15 March meeting: Karen Williams on Poverty

Karen Williams Karen Williams will talk about poverty in our community. She will discuss the reality of struggling to survive and the problems faced by the lower-paid, both in day-to-day living and in dealing with government and other officials.

Karen Williams is Project Leader of Shrewsbury foodbank PLUS, a holistic range of projects that serve our community often when people are at their most vulnerable. Working with the people of Shropshire they offer hope by recognising the value of each individual, enabling them to make positive choices for their future to play a full role in society and see personal transformation in their lives. Foodbank PLUS is part of Barnabas Community Projects of which Karen is a Director.

Karen will be happy to receive donations of food at the meeting.

Thursday 15 March at 7.30 pm, University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ. All welcome, but voluntary donations requested.



Introducing Humanism: Non-religious Approaches to Life (Online course starting 19 February)

Learn about humanism – a non-religious, ethical worldview shared by millions across the world.


Humanism is a non-religious, ethical world view shared by millions of people around the world. Humanists believe that this life is the only life we have, that the universe is a natural phenomenon with no supernatural side, and that we can live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity.

However, there is widespread misunderstanding about what it means to be a humanist or to live a life without a religion. On this course you will learn more about humanist beliefs and values, and discover how humanists attempt to answer life’s big questions.

  • The humanist understanding of human beings: our nature, capacities, and responsibilities
  • How humanists answer questions about the world (science, reason, scepticism) and the consequences for a humanist understanding of reality
  • A humanist approach to making life meaningful and the value of individual freedom
  • The origins and evolution of morality and a humanist perspective on how to be good
  • The humanist vision for society (secularism, freedoms, and human rights) and the motivations behind their goals
  • Different definitions of humanism, its history, and its diversity

Outside the Box – A Live Show About Death on 10 February

We have been informed about the following local event that may be of interest. Please note that it is not organised by SHG, so we are not responsible for the content of the show or for this information.

Outside the Box – A Live Show About Death

WARNING: This show might change your life – or your death. Liz Rothschild is a performer, celebrant and award winning burial ground owner. Her unique insights and experiences have created a highly original and beautifully cathartic show, combining mercurial tales and miraculous truths, collected over the years from life’s ‘finishing line.’ Funny, wise and taboo busting; Outside The Box confronts the ‘elephant in the room’ with grace and humour, asking its audience to embrace mortality and look on the bright side of life.

Date and time: Saturday 10 February, 7.30 pm
Location: Chapel Lawn Village Hall, Chapel Lawn, Shropshire SY7 0BW
Age range: 13+
Tickets: Adult: £10.00  Child: £5.00
More information and trailer: http://www.artsalive.co.uk/show.aspx?id=10858
Enquiries: 01547 530871 / 07721 739973

Around Shropshire: Ludlow and Marches Humanists and Engaging Issues

In South Shropshire, North Herefordshire and the Welsh border areas there is another humanist group, our neighbours the Ludlow and Marches Humanists. A copy of their latest newsletter can be downloaded here and their website is here.

They always have an interesting programme, and the following meetings are planned:

20 February 2018 – “Telling people about Humanism” by Dr Simon Nightingale. Simon is a semi-retired neurologist and chair of  Shropshire Humanist Group. He has given many talks on Humanism and is occasionally heard on Shropshire Radio. He participates in inter-faith discussions and will be considering techniques, tactics and pitfalls when communicating Humanist  messages to people of different outlooks.
Thursday 8 March 2018, special meeting – on Brexit legislative programme by Lord Jeff Rooker: Please note that this meeting only will be in the Zion room at the Methodist Church Hall, Broad Street, Ludlow. Jeff Rooker will be concentrating on the progress of the legislative programme through the House of Lords, full title yet to be revealed.
20 March 2018 – The Reverend Kelvin Price, Rector of Ludlow. Talk title to be agreed. We have not had a formal talk from the Church of England for many years now, and it will be interesting to see his approach to falling numbers and alternative uses of church buildings, as well as the continuing relevance of the C of E as a state religion.
17 April 2018 – Christine Hyde on Greece ”Changed or Unchanged” – Chris and Hugh spent several years in Greece and grew to appreciate the culture, albeit different in many ways from our own. Chris will be concentrating on
the village (Elaia) and area they know best, quote: “I will talk about customs still practiced from Dorian times, the Orthodox Church, and the Evil Eye, ending with a few photos of the wild life. Hence the suggested title”.
15 May 2018 – AGM. As usual, we will try to make this an interesting evening, with cake and refreshments and either a video or a special discussion to follow the AGM.

Engaging Issues is a church-based group in Church Stretton, but its talks are often of interest to humanists and others.

Tuesday 6 February – “Can Christians talk with one voice about God?”. Dr Benjamin Wood is a Quaker ethicist and theologian, interested in the relationship between faith & society, secular politics and the Church.
Tuesday 27th February – “Britain’s Housing Affordability Crisis”. Chrissie Pepler
7:30pm in the United Reformed Church, High Street, Church Stretton. A £3 donation is requested to defray expenses.

To be a Humanist: questions from a Christian

The following contribution by Peter Bellingham, a committed Christian, was made at our Hot Potatoes open mike night on 18 January. Several listeners asked for it to be made available, and Peter said he was happy for it to be posted here. He poses some fundamental and difficult questions about the nature of man, consciousness, causation, determinism, free will and the meaning of life. Humanists may attempt to answer these questions differently from a Christian, such as Peter, but they are questions we all find a challenge.


Do I have to be human to be a humanist?


What is a human?

Is a human a certain arrangement of atoms?

Is your chair a certain arrangement of atoms?

Is a leaf a certain arrangement of atoms?

Is your dog a certain arrangement of atoms?


Are you more valuable than your dog?

Are you more valuable than a leaf?

Are you more valuable than your chair?



Is your conscious experience just the product of atoms?

Are your thoughts and choices just the product of atoms?

What turns a human into a humanist?

Is it a choice, or can cosmic radiation cause the change?

How do we know which atoms are in control?

How do you know which atoms are right?


Are you disappointed by anything in life?

Are you upset by any injustice in life?

Why be disappointed?  Why be upset?

Some end up happy, some sad; why expect anything different?


Isn’t everything just the purposeless product of atoms in motion?


Is a human more than atoms in motion?

Is a humanist more than atoms in motion?


Is that why you’re here tonight, thinking?

If you’re not too busy, you can hear Simon Nightingale talking about being too busy

Simon Nightingale gave the “Pause for Thought” on BBC Radio Shropshire on Sunday morning, 28 January, talking about “White Rabbit syndrome”.

You can hear it at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05v0927#play  Listen from 1:20:00 to 1:25:00 on the time line. It is available for 4 weeks only.

The law on assisted dying: Noel Conway’s talk to the Shropshire Humanist Group

Noel Conway’s talk was presented on his behalf by Simon Nightingale to the Hot Potatoes evening on 18 January. Noel is a member of Shropshire Humanist Group.

By coincidence, we heard on the same day that Noel was given permission to take his case to the Court of Appeal.

The following is a slightly revised version of the talk presented.

Dear Friends,

Simon has asked me to put together a few words for you for your open mic session tonight, which I am happy to do. Hopefully, it will clarify where we are at present with regard to trying to change the law on assisted dying. I would like to be there with you but I find it too difficult to get out in the evening, when it is dark and cold.

The High Court (administrative division) held in the last week of July last year, finally produced its judgment on 5 October. This rejected my claim that the Suicide Act 1961 section 2 is incompatible with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, undermining my right to personal autonomy, i.e., to an assisted death. The rationale for the judgement was particularly disappointing as I explain below but there was one aspect which was favourable. This concerned the issue of whether the courts were competent institutionally to judge on the matter and not leave it to Parliament, which the previous Supreme Court judgment in the Nicklinson case had.

My legal team argued that it was the job of this court to decide whether it was ‘practically feasible‘ for Parliament to devise a scheme whereby people in my situation i.e. of sound mind, over 18 years, terminally ill with not more than six months to live, could be assisted to die without threatening other weak and vulnerable people. The potential threat to those who are ‘weak and vulnerable’ is the long-standing reason given to support a blanket ban on any form of assisted dying on the grounds that it is not possible to devise any scheme that would protect such a group. My legal team did put forward such a scheme supported by a considerable amount of expert evidence. However, the High Court did not address this question but instead addressed the question of whether Parliament had ‘a proper basis‘ for maintaining the blanket prohibition. Consequently, the High Court did not adequately address the expert witness evidence that we had provided, saying merely that it had referred to some of the evidence that had been provided by us.

The High Court therefore referred to a wide range of evidence, principally provided by opponents of any change to the law, and extended its scope beyond looking at protections for ‘the weak and vulnerable ‘ to the more general arguments of whether (a) it will devalue the sanctity of life principle and, (b) undermine the doctor patient relationship. This is a surprising focus by the High Court, because neither of these issues were considered to be relevant by the Supreme Court in the Nicklinson case, which is held to be the most recent senior legal authority on the whole argument. Indeed, the High Court produced lengthy quotes and references from organisations like the British Medical Association, the British Geriatrics Society and the organisation, Not Dead Yet, a leading opponent campaign group established by Baroness Campbell, who was also quoted. The weight of evidence selected and the comments and conclusions drawn by the High Court, therefore, were extremely biased and one-sided.

The judgment also dismissed any notion that assisted dying bore any resemblance to the argument surrounding refusal to accept further medical intervention or the withdrawal of such. It took the view that it was not possible to identify when people with MND are in the final six months’ stages of life, preferring to accept the view of Baroness Finlay, a palliative care expert (and longstanding campaigner against assisted dying), rather than Prof Barnes, an MND expert, who concludes that whilst prognosis of death is difficult to establish it is not impossible with appropriate clinical experience.

In 2010, following the Debbie Purdy case, the Director of Public Prosecutions introduced guidelines which clarified that people who had helped others to go to Switzerland for assisted dying (or to end their life at home) would not be automatically prosecuted under section 2 of the Suicide Act. Each case would be investigated, and where there was evidence that a crime had taken place, prosecutors would then have to decide, taking into account the range of factors in the guidance, whether or not it was in the public interest to prosecute. Broadly speaking, where it was established that people have acted compassionately and not for personal gain or malice, they will not be prosecuted. Many people regard this as exposing ‘the weak and vulnerable’ to much greater danger of criminal abuse than the safeguards proposed by Lord Falconer under the Assisted Dying Bill, and by my legal team. This important issue was not raised or discussed by the High Court.

Consequently, for many of the reasons outlined above and others, my legal team believe we have a strong case to appeal the judgement. Whether we can proceed to the Appeal Court will be decided at a hearing on 18 January.

Latest Good News! We have just heard that the Permission to Appeal Hearing approved our request to go to the Appeal Court. This is an excellent result especially as the Court approved all 7 grounds for appeal, thus vindicating our legal team’s core argument that the High Court in July had directed itself to the wrong issue.

Noel Conway, 20 January 2018

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