Sunday, 27 January 2013

Sunday Morning

The Bolshoi version, not Velvet Underground.

My problem this morning was that i hadn't made a video, so i've ended up breaking the Sabbath.  As a result, i decided to make one on a religious theme:

Are churches a waste of money?  Do they con gullible and vulnerable people out of cash they can't afford to spare and give nothing back?  My rationalisation says not!

Keeping up the fabric of a building is expensive and we all know the stereotype of the televangelist telling the poor to give until it hurts as proof of faith.  Clearly a church espousing creationism and encouraging homophobia would be in those respects hazardous and undesirable.  It's also argued that churches should not have charitable status and are a waste of money.

My first question is, what do you think a church is - the building or the people?  If it's the former, and many churches have no physical manifestation, it acts as an advertisment for the Christian faith and spirituality, but also as a facility for the wider community to use and a work of art which is produced collaboratively by people, often over many centuries rather than as a self-aggrandising exercise.  People use them for rites of passage such as christenings (of which i disapprove, incidentally), weddings and funerals.  They want such days to be special and tend to express such desires through attending churches.

The buildings are also facilities for the community, social groups and others to meet.  Ours, for example, acts as an annexe for a local community college.

Looking beyond the physical building to the people, i want to present two scenarios.  The first is the church as a social asset, providing things like food and shelter for the homeless, counselling and therapy for life crises and social facilities such as parent and toddler groups.  Few charities are as wide-ranging and there are therefore economies of scale.  A church is also voluntarily supported through its members through donations and work rather than having to be paid for through tax.  Although we may support, or at least recognise the necessity, of taxation, it is often not given willingly.  Surely it's better to do that than to have to coerce people to pay for these things?  The more religious institutions do this kind of work, the less tax is spent on it.

However, here's the second scenario:  a church i'm rather less keen on.  Imagine a church which does none of these things and just raises money for itself along, perhaps, with a self-serving or empty form of evangelism.  Suppose furthermore that we Christians are all completely wrong about our metaphysical beliefs and a church of this kind is therefore not only useless socially but also nothing more than a feelgood club for its members.  In that case, it still contributes to the economy through things like building work, utility bills, employing people and so forth.  It also contributes to people's mental health and sense of well-being.  Just briefly on the question of whether we're all mad:  people with frank psychotic mental health issues are usually recognised and helped by the congregation and it is straightforward to distinguish by possibly delusional beliefs such as our own and full-blown insanity.

I used to be in a very liberal, progressive church with very right-on values, most or all of whose members were agnostic or atheist.  It was in many ways a great place, but it was also completely ineffective because it was so small.

When people get together in groups, we tend to acquire irrational beliefs and practices.  This happens in political parties, pressure groups and charities.  The Church is a group of people who got together to do good about two millenia ago and is extremely large.  As a result, it can be expected to contain a lot of consensus irrational beliefs and practices.  It's not remarkable in this respect, however, just older and bigger, so it has had more time and space for this to happen.  Obviously i don't think i have entirely irrational beliefs about religion, but if i have, i'm not unusual and there are plenty of non-religious people whose beliefs have the same status as a result of their membership of groups.  That's simply what groups do to people psychologically.

I firmly believe that churches are a force for good in the community and that this would be the case even if we were completely wrong.  It's easy to cite extreme cases but those are not representative and don't form part of a sensible argument.

This is also the result of UnaBubba's comment on me buggering off to the above building yesterday for four hours.  Incidentally, the end screen is the result of laziness.  I have twelve frames of video for each of those thumbnails which i was planning to loop but it's a big job, so there are just two.  Also, i was going to include all dozen and a quarter (i think) R&S videos i've uploaded but not deleted so far on it.

I'm now even more obsessed with views than i was hitherto, and have started playing with the figures.  Yestern's video went well, perhaps because of naked me, though that probably put a lot of people off too.

Now for something completely different.  You may be aware that i started a website in 1999 and closed it down almost exactly a decade later.  Concerning SEO, it was at the top of Google, Yahoo and other directories and search engines for most of that time for search strings including words such as "Leicester" "herbalist", "asthma", "IBS" and so forth.  I think over that decade, it got something like six dozen views - around one every couple of months.  The frequency of hits showed no signs of increasing over that time in spite of the increasing popularity both of the internet, the web and looking for services and businesses on the internet.  However, we never got an enquiry as a result of the website.  As a result, i gave up on it completely.  I have never understood why people would bother with a website if they're trying to get business out of it.  For a long time, our main sources of enquiries were the Yellow Pages and word of mouth.  Later on, the Yellow Pages completely dried up very suddenly.  It went from an enquiry every day to nothing for two years overnight, so we cancelled our account.  Thankfully, however, word of mouth still works fine.  Incidentally, in a somewhat related turn of events, on listing herbs on Ebay, which is marginally unethical of course, we didn't even get page impressions, let alone bids.

Anyway, the reason i bring this up is that despite the clear ineffectiveness of websites as a marketing tool, people still go for them.  Why is this?  Do they just not notice it doesn't work?  Is there some reason why it can be made to work for them?  I have a second issue with this, as it happens:  people who sell things like website hosting services also sell website designing services.  Why would someone be comfortable with someone else having control over that?

That's it really!  Bye bye for today, oh void.