Well, that was a surprise.
Just before going to bed last night I checked Lisa Harding's blogpost, I'm just a Christian, to see if she had allowed my latest comment through moderation.
Instead of getting to her blog, however, I was greeted with this:
A quick bit of experimentation allowed me to work out that my IP adress had been banned from viewing her blog. But the system her blog uses wasn't very sophisticated so I found away round it and confirmed that her blog was still up and it was definitely just me banned from viewing it. Or, to be more accurate, everyone using Hutchinson 3G Mobile Broadband as we all use the same IP address.
Viewing her blog by this alternative means also let me see that, while my comment hadn't been allowed through moderation, another comment after mine had been. And, since my earlier comments were still up on her blog, clearly none of them were the "offensive" one which had been deemed severe enough not to allow through moderation and severe enough to warrant my banning to boot.
So, for the sake of posterity, I thought I'd record both my comment, and the comment which I was replying to, here. And you can judge for yourselves if what I said was "offensive content".
Here is Lisa's comment:
I’ll keep telling you this until you get it into your head. I appreciate that you might not have the capacity to abosrd such information but I will try for the sake of fairness.
1. I am not in the minority.
2. I am neither ridiculous or extreme.
3. Prayer is a fundamental part of Christianity and all christians believe in its power.
4. Advertising regulations do not apply to matters of faith (in this case particularly as no ‘medical’ service is being offerred. I remind you again, no one was offerring a medical service. It is a prayer offering and therefore the claim by you and others that the ASA is right is factually incorrect before you even start. Faith and prayer are not governed by the same rules as medical practitioners. To do so is the sanctioning of religious freedoms and illiberal.
5. Christians don’t want special treatment. We do however want to be able to practice and spread the message of our faith freely without censorship
6. God has the power to heal and save all people.
7. No one ever claimed that Muamba was directly saved by the power of prayer and its disingenuous of you to suggest they did.
8. Have you ever considered that those diseases you mention are here for a purpose. Perhaps our challenge is to use the intelligence that God gave us to find a cure. Perhaps that is His plan for us instead of saving everyone single handedly. God gives us the tools for the job, we dont expect him to do all the work for us you know!
9. I’m not stealing any liberal language but your agressive tone and stance has been clear from the start. I however, remain calm and strong in my faith. Who is angry here me or you? I know it is not me despite what impression you may have formed of me from others on the LD grapevine.
10. I am happy and confident that my faith will see me through in living my life in a good and honest way. I have the tools I need to do this from my faith. Attacking me and branding me a lunatic will do nothing to change that and only furthers my resolve that I am right and strong in my faith. I am sorry for you that you feel that you need to attack the faith in this way.
And here is my response (the one that she refused to allow through moderation and which got me banned from her blog):
1. Out of the population of the country as a whole you are probably in a minority on this particular issue of the letter and the ASA ruling.
2. Insisting that, for example, the power of prayer to heal blindness, cannot be scientifically proven *is* a pretty ridiculous and extreme stance.
3. Yes, prayer is a fundamental part of Christianity. And my faith as well for that matter. But belief in the power of prayer has nothing to do with the case in hand.
4. Advertising regulations apply to adverts. The case in hand was an advert. The advert said, and I quote, "Need Healing? God can heal today! Do you suffer from Back Pain, Arthritis, MS, Addiction ... Ulcers, Depression, Allergies, Fibromyalgia, Asthma, Paralysis, Crippling Disease, Phobias, Sleeping disorders or any other sickness? We'd love to pray for your healing right now!" They are clearly offering a treatment for illnesses. The treatment, in this case, happens to be prayer. And, because claiming that X can heal Y (which is what this advert does) is a medical claim then it clearly falls under the ASA. Medical claims in adverts are all governed by the same rules no matter who makes the claims.
This is a case of truth in advertising being regulated, not the faith and prayer themselves. The group in Bath are still able to have faith in prayer healing and carry out attempts to heal through prayer - no one is trying to stop them.
5. No one is trying to stop Christians practising their faith or spreading it - that's why every Christmas you see adverts on the telly by Christian organisations. But those adverts don't contain medical claims and asking to be exempt from the advertising regulations covering medical claims is most definitely asking for special treatment.
Now, I can hardly claim to be an expert but I'm pretty sure that there's a little bit more to Christ's message than offering medical services to people (and, before you start, offering to heal people is a medical service - no matter what method you use to heal them).
6. If you choose to believe that then fine. But unless you can prove, specifically, that God and prayer perform better than the placebo affect, then you should not be allowed to make that specific medical claim in an advert. You can make it anywhere else, you can tell it to anyone you like, but not through an advert. Because medical claims in adverts are regulated for a reason - to protect people from phony claims. And that means there has to be a basic standard of proof that something works. Claims that God and prayer can heal have yet to meet that standard - but all power to your elbow if you can.
7. The letter specifically said "It is interesting to note that since the traumatic collapse of the footballer Fabrice Muamba the whole nation appears to be praying for a physical healing for him. I enclose some media extracts. Are they wrong also and will you seek to intervene?" I'm not saying that that's an outright claim that God healed Muamba - all I did was give a hypothetical example and ask why someone like Muamba would be healed while other people wouldn't.
8. If all these illnesses are a challenge then it raises two questions. The first is why, if this is a test, you should seek a shortcut around them through prayer? Doesn't that defeat the whole object of the test? The second question is what kind of being would inflict suffering upon billions of innocent people throughout human history? If God feels that it is only right and proper to "test" us by inflicting us with situations like a starving two year old girl, screaming in agony as eggs a wasp laid inside her eye eat their way out, then is he really deserving of worship?
9. Claiming that it is illiberal or persecution or denying the right to freedom of speech for medical claims to be subject to the same regulations, no matter who makes the claims, is definitely stealing liberal language. You are also mistaking as anger my frustration at people who constantly move the goalposts and miss the point (as you did, when you asked for proof that prayer can't heal people and then, upon receiving it, declared that it didn't count before eventually admitting that there's no proof that you would ever accept).
10. Great! Good for you! I mean that sincerely. If your faith makes you happy and gives you confidence then that's an example of one of the best aspects of Christianity.
But I am not attacking you, I am trying to reason with you (at least I am in most of what I've said - I can't claim to be perfect after all). And what you seem to have missed is that your faith is not under attack here - what is being criticised is people who demand special treatment for no good reason.
Could I finish by asking you a few questions please.
a) Do you accept that the specific claim (which I've quoted above) made in the specific advert ruled upon by the ASA was a medical claim? If you don't, then how would you define a medical claim?
b) Regardless of your answer to a), do you agree that allowing unproven medical claims to be advertised could cause harm to people? And do you think that it is right for the onus to be on the person, or group, making the claim to prove it, rather than on the ASA to disprove it?
c) Putting aside your opinions of the specific case, if something *were* a medical claim, would you define it as "asking for specific treatment" if a particular group wanted exemption from the rules for a particular claim?Now, I think that that's actually quite a polite response. I'll freely admit that some of my earlier comments weren't quite so polite but - given that she let them through, she can't have deemed them abusive or offensive.
Which leads me to only one conclusion. My comment wasn't blocked because it was offensive - I was blocked because Lisa disagreed with my arguments but preferred to simply delete my comment rather than engage with them.
And I'm pretty certain that the reason she deleted my comment was that she couldn't think of a response to my argument. And, because she couldn't win the debate, she simply erased my comment. I'd like to point out the irony of that coming from someone who was using, throughout the debate, the argument about "freedom of speech" and the evils of censorship.
Now look, it's her blog. She can do what she likes with it. But to block someone from your blog simply because they posted difficult arguments is nothing less than petty and cowardly.
If you've lost the argument, or simply can't be bothered with it anymore, there are three ways of dealing with it.
1. Simply say nothing and let the entire comment thread die down.
2. Simply say "I can't be bothered to argue with you any more - you're obviously determined to miss the point". Or words to that effect.
3. Delete the comment and leave a comment of your own acknowledging that you've done so and your reasons for doing so.
To follow the approach Lisa has is really quite laughably childish.
In many ways, it reminds of a similar incident that happened a while back on Ancient Briton's blog. He's another extreme Christian who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time ranting about women priests and women bishops. On one occasion we had a brief, polite debate in the comments on his blog where I raised the point that surely Jesus wouldn't care who was delivering his message as long as it was being delivered. At this point Ancient Briton simply deleted the entire comment thread.
As a comic poster once said: If at first you don't succeed, destroy all evidence you failed.
And that'd the tactic that Lisa's chosen to adopt.
So I'm afraid I am now left without any respect for Lisa Harding. I've agreed with her in the past, felt sympathy for her at other times, even expressed said sympathy in comments on her blog but that is now a thing of the past.
There are lots of people who I fundamentally disagree with, people who I actively dislike - but I at least respect them for having the courage to stick to their guns and make the case for their point of view. I show a certain degree of respect to them because, though we disagree, we can disagree openly and freely and without one side running away or sticking their fingers in their ears.
Lisa, I'm afraid, will get no such deference. In my opinion she has revealed herself to be childish and a coward.
I'm not going to do anything to her or harass her online or anything like that. All I'm doing is writing this blogpost and letting those reading it make their own judgements. That and thanking her for showing by her actions that she's lost the argument.
(Normal, non inter-blogger spats, blogging will now resume)
UPDATE: Lisa Harding has informed me on twitter that she has made an official party complaint about this blogpost. How what two ordinary citizens think or say of each other is aything to do with the party is beyond me but, just to reiterate, my opinions on here are my own and do not represent the Liberal Democrats and the logo for my blog is one inspired by the Lib Dem logo rather than being the Lib Dem logo itself.