by religion: Celtic represents the Catholics and Rangers the Protestants. Historically, the reason is the long association between this region of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Belfast and Glasgow have more in common than their depressed ship-building industries. The large Catholic population of Glasgow is mostly of Irish origin, while Orange Parades such as this one through the centre of Glasgow are all-but indistinguishable from their counterparts in Belfast.

If, in a crucial match between Rangers and Celtic, a referee's decision is unpopular, there is a high chance that he will be accused of sectarian religious prejudice, something that, I imagine, is not often seen in baseball or American football.

_48245072_orangewalk466.jpg (photo courtesy BBC News)

This is the background to bitter storm that erupted recently, in which I seem to have become embroiled although I am neither Scottish nor a soccer fan. Hugh Dallas, czar of referees for the Scottish Football Association was fired because he passed on, in an eMail, a joke about Roman Catholic child rape. The pope is not, so far as we know, a pederast, but there is good evidence that he was deeply involved in covering up the crime and contributing to its repetition by priests moved to other dioceses and parishes. Anyway, this was the subject of the joke that was sent to Hugh Dallas, and he passed it on to somebody else.

The incident was brought to the attention of Peter Kearney, Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, also based in Glasgow. Kearney demanded that Dallas should be fired, and the Scottish Football Association, under its Chief Executive Stewart Regan, did indeed fire him, together with two other officials in his office.

When I read about this, alerted by a Scottish contributor to the discussion forum on my website, I was outraged that a man should lose his job because he passed on a joke. It seemed to me to be a classic example of our society's craven kowtowing to the religious lobby. The rest of us, it seemed to me, learn to take jokes on the chin. But the moment a religion is 'offended', we are all expected to tut-tut and grovel, and somebody gets fired.

I was also outraged that the BBC website on which I read the story had censored the punchline of the joke, again obviously to avoid giving 'offence'.

ffence'. I was angry, and I immediately published the details here including a picture of the 'offensive' joke, with the punchline restored.


I also published the addresses of the Scottish Catholic Media Office and the Scottish Football Association and encouraged my readers to flood both with copies of this and other pope jokes. I also people to do what they could to make the 'offensive' joke go viral.

The story was picked up by Pharyngula and, the following day, by the Daily Telegraph, Britain's leading conservative newspaper, and the Scotsman, Edinburgh's - and arguably Scotland's - most respected newspaper. The Telegraph, under the headline, "Leading scientist Richard Dawkins slams Scottish Football Association over sacking of Hugh Dallas", quoted my original blog almost verbatim and offered no comment of its own. The Scotsman's report was briefer. Its headline "'Weasel' attack on Catholic spokesman in Hugh Dallas furore" is a reference to the fact that in my original blog I had called Peter Kearney a nasty little weasel. Kearney retaliated in the quote that he gave the Scotsman: "Dawkins demonstrates again that his intolerance knows no bounds."

Readers of Boing Boing may judge for themselves.

Which is the more intolerant: getting a man fired for passing on a joke, or calling somebody a nasty little weasel for doing so?

My only regret is the implied insult to weasels. Kearney cynically exploited the sectarian tensions in Glasgow to engineer that a man lost his job.

Anybody wishing to pass on a joke or other pleasantry to Peter Kearney will wish to know his address at the Scottish Catholic Media Office:

As one commenter on my website rightly said, the Catholic church in Scotland is quick to squeal about sectarian discrimination, while doing everything to maintain it in sectarian schools.

Comments on the various websites are mostly supportive of my position. The main criticisms are

1. Hostile spamming is not a good tactic: an abuse of the power of the web, some might say. I have sympathy for this criticism. I think the tactic is defensible but only if the provocation is high. With hindsight I think that what I called the cowardice of the Scottish Football Association was not so reprehensible as the Catholic lobbying itself, and I think I should have limited the campaign to the Scottish Catholic Media Office.

2. Calling Peter Kearney a nasty little weasel is the kind of thing that gets me described as strident and shrill. It is better to stick to reasoned argument, and indeed I usually try to do so. In mitigation, once again, I plead the exceptional provocation offered by this nasty little weasel.

3. Many people wrote in from Scotland to say that I didn't appreciate the complicated socialcontext of the long-running feud between Celtic and Rangers, and the need for Scottish referees to bend over backwards to avoid sectarian bias.

It is almost as though, if a Scottish referee makes a joke about the pope, it is taken as evidence of pro-Rangers bias.

Oh please! Get your priorities right. There are more important things than football. When cardinals and popes cover up the crime of child rape, those of us who object are not being 'sectarian' or ' anti-Catholic' or pro-Glasgow-Rangers. We are being human.


  1. A rabbi, a lawyer, and a priest are on the Titanic. They rush to the lifeboat and as they get in, the rabbi says:
    “What about the children?”
    The lawyer says “Screw the children!”
    The preist says “Yes, but is there time?”

  2. #3 seems to be a pretty poor criticism. This sort of nonsense thrives on being accommodated in this way, so I think being direct is a good call.

  3. Once upon a time, a letter to the Times would have sufficed. Now, the seemingly correct response when one dislikes an opinion or decision is to urge others to napalm the inboxes of those with whom one disagrees. O tempora! O mores!

    1. Once upon a time the Times had different owners. Actually, I stopped reading the Times when they quit adverts on the first page.

  4. Bill Clinton and the Pope die on the same day, but a mix up in the afterlife paperwork sends them to the wrong places: the Pope goes to hell and Bill goes to heaven. After a couple of days they fix this problem and the Pope gets on the escalator to go to heaven and Bill gets on the other to go to hell. The two pass each other on the way and Bill asks, “How bad was it down there?” The Pope says, “Not that bad, kind of hot and noisy, but I am glad to be going up to heaven now. There’s one thing up there I have been looking forward to.” Bill asks, “What is that?” The Pope replies, “I want to meet the Virgin Mary.” Bill, shakes his head sheepishly and whispers to the Pope, “Too late.”

  5. As a 10 year survivor of a giant corporation, I’ve learned not to bring up religion and politics at work – especially over official channels. It’s a good way to get fired very quickly.

    1. Same thing with protestants too. They so love being compared to Jesus and the early days of Christianity, but they are the Pharisees. It takes more sacrifice to be an atheist these days. You may lose your friends and families for making a stand as an atheist.

  6. Whilst it does not address the notion of religion poisoning everything (a sentiment with which I rather agree), I think an amusing and perhaps provocative response would be to suggest that henceforth all Celtic-Rangers matches be refereed only by atheist, Jewish, Sikh, Moslem or Wiccan/Druidic officials, to guard against this Catholic/Protestant bias about which the rest of the country’s knickers are so enbunched.

    1. this Catholic/Protestant bias about which the rest of the country’s knickers are so enbunched

      Believe me, most of the rest of the country isn’t interested in the sectarian aspect. It’s mostly confined to mouthbreathers and what I’d generously call “the underclass”.

    2. i second that – perhaps Druid/Sikh/Muslim/Jew who knows nothing about soccer – might make it a tad more interesting.

    3. This sectarian paranoia would not prevent some of the more moronic sets of fans asking if the referee was a ‘protestant Sikh’ or a ‘catholic Jew’, perhaps an ‘anti-catholic atheist’ or a ‘druid with catholic sympathies’. These people have erected themselves little fortresses in their heads and feel constantly besieged by everything.
      I lived in Glasgow for too long and know how deep this ill feeling runs. If the Druid referee went to a non-catholic school they would automatically become a target and if the Sikh went to a catholic school (which are one of the last bastions of religious intolerance in the work place with teachers being approved by a priest) then the same would be the case for the other side of town.
      The only way to get control of this disease is to stop the school system segregating kids from birth (catholic/non denominational play groups), banning the lunatic Orange order from bringing Glasgow to stand still for 6 weeks during the summer, preventing ferry and plane full of misfits from across the Irish Sea arriving every weekend with their own special kind of stupidity and getting the press and official organisations to stop pandering to these marginal’s.
      This is a national embarrassment to Scotland unfortunately people make too much money from it to do too much about it.

      1. Well the hope is that they’ll grow of it – this foolishness, I mean.

        And to be fair, this type of bloody-mindedness is more a disease of the young, than of the old.
        ‘Cause it is the young that keeps it going, that gives it its new vigor. That need of the young to be, well, tribal is a way to say it, their need to feel they belong to something…I suppose.

        So the hope is – they’ll grow out of it, before somebody caves their heads in for their idiocy. That’s the thinking.

      2. Reminds me of the old joke from Northern Ireland in the midst of the Troubles:

        Man driving on a country road is stopped by a terrorist checkpoint.

        Man With Gun: “Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?”
        Driver: “I’m an Atheist!”
        Man With Gun: “Yeah, but are you a Catholic Atheist or a Protestant Atheist?”

  7. Hello Richard,

    (Apologies in advance, you’ve doubtless heard this a thousand times.)
    You’re one of our finest science writers. You have done much to increase people’s understanding, and could do so very much more. So why are you wasting your considerable intellect, and precious time on something so utterly unrelated to science?
    Religion is about blind faith. Science is not. Don’t you worry that by endlessly discussing religion as if science had any relevance to the topic, you may be encouraging others to discuss science as if it had relevance to religion?
    Go back to writing books that make us marvel at our existence, and let us remember for ourselves why we never needed a god in the first place.

    (For what it’s worth, the pope joke’s funny. In my opinion though, your response seemed scattershot and unhelpful. You should have been campaigning to have the man’s job restored, and to shame those responsible. Not indulging in silly pranks aimed only to irritate and inflame…)

    1. Religion shouldn’t be related to science, but unfortunately devout religious belief almost always comes with a total intolerance of other points of view. You only need to look at the hatred between the different branches of Christianity to see this, and that’s with people who believe exactly the same things!

      Since science is generally agnostic verging towards full-blown atheism, religious people tend to find it intolerable, since it is antithetical to their own beliefs.

      However, I personally feel that atheism is also a religion; it makes statements about the number and nature of deities which cannot be substantiated and must be accepted as articles of faith. OK, there’s no proof for the existence of a deity, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    2. I’m sorry I don’t agree with you. Thank “God” he’s fighting out there to bring the voice of reason out.

      There are tons of believers who are open minded enough to challenge their beliefs. I was one of them and Richard’s “God Delusion” convinced my “unreasonable mind” that logic was throwing all those bs down the hole instead of clinging to it.

      We need people like him who explain how sciences show God doesn’t exist. And the reason is because the “God Delusion” appeals to your reason and your understanding.

      Books such as Christopher Hitchens’ won’t shatter anybody’s beliefs. You may agree with part of what he says, but still as a believer, it won’t appeal to your reason, it’s rethoric.

      Sciences is irrefutable and therefore unarguable and as a former believer it really got to me, especially since I had read creationist books by Harun Yahya when I was a teenager.

      Proof of that is that our number is growing, and Richard has played a big part in it. Hope he will keep up the steam right to the end.

    1. “Marge, don’t discourage the boy. Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals! … except the weasels.”

      Once upon a time, if you were a non-sectarian in Glasgow you could support Third Lanark:

      “After Third Lanark went under, some Third Lanark fans began supporting Pollok in the Scottish Junior Leagues, but the vast majority of the club’s 10,000 fans that went through the turnstiles at the start of the 1960s were lost to football for good. Third Lanark had long been seen specifically as the club of choice for those that objected to the sectarian connotations of the “Old Firm”.”

  8. “When I read about this, alerted by a Scottish contributor to the discussion forum on my website, I was outraged that a man should lose his job because he passed on a joke. It seemed to me to be a classic example of our society’s craven kowtowing to the religious lobby. The rest of us, it seemed to me, learn to take jokes on the chin. But the moment a religion is ‘offended’, we are all expected to tut-tut and grovel, and somebody gets fired. ”

    …And this comment is clearly coming from someone who has spent little time in the “real world.”

    Mr. Dawkins, I appreciate you intelligence and your contributions to science. But this is a rose-colored opinion if I’ve ever read one. Would you be so flippant about the situation if the joke was homophobic? Or if the joke was racist? Would you be asking gays or africans or Pakistanis to not be offended? I doubt it; But because much of your career focus is to look for evidence of religion’s negative affect on the world (and there is much), you see this situation as some kind of further evidence when it is in fact a simple situation of work place insensitivity. In my job (and many, many others), passing on racist, homophobic, anti-religious, and other possibly offensive jokes is certainly the kind of thing that can get you reprimanded, suspended, or fired.

  9. This was not all that was going on. Dawkins is correct in that there was an investigation into the Pope email, and it was widely speculated that he’d get a slap on the wrist due to some careful political manoeuvering over the years by Dallas within the SFA.

    What appears to have enraged the SFA is that Hugh Dallas attempted to blackmail the SFA – drop the case and he’d make an upcoing SFA referee strike disappear.

    Furthermore, there were rumblings he had been doctoring match reports. These things likely contributed more to his downfall than a mere email. Dawkins is correct in that religious differences in those supporting Celtic and Rangers definitely caused the rift between the two, but I think he’d do better to focus on that than commentate on the modern game as frankly he’s out of his depth.

  10. Richard, I am a big fan of your work and also a stone cold atheist. I was also brought up in a Scottish, pro-Celtic family. You are not looking at the big picture. If you take some time to research Hugh Dallas’ career or recent on the pitch refereeing scandals you will understand why he was fired. The direct links between many SFA offcials and employees to either Rangers F.C. or various Orange or Masonic lodges is startling. Hugh Dallas as a referee has been accused of corruption on many occasions. Recently there was a referee who admitted outright robbing Celtic of a penalty kick. When an official makes a joke about the pope it goes beyond believing in god or not believing in god. It becomes ultra political.

    I agree that religion has destroyed and ripped Gaels apart. I believe things are slowly changing but this is a small victory for a minority that has constantly been discriminated against. Trust me, I would want nothing more than religious troubles to leave Glasgow and Scotland once and for all. As a realist though, I know that there are ways to go about this and defending the Orangist, hateful, corrupt pig that is Hugh Dallas is NOT it.

  11. I am from the Glasgow region and would like to add that #3 is a very important point. People in the US (where I now live) don’t understand the cultural ties behind football and religion in Britain, especially Glasgow.
    In Glasgow many supporters of both Rangers and Celtic are no longer identifiable by their religions. However, there is a certain respect that each team maintains for their historical affiliations. This being the case, the referee was not just ‘passing on a joke’ but quite simply insulting the historical affiliation of the team’s fans. No, he shouldn’t have been fired, but after reading about how calls were made to send more offensive jokes to both parties I was shocked. I can’t believe that people thought the logical solution to this was to fan the flames…

  12. OK, so it is ‘just’ football – but it’s well known that football represents much more than just people kicking a ball around a field.

    The situation in Glasgow is far more complicated than just “Catholics vs. Protestants”. to really get why this sort of thing occurs, you need a fuller understanding of the problem. Historically, the Catholic population were Irish immigrants, and upon arriving and living in Glasgow found themselves the victims of racism and discrimination (as every wave of immigrants do). The Scottish establishment at the time (the Councillors, judiciary, politicians etc.) were all culturally “Protestant”, not meaning that they were practising Christians (maybe they were), but rather that they all came from the usual milieu of society that had a monopoly on such positions of power. The grievances the immigrants (and the vast majority were Irish Catholic) felt were very real.

    Now, the situation nowadays is different, and Irish immigrants are a firmly established group in society, and like all descendants of immigrants they are just as much part of the city as everyone else – in fact, being the descendant of an Irish immigrant is so commonplace as to not even warrant notice. However, the discrimination continued for many, many years, and until recently, Catholics, almost all of whom were working class and among the least represented in society, still understood themselves as at odds with the establishment in the city (and across the country at large).

    This always manifested itself in the form of Celtic Football Club, which was set up by Catholic priests in the East End of Glasgow (still today one of the most impoverished areas in Europe, where life expectancy is lower than the Gaza Strip) as a football club for the poor. It was directly in opposition to Rangers, which was very much the Establishment club. The rivalry between these clubs had nothing to do with religion, which was just a convenient way of categorising the supporters, but everything to do with their supporters’ relative positions in society.

    So when an official from the Referees’ Association forwards an email referencing the Pope, it brings up a whole host of memories about the discrimination and oppression felt by these immigrants and their descendants, and helps justify their feelings that they will always be the ‘others’ to the establishment and political class in the city.

    That’s not to say that the issue hasn’t been seized upon by religious groups who are looking for a fight, but that’s irrelevant as far as most people are concerned. Picking a fight with these people, and diminishing the complaints of others, only serves to justify their feeling that they’ll always be an ‘other’.

    1. Keep in mind that conflict between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants existed before the birth of Christ, just under a different set of excuses… transplanting a bunch of Irish Catholics into Protestant Scotland made it even more confusing!

      It’s a fantastically mixed-up stew of historical hatreds that’s been boiling over at least since Scátheach fought Aiofe over Cú Chulainn. Christianity’s been no help to the situation, and probably made it worse.

    2. That’s very interesting, casshback. It sounds like you’ve lived in Glasgow a long time. I’m a relative newcomer, and I don’t care about football. But my impression, from that outsiders’ perspective, was that it was Rangers who were the underdogs. They’ve always seemed to me to be the less glamorous side, the ones associated with poverty and crumbling tower blocks. Celtic gets St Patrick’s day and Guinness and all the (doubtless superficial) marketing of Irishness. Rangers gets Ian Paisley and stony-faced Orangemen.

      So it’s interesting that you say that historically it’s been the opposite. Perhaps that’s what stokes the fire: each side feels itself threatened.

    3. casshback, you have clearly lived in Glasgow a long time, I have heard this opinion before although rarely expressed so succinctly.
      Unfortunately the truth is that no “memories” are brought back by the descendants of those immigrants who suffered the oppression. They didn’t suffer the oppression, so have no suppressed memories to be brought back.

      Glaswegians need to move on. It wasn’t the ones who were persecuted taking offence, but the ones who guess how their ancestors might have reacted and take offence on their behalf.

  13. Well, this things happen precisely because we are being humans, and we humans don’t really internalized reality using disjoint categories (even if we like to pretend we do). And also we really like denying the real reasons that motivate our acts, who knows why. Do you know about Football War?

  14. Dear Richard,
    Your perspectives on biology and evolution appear to be as retarded (IE delayed development — myopically 19th century) as your concept of ‘memes’ (IE simplistic in its reductionism — comparing the function to genes instead of to organisms), and yet…
    …your stunningly casual rant has proven to me that methodological interpretations do not make the man.
    Nice work. I may have to sign up to your twits! I agree wholeheartedly with your basic position in this situation, including the flippancy with which you have responded to others. Some day we may meet at a conference. Our biological models may conflict, but I hope to rant about it with you over beers.
    P.S. Why chose atheism when multi-model agnosticism ensures better footwork?
    Sincerely, Genre.

    1. “Why chose atheism when multi-model agnosticism ensures better footwork?”

      If you’d read his books, you’d know the answer to that.

      There could be a floating non-corporeal dragon breathing room-temperature fire on you right now.
      Do you live with the assumption that this is correct, or dismiss the possibility as being so unlikely, it’s not worth thinking about?

      1. There could be a floating non-corporeal dragon breathing room-temperature fire on you right now.

        And that would be totally awesome. I certainly hope it’s true! Thank you, Rabbit!

        Do you live with the assumption that this is correct, or dismiss the possibility as being so unlikely, it’s not worth thinking about?

        Personally, I’d prefer to live without the necessity of any such absolutism. I think I want to live in the world that exists, with a new and infinite peacock-tail of probability springing forth at every moment, and not in an abstracted mental model of the world.

        My floating non-corporeal dragon and I are going walkies now.

        Good night, everyone!

        1. You beat me to thanking the headless rabbit for pointing out the possibility.

          Good night, Ito, and here’s a lullaby for your new pal, the dragon:

          PS Remember to walk down well-lighted streets!

    1. @Xenu: They jail people for making fun of Muslims in Sotland? Really?

      No, they’d just replay it on Fox News

  15. I find it ironic when the Catholics try to portray themselves as victims. They only control South and Central America, millions of Americans, most of Africa, a large chunk of Europe, etc. It hard to people sympathy for the big dog.

  16. I agree about the stupidity of what’s happened here regarding the referee but then going on to state in your last paragraph that there are more important things in life than football is being ill-informed if not downright ignorant of the situation. Additionally such casual dismissals positively reek of elitism.

    I’m no fan of football or religion but to be honest I’m not sure the religious angle is entirely to blame here. Historically maybe, but the fact of the matter these days is that there are a large number of idiots who look forward to getting tore into each other most weekends. Religion is merely a convenient excuse for such behavior, much like the thugs that go on Orange marches purely to antagonise a whole other group of people an a yearly basis.

    This is something that’s been debated ad-infinitum by Scots the world over and the truth is that the vast majority of us simply wish that both parties would cut-it the f*ck out and grow-up, religion or no.

  17. Ive a hard time taking anything you say on catholicism seriously, Richard.

    You have an unfortunate tendency to sound like a typical establishment Englishman getting in on a bit of that traditional English sport, Catholic bashing – with all the ethnic and class implications contained therein.

    Probably not your intention, im sure. I was mildly sickened at your Pope visit speeches where you spoke in such a tone – like some CoE chortling over a brandy about those Papist plebs and thanking god you belonged to the “Queen’s Church” (I almost choked when I heard you say that phrase).

    1. and thanking god you belonged to the “Queen’s Church” (I almost choked when I heard you say that phrase

      Would you have rather had him thank the jesus?

      1. dude… might be wrong, but you’re American, right? If so, then your ignorance of cultural/class/ethnic issues in countries such as Oz (me) or Britain is excusable.

        “thanking god you belonged to the “Queen’s Church” is a reference to the attitudes of the blue-blooded English establishment that was the Brit equivalent of ultra-privileged WASPs.

        Richard though spoke positively of the “Queen’s Church” (to quote him exactly) whilst attacking the Catholic Church. This sentiment fits extremely neatly into a very old English tradition of Catholic bashing (generally by more well-to-do or establish English Protestants of Irish or less-well-to-do Catholics). Australians managed to shank that kind of shenanigans decades ago, but it is unsurprising to see it still well and truly alive in the UK.

        Richard’s post is similiar to something lifted from a chapbook on the cultural, class and ethnic divisions between Catholics and Protestants.

        My money is on Dawkins being from a culturally Protestant background. I myself am Australian of Irish-Welsh heritage, born Catholic, now barely nominally Muslim, but predominantly Stoic and secularist.

        1. dude… might be wrong, but you’re American, right? If so, then your ignorance of cultural/class/ethnic issues in countries such as Oz (me) or Britain is excusable.

          Dude, you’re humorless, right? If so, then your ignorance of the lack of cultural/class/ethnic issues in my joke is excusable.

  18. Richard: Yeah it’s amazing how little humor people have these days. In the US, if a public figure passes on a joke with a racial spin, especially an African-American spin, he’s canned. I suppose in Scotland’s case, the fact that it was a ref who “could” screw with the outcome of a game sent this kind of dopey intolerance to DefCon 2. I’m with you: outraged at the loss of funny.

  19. Marginally relevant tangent!: Hugely talented Edinburgh band Mogwai have a song called ‘Hugh Dallas’, and until just now I had no idea who it referred to. Here it is:

  20. Catholics “bash” themselves by not directing their anger at a culture of pedophilia and organized obfuscation at the highest levels of the organization. When outsiders make mention of this, as Dawkins does and as any civilized, rational human should, they are villified as hate mongers.

    Put your own house in order.

  21. I’m generally on your side, Richard, but I think your reaction here might be unreasonable.

    To whom did the referee pass the email? If he forwarded the email to coworkers knowing that it was bound to offend colleagues, he probably should be sacked for not knowing anything about professionalism or collegiality.

  22. That’s a damn funny (and serious) joke, and it has nothing to do with Catholic bashing or establishment-vs-immigrant cultures or anything like that.

    It has to do with just what Richard said, child rape by people in positions of authority. The same thing goes on in America, so we get the joke too.

    There will always be class wars, as long as there are classes. And if there aren’t classes, people will invent them just for the excuse to have an “other” to rail against.

    Perhaps the politic solution is to pass along a similar joke about the atrocities committed by Protestants, just to even up the score.

  23. Naturally, it’s deplorable that the man lost his job over a stupid joke. Unfortunately, I think you’ll find this kind of situation in most western corporate arrangements; sharing jokes – especially those which mock or tease controversial or sensitive groups – can very easily lead to an employee cleaning out his desk before day’s end.

    Besides that, what is it that makes a joke offensive? It’s the cultural context of the punchline. Those of us who live in relatively secular cultures will respond much differently to a religious joke than those in a culture of religious zealotry. To them, such humor is no better than the most callous anti-minority jokes in the US.

    In the end, this boils down to another case of people from one culture looking at people in another culture and saying, “that’s terrible.” From our point of view, we’re right. But if that’s the way people in Glasgow want to live, then it’s their business to do so.

    Besides, it’s Glasgow. If it wasn’t this, it would be something else. They aren’t exactly known to be all sunshine and smiles in that town. Unless you count a Glasgow Grin.

  24. He was fired for showing what seemed to be religious bias and that is something both Celtic and Rangers are trying to stamp out.

  25. I most likely would have fired this person over sharing the joke as well.

    It has nothing to do with it being religious or offending me and everything to do with it being inappropriate and unprofessional.

    Of course, I work in an office and not on a field. Context is everything.

  26. *sigh* yes, it’s a tremendously funny joke.

    nevertheless, i work with young people from both sides of the community (and “others”) in northern ireland. if i were crass enough to pass on jokes which were perceivable as being either sectarian or about sex abuse, i could reasonably expect to get in trouble for it. it’s pretty easy to find humour elsewhere. i think king referee or whatever he was could reasonably be expected to do the same. why? because they’re making serious efforts to confront the sectarianism in scottish football.

    richard, don’t you want people to confront sectarianism? ok ok, i can see it’s not REALLY a sectarian joke, but it sure looks like one. just as i understand your misapprehension that the sectarianism in NI and scotland is caused by religion – it’s not, not REALLY, but i understand that it sure looks like it.

  27. Thank you for pointing this out. It’s often overlooked (especially by atheists) that conflicts that have religious overtones on the surface often have much deeper cultural, political and sociological reasons. Religion often acts as the lowest common denominator–the one thing that we can point to as being the same in a group of people.

    While I do agree that people should be allowed to make jokes, and I do agree that the joke in question is rather funny, there are two points I need to make:

    First, was the joke made at work or at home? At home, among friends, on his computer, I have no problem with it. At work, in an official capacity, I would expect him to maintain a higher standard of etiquette than making offensive jokes about a major cultural group. Such an email would be a misuse of network resources, would call into question his neutrality as a referee, and could damage the name of his organization if it was leaked. I do not think terminating him overstepped any bounds.

    Second, on your part, you make the point that we shouldn’t be afraid to offend people. I agree. We shouldn’t be afraid to laugh at ourselves. Your campaign, however is being offensive for the sake of offending. That’s the important difference from making a joke, and being an asshole.

  28. Celtic Football Club (FC) believe that the referees are biased towards their arch rivals Rangers. No-one can produce statistical evidence to prove this either way. First a senior referee admitted lying to cover up a mistake at a Celtic game and then there was the email that Hugh forwarded (note he could have ignored it but fatally passed it on). The die was cast and Celtic FC with the complicit support from the Catholic church in Scotland saw their chance and pressed for revenge. Both referees are now gone from the game.

    In amongst all this nonsense there was a strike by the referees association. It got mostly overlooked because the bad weather cancelled most of the games but they were on strike due to the appalling abuse from Celtic club players, management and fans.

    So basically this has almost nothing to do with religion but everything to do with the bizarre conspiracy theory that somehow Scottish referees are bigots who have placed themselves in a position where they can ensure Celtic FC lose games. This is a firmly held belief in the west of Scotland and spirals up into complete craziness with the Masons and the SFA (Scottish Football Association) being in league to ensure that Rangers are enough of a good prospect for a potential buyer.

    Watching the conspiracy and paranoia that swirls around Celtic FC and it’s fans is a fascinating but tragic sight to behold. The lack of self belief may have it’s roots in history but it’s time they stood up to it. Rangers on the other hand are laughing up their sleeve at all this as it does nothing but benefit them.

  29. Sadly Mr. Dawkins’ reaction is very much in the vein of the ‘let’s make cartoons of Mohammed because we can’ crowd.

    Yes, sectarianism is silly. But it’s a deeply culturally ingrained fact of life in Glasgow. Just as a middle east peace negotiator shouldn’t send rabbi jokes to his friends, a person in the middle of one of the most highly charged cultural events of the calendar should ensure he is beyond professional criticism.

    Richard Dawkins et al have many simple and respectful critiques of the damage that religion does. To use the blunt tool of mockery doesn’t help any of us.

    1. To use the blunt tool of mockery doesn’t help any of us.

      Please speak for yourself; I could use a good chuckle every now and then.

      1. Ha! Yes, that was poorly worded! I had written a long winded header about being an avowed and vocal atheist Brit living in America but deleted it. So the ‘us’ was referring to those of us desperately wanting to advance the rationalist cause.

        Mockery is a strong ingredient and to be used lightly I always feel.

    2. I find mockery to be an invaluable tool for properly shaming those who act foolishly.

      Disincentivize foolishness, the world will have fewer fools.

      1. Absolutely! But especially relating to this topic I feel that those of us on the rationalist side must choose our weapons carefully.

        *Reaches for Webster’s*

        Mockery = ridicule, contempt, or derision

        Religious zealots tend not to respond well to this (a la my previous comparison to the Mohammed cartoonists). It’s charging at windmills to mock the religious if our desire is to actually make them think about their position.

        Oh it’s fun. I personally love asking the christian zealot if they also treat liars with the same hatred as gay people. It’s condemned in the same way in the bible.

        However circulating bad gags doesn’t really help, especially for someone who has the (pardon the phrase) ‘pulpit’ of Mr Dawkins.

        1. So, if we’d just stop mocking zealots they’d come ’round?

          For example, maybe we should all just sit quietly and start acting like we are Christians and stuff when around a bunch of Christian people (be it family gatherings or otherwise) so we don’t “rock the jesus boat”…?

          Oh wait… many of us already do that… doesn’t seem to be helping zealots come to their senses much…

          1. Oh please, everyone knows there is no “Jesus boat” to be rocked since he just walks it. You could cut the water tension in here with a crown of thorns…

          2. No. Just that we need to choose the right approach. They are absolutely sure we are unsaved heathens, we are sure that they are simple minded. Unstoppable object meets unmoveable object. The only way around is with charm, logic and sensitivity.

            “mockery” is not charming, logical or sensitive. It’s definitely useful and fun. But rarely effective in changing minds.


          3. Indeed, mockery seems best suited for raising hackles – not changing minds.

            Mockery sometimes is counterproductive, or worse.

          4. I think you guys are forgetting that mockery is also very well a bonding experience. Do you guys go to parties or what? (yes, I’m mocking you now)

            I’ve also found that people who are easily perturbed by mocking are pretty much lost anyway and know deep down that the foundation of their principle beliefs are based upon quicksand.

            And, remember this!

          5. The only way around is with charm, logic and sensitivity. “mockery” is not charming, logical or sensitive. It’s definitely useful and fun. But rarely effective in changing minds.

            When’s the last time you sensitively charmed a zealot with logic?

          1. Probably not as enjoyable as the delightful “Four Lions” by Chris Morris.

            If you’re gonna mock, mock to the max

        2. You don’t have to mock them if you don’t want to. I don’t care if they respond to it well.

          Personally, if a literate resident of a modern country hasn’t figured out for themselves that it’s all a crock of shit by the time they reach adulthood, I don’t expect ANYTHING “to actually make them think about their position.”
          The ones who would conceivably be convinced by rational argument or empirical evidence are already convinced.

  30. There are more important things than football.

    Clearly you have not spent much time in Belfast or Glasgow. You’d find little support for that sentiment in either place.

    I have a Presbyterian second cousin who was on the Protestant team. He married a Catholic; no big deal. They decided to have the kids brought up Catholic; no big deal. Then he accepted an offer, for about twice the pay he was getting with his current team, from the Catholic team. Poor man lost all his friends and was disowned by much of his family.

    1. BoingBoing is a religion blog now?

      Yep, and they changed the motto to “The Directory of Stupid Things”

  31. Anybody know of any jokes that stereotypically bash athiests? I can’t find any. What are the stereotypical traits of athiests, anyway?

    1. I don’t really know any jokes, but the common stereotypes I am aware of are generally “Atheists have no morality, as they do not believe in an ultimate moral law-giver” and “Atheists believe that nothing magically exploded into everything for no reason and then magically rearranged into planets and stars and life for no reason. Aren’t they crazy?”

      I find in both cases, the people with these viewpoints know nothing about morality or physics/astronomy respectively.

    2. Narrowmindedness, dogmatism, intolerance and pettiness come to mind, not that these qualities are exclusive to atheists alone. Why is DawKins here again?

      – unaffiliated

  32. I was an altar boy, even for a year or two after declaring myself atheist at age 12. Luckily I never had a problem with a handsy priest, though perhaps it wasn’t luck but rather my precocious disregard for presumptions of moral authority that made me too risky a target.

    However, I can say as a deep cultural catholic that the only jokes more common among even the devout, than the pederasty of priests, were about the sadism of ruler-wielding nuns.

    The outrage about the coverups by bishops is real, the surprise is not.

  33. A referee must always appear to be unbiased. Fans, players, and coaches must believe that the judge and facilitator of their game is impartial. It’s a foundational element of good whistling!

    Perhaps the firing is about sport and not religion.

  34. Can I add a few things here, not read through all the comments but as for the catholic church or any catholic church representatives getting people sacked then they should look at their own head of the catholic church first….

    1) He was in the Nazi youth…he ran away, so he said…if he was really the nearest person to god on this planet then he would have said ‘NO’ and yes he might have been branded a traitor by the nazis, maybe even lost his life but how many people have died for their beliefs. As has been said on previous articles this so called man also stopped reports showing his friends in the church had molested children..there should be a death penalty for this vile act and anyone covering up such crimes should be thrown in jail and never let out. A joke I can think of the biggest joke and that is the catholic church

    2) also after WWII, the Yugoslavian head of the catholic church was sentenced to 25 years for ethnic cleansing, he should have been given the death penalty but avoided this due to the pressure applied by the catholic church…..Jean Paul the second later made this MURDERER a saint….I’m know there are many more times they have put their noses in where they shouldnt have been but if I ever decide to write a book I’m sure they will send a hitman after me….using some of the £200,000 they still have from the money stole during WWII

    3) Getting back to Hugh Dallas….big thing here…the catholic church is meant to be about forgiveness and turn the other cheek, only the case when it suits them….Lets hope God forgives all sins, I can think of a few people who should be worried


  35. “The Scotsman, Edinburgh’s – and arguably Scotland’s – most respected newspaper.”

    Although not rightly so. Glasgow’s The Herald is far less partisan and sensationalist in its reporting.

  36. BoingBoing has been bending over forwards to accommodate religion for some time now. This is some much needed balance.

    “My only regret is the implied insult to weasels”


    But fair.

  37. Amazing. Your lack of research into the matter astounds, considering these men were being investigated already for lying and cheating during a match shortly before the firing occurred. When this was exposed, along with the other unsavoury business practices being conducted by the referees, by a fellow ref who opted to resign instead of being a part of the corruption, the investigations began. In the process of those, unsavoury jokes which violated the workplace code of ethics were discovered. It had little to do with religion indicating bias, it had everything to do with shameful practice from the SFA and employees blatantly violating several workplace rules, such as honesty and a well defined rule regarding emails in the workplace.

    I’m an atheist. I’m all for free speech. But I can’t stand in work and say to people “I think so and so is a paedophile” and make jokes about it, because it would violate workplace rules. If I was caught lying to an employer or customer, and then was caught making paedo jokes in the workplace, I would certainly be fired. It’s frankly hilarious how you’ve skirted over the facts in this situation simply to try and score more points against the church considering the time could clearly be better spent dealing with things that matter, and which you’re actually well-versed in. Football is clearly not one of them.

  38. *rubs eyes

    Richard Dawkins? On boingboing? Talking about the old firm?

    *rubs eyes

    Celtic fans have a massive inferiority complex bred from years as catholic immigrants. If feels good to be the underdog, but they cant accept that things have changed and move on.

    The only real sectarians are the catholic church who feel the need to involve themselves in such an issue, fanning the flames of an already paranoid support. The fact that they can take offense at the joke while there is a massive sexual abuse scandal actually going on shows they have no shame.

    I dont know anyone who watches football who is genuinely sectarian.

  39. Oh dear.

    This is about much more than jokes.

    The whole extended refereeing fiasco engulfing Scottish football has a number of incredibly poisonous elements in it, and this joke, with its religious /bias dimension is only one small part of the whole messed-up picture.

    You have an unhealthy level of paranoia on all sides, allegations of serious professional misconduct, fans and clubs ready to embrace the most extreme conspiracy theories, all set against a stagnant game with serious money troubles.

    Scottish football fans have a great reputation abroad.
    Why? All the crazy is used up on the domestic game.

  40. A dissection of the joke:
    Let’s say that Pfizer was a hornet’s nest of pederasts, and that the CEO was an active participant in a systematic cover-up. Having the sign read “Warning! Pfizer’s CEO is coming” wouldn’t be construed as a poke to ‘Big Pharma’, but rather be seen as a pointed barb needling a specific person.

    The same logic should apply to the actual incarnation of this joke; it is not an attack on religion, it’s merely denouncing the ethical shortcomings of a douchebag, who happens to be the Pope.

  41. I am not surprised though that Professor Dawkins is commenting on the old firm. As a famous Zoologist and Athiest I am surprised at how long it took for him to turn his intellect to the terraces of Parkhead and Ibrox in search for the ‘missing link’ in hominid evolution. Watching both sides of the divide shuffle drunkenly through the surrounding slums to reach their Mecca the myriad genetic throw backs are plain to see.

  42. Mr Dallas had to go not because I think he’s a bigot but you must unsderstand the social sub text to this. Racism is rightly condemned in Scottish society but anti catholic sentiment is not. In 2010 this was an important reminder to Scottish society, particulalry the undereducated, that racism in all it’s forms is unacceptable. For too long discriminating against and even assaulting Catholics was acceptable (68% of race attacks in Scotland was against catholics in 2007 yet they’re only 18% of the population). This was a high profile opportunity to demonstrate that the wider and far more serious racist behaviour against this community in Scotland is as unacceptable as racism or discrimination against blacks, Jews, gays, women etc. Only through such cognitive behaviour do societies and communities develop and mature.

  43. Sigh. reddit was ruined by atheist fanboys, now it’s spreading to BoingBoing. For the record while I am an atheist by any normal definition, I can’t stand the philosophically naive quibbling on either side of the debate, and Dawins naive religion-bashing combined with his flattery and ego-stroking of atheists just makes us all dumber. Dawkins poisons everything.

  44. The discussion seems to be getting very deep at times. For pity’s sake, folks, it’s only a game! Religion should not have any place in sport, (although I hesitate to call football a sport as it’s
    more like a business).

  45. If I had to pick one, I’d say I was an atheist. I simply cannot see any reason to introduce a deity into any cosmological or philosophical model.

    I also think that humour works best when it is pushing boundaries.

    However, if I sent a joke through my work email that used an ethnic minority and sensitive issue as a punchline, I would not be too surprised to find myself out of the job.

    Dawkins’ grasp of political and social history is thin at best, and his compulsion to set religion up as the bogey man is more divisive and ignorant than the beliefs of most theists.

    His lack of self awareness with regards to his utter, utter cultural protestantism is also pretty damning.

    If you think religion causes most of the world’s problems now, try and ban it and see the kind of world you create. Not to mention that if we ban religion we are creating thoughtcrimes.

  46. This reminds me of a Monty Python skit..

    Instead of the currently religious-affiliated football teams, maybe it would be better philosophy.

    Maybe as stated above there should be a Irish Buddhist as a referee.

  47. @Cowicide To answer the question above: back in high school. :)

    I was going out with a home schooled Evangelical Christian in my home town for a while…and I started to slowly change her conditioning that she received since she was a kid.

    “No, The ACLU isn’t the devil incarnate. Yes, if you go to the school dance with me and do one slow dance you won’t go to hell.”

    I imagine I helped her worldview open up a little but I can see where maybe the “charmed” part was more me looking good to her than my actually words…

    1. That only says to me that there are times for mocking and there are times for sensitively charming zealots with logic. Sometimes mocking is in order to let off some steam or I think we (godless heathens and/or agnostic flakes) would probably go nuts having to deal with these crazy zealots.

      Maybe the mocking doesn’t help the zealots at all, but I think we appease zealots quite a bit already. Do I sit around in coffee shops mocking zealots and hurting people’s feelings? No.

      Ok, that’s a lie, if someone throws me enough grief, it has been known to happen… but overall, I generally ignore, appease (and maybe even enable) these zealots with patient inaction… and this happens almost every day.

      That said, I think you’ve sensitively charmed me with logic and I will cut down on some of my mocking. Maybe from a pack a day to a pack a week or something [cough].

  48. But to also come to Cowicide’s side on things, I think Christopher Hitchens in this interview at exactly 6:41 says it perfectly about mockery used to disarm.

    I so wish to even have an inkling of his and Richard Dawkins intellectual power and communication skills.

    Currently I mostly point to media to get my view across..

  49. Put it this way, if every Celtic and Rangers fan went to their respective churches on Sunday, and every real Catholic and real Protestant in the city played football, then Celtic park and Ibrox Stadium would constitute the two largest churches in Europe, while the football matches could be played in a school gym hall by a couple of five aside teams.

    I am a Weejie, raised as a catholic, atheist since the age of reason and I despise the Sky Daddy nonsense my city holds so dear.

    Two great teams, a home town Derby,sure! Love it.

    Just check your childish superstitions at the door.

    Not a bad effort Mr Dawkins, but this one unfortunately runs deeper and more engrained than is entirely rational.

    I myself have a long standing dislike for Rangers fans, after getting
    one hell of a battering from two late teenagers when I was an eleven year old, simply for answering the question “Celtic or Rangers” in the perceived incorrect manner.

    I said Partick Thistle, was deemed to be Jewish and got a hiding.

    But I do not doubt or one second that some wee baby-hun took just as much of a shellacking off of two equally Neanderthal looking bell ends of the Tim persuasion.

    Love thy Neighbour indeed.

    And as for the catholic Church

    “What do you give the paedo who has everything? A bigger parish”

    sod football, bring paedophile priests to face justice.

  50. “religion poisons everything”

    Alas, it has poisoned nearly everything more than itself. Apparently it has until recently been living without a mirror to admire itself in. All of us can hold up that mirror.

    Once the ‘Deus Inversus’ is finally gone … dissolved… freeing minds everywhere of the belief virus passed from parent to child… all that will be left will be the genuine human experiences which gave rise to the deformed, disabling wraith.

  51. The fact of the matter is that children got raped. It’s not “speculation”, it happened. And higher authorities tried to hide it.

    It’s lovely how people get off track about the real issues so easily. I don’t get people who’re after Mr. Dawkins instead of saying “Woah there, did this actually happen? Did the Pope actually try to hide the Church’s guilt in this matter?”

    A personal message to Mr. Dawkins though; no one likes to be told that what they believe in is wrong. Especially when the belief is as deep rooted as it is with religion. You shouldn’t change your stance against religion; it is what is it, and I like it while everyone else might call you an arrogant pig.

    But seriously, where is the Gandhi Jee of atheism? The softer side? I think atheism needs someone a little less intimidating for it’s message to be heard without being so in-your-face.

  52. Maybe Dallas was corrupt, tyrannical, incompetent, all the other things that were alleged against him. I neither know nor care. If the allegations are true then he should have been fired for that. He wasn’t. He was sacked for passing on a joke.

  53. Heisenberg
    BoingBoing is a religion blog now? How unfortunate.

    Cowicide in reply to Heisenberg
    BoingBoing is a religion blog now?
    Yep, and they changed the motto to “The Directory of Stupid Things”

    Comment Policy
    Antinous / Moderator at 12:00 AM Thursday, Oct 1, 2009

    Please do not tell the Boing Boing editors what to blog. Writing “But that’s not a wonderful thing” is lame. So is “topic [X] bores me,” or “subject [Y] sucks.”

  54. “where is the Gandhi Jee of atheism?”

    Try Daniel Dennett. Or Dawkins for that matter. He’s actually not as harsh as the media pretend. There are others, but they aren’t interested. If the fundies can’t have an emotional excuse to get agitated, the advertisers don’t like it.

  55. A priest, a rabbi and an imam walk into a bar. The barman says “What is this – some kind of joke?”

  56. Glasgow is a magnificent city, and its people are renowned for their friendliness and good humour. But the sad truth is that Glasgow has been blighted by religious sectarian violence for decades. Make no mistake about it – this violence originates in faith-based schools.

    I attended a secondary school in the West of Scotland where I witnessed violence on a daily basis between its pupils and those of a nearby school, and this violence was invariably caused by religious sectarianism. Thus, pupils were attacked, beaten up and sometimes stabbed not because they lived in a certain part of town, or because their skin was a certain colour, or because they wore a certain style of clothes, or because they looked in any way different from the average person their age. No. They suffered violence simply because they were perceived as having a different religion from that of their assailants (Protestant as opposed to Catholic, and vice versa).

    The most effective way to end religious sectarian violence in Glasgow and the rest of Scotland is to stop segregating children in schools on the basis of religion. The police know it. The doctors and nurses who have to deal with the horrendous consequences of this violence know it. And every rational person in Scotland who is capable of being honest with themself knows it.

    You can watch a recent example of religious sectarian violence in Glasgow here:

  57. Here in Belgium we have mostly Catholic and neutral schools. I can’t remember of sectarian violence between them. Let’s keep it that way.

  58. How about the `joke’ where Ingersoll/Menken or one of those oldtimers of their ilk dies, and finds hat they are then confronted by God, who questions their unbelief? Their reply? “Not enough evidence, Lord”.


  59. Clashes between religions is due to the fact that their scriptures do not agree. Why can’t they just keep up that stupid fight and leave sports alone.

  60. Tina: In the 1980s, long before he was P.C./Pure Cowardice de-ballsed, outrageous comic Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown was booked into a packed North East night club at the time of the Cleveland Satanic Child Abuse unfounded panics, and this line went down a storm, “Hey, there’s a goodly crowd in here tonight. I thought you’d all be home fucking yer kids !” (Live recording may still be available.)

  61. Richard is right on the mark once again. Religion does poison everything. That people should even care about such an issue shows that RD is 100% correct in his assessment. Truth and rationality expressed forcefully is not ‘shrill’, it is courage.

    Roger from USA

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