20 June: Event to mark International Humanist Day on 21 June

We shall be celebrating International Humanist Day with short talks on various aspects of humanism through the world, including speakers’ experiences of humanism in New Zealand, Germany and South Africa. We will also be talking about the important work of the Humanists International. We shall also review the hostile attitude to humanism in various places round the world, including the death sentence for humanism in some countries.

Thursday 20 June at 7.30 pm, University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ. All welcome.

You are very welcome to come for tea and coffee from 7 pm to meet and chat with other members and guests. A voluntary donation is requested towards room hire and refreshments.


16 May:  Introduction to the Bahá’í faith by Pete Hulme

Pete HulmePete Hulme will give an introduction to the faith, but intends the main focus to be on a key aspect of consciousness that plays to his strengths as a psychologist and a Bahá’í. It was one he struggled with when he became a Bahá’í, post qualification as a sceptical agnostic clinical psychologist. The issue concerns whether or not the mind is reducible to the brain, that is, is the mind independent of the brain or simply a by-product or emergent property?

He thinks this is a crucial issue, amongst others, in terms of whether we can truly reconcile mainstream materialistic science and most transcendent spiritual traditions. It can be dealt with without too much psychobabble, and in his view can also be debated by all sides of the argument in a spirit of genuine exploration, but is also a major point of sometimes unproductive contention.

Thursday 16 May at 7.30 pm at University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ. You are very welcome to come for tea and coffee from 7 pm to meet and chat with other members and guests. A voluntary donation is requested towards room hire and refreshments.

A Shropshire Humanist in South Africa

by Simon Nightingale, Chair, Shropshire Humanists

I have recently returned from a two week holiday in Cape Town where I was visiting my son, Sam, who is also a neurologist and is currently doing research there on HIV in the brain.

While there, I met an interesting group of people who call themselves DINK (the Afrikaans word for THINK). They’re all sceptical freethinkers and would consider themselves atheist or at least agnostic. They were keen to hear about humanism and so I gave them a talk. They did a recording of it and you can see it on YouTube.

However, it is similar to the talk I gave given to the Shrewsbury U3A which is rather better recorded.

Interestingly only 17% of the population of South Africa say that they live without religion (in the UK it’s >50%; among young people >70%). Virtually everyone else in South Africa is Christian.

The very large black African community are Christian of one kind or another. The largest group are known as the Church of Zion and it seems they’ve incorporated Evangelist Christian beliefs with a kind of ancient tribal ancestor worship. Very few South Africans call themselves humanist and indeed the members of DINK knew very little about humanism. I encouraged them to consider humanism which is a worldview with positive beliefs and values, rather than just being a negative atheist.

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18 April: Childhood Emotional Neglect: The Intergenerational Conundrum by Dr Angela Blanchard

Thursday 18 April: University Centre 7.30 pm: Childhood Emotional Neglect: The Intergenerational Conundrum by Dr Angela Blanchard (School of Psychology, Keele University)

Angela will give a presentation on her recently completed PhD research into emotional neglect of children and how it affects them as adults. Angela is a person-centred counsellor.

Childhood emotional neglect is increasingly recognised as a distinct form of child abuse which may occur alongside other forms of child abuse or as a stand-alone issue. Yet it remains nebulous, poorly understood and under-researched, compared to other forms of child maltreatment. In this presentation, Angela will outline her research into childhood emotional neglect, focusing in particular on the intergenerational aspect. Is childhood emotional neglect inevitably passed on from one generation to another? Can the same individuals be both harsh parents, and loving grandparents? If there is a cycle of childhood emotional neglect, can we ever break out of it? Angela promises to raise more questions than she answers, as she continues to search for understanding and healing both for herself and her counselling clients. You can see her PhD video here:

Ludlow and Marches Humanists, 16 April: Challenging Genesis – Heroes and villains writing the History of the Earth

A talk by Tony Martyr.  Tony is a mechanical engineer who has worked on projects in 44 countries of the world and is a retired visiting professor of Powertrain Engineering (University of Bradford). Tony also has a degree in Earth Sciences and a lifelong interest in the history of Science. He is the author of 4 editions of a textbook on engine testing and a popular science book about Why Projects Fail.

Tuesday 16 April 2019, 7.30pm, at The Friends Meeting House, St Mary’s Lane, Ludlow SY8 1DZ

All welcome.

Please note this is not organised by Shropshire Humanists.

Where do we get our morals? (audio)

A discussion between a Christian and a Humanist in front of a packed house, organised by Shropshire Humanists, between Simon Nightingale (Chair of Shropshire Humanists) and Peter Bellingham (Pastor at The Well, Shrewsbury).

Book review: Hard Day’s Journey Into Night, by Noel Conway

BOOK REVIEW: HARD DAYS’ JOURNEY INTO NIGHT – Memoirs of an MND warrior and human rights campaigner

The subtitle of Noel Conway‘s book “Hard Days’ Journey into Night” is “Memoirs of an MND warrior and human rights campaigner”. Noel was certainly both of these, but the subtitle really does not do justice to either the book or to Noel. In fact, this book has several themes each of which would on its own make it a good read.

During a long career as a consultant clinical neurologist, I have talked to many dozens of people to explain their diagnosis of MND and I am familiar with their various outward reactions – but one is often uncertain what they are thinking. Noel describes how the neurologist, with a quiet, dignified and professional manner, confirmed to him the diagnosis of MND that Noel had already suspected. Noel sat unmoving with Carol’s hand in his, screaming inside his head “I know what I’ve got! That’s not what I want to know!” In an equally quiet and dignified voice, Noel asked the all important question “How long have I got?” So starts the story of an extraordinary journey from able-bodied to paralysed from the neck down. A journey that at various times has been a rollercoaster of emotions both highs and lows, physical challenges to be either overcome or circumvented, good friends and less good friends, and carers who cared and those that didn’t seem to; losing the ability to do some things and finding other meaningful activities to replace them.

In those early days Noel had access to all the facts and statistics about MND, but what he could not find and what he really wanted to know was how people with MND actually felt, how they lived with it, and how they coped. Even back then the seed of this book was sown – the idea of providing a narrative of a life with MND. This book provides just that – the story of Noel’s extraordinary and inspiring life with Carol by his side and a story of the people who helped him and continue to help him to lead the best life he can, people to whom he dedicates the book. For someone with MND or for members of their family, this book would be of interest and helpful for this reason alone.

But there is another major and fascinating theme to this book which is Noel’s legal challenge concerning the current law on assisted dying as set out in the 1961 Suicide Act. Noel’s account of his battles (so far – the war is not over yet by any means) is an enthralling read and he provides an excellent review of the arguments for and against a change in the law. He vividly depicts the heavy guns on either side, seen through the eyes of someone fighting for his life (and for his right to decide its end) in the front line. If the law on assisted dying does in time change (as many of us hope), it will be thanks to the hard work, courage and persistence of those like Noel. This part of the book would be a good read for anyone interested in the issues involved.

Quite apart from the fascinating accounts of Noel’s battles with MND and with the law, we also have an account of his early working class upbringing in “the grim industrial landscape of the North” and of the determination, enterprise and sheer hard work that lead eventually to a successful and well-regarded career in further education. Noel from a young age was acutely aware of the unfairness and inequality in society, but unlike so many of us who shrug and say “well what can we do?” he became socially and politically active. Noel relates the evolution of his activism in local politics, as trade union officer, in secularism to reduce undue religious influence in society, in opposition to fascism and racism, in labour party politics and more recently human rights issues, such as law change on assisted dying.

I first came to know Noel, not through any medical problem, but due to our shared interest in campaigning with Humanists UK to eliminate inappropriate religious influence in public life, be it bishops in the House of Lords or State-funded faith schools.

As if all these different lives crammed into one were not enough, Noel also describes with relish his love of the outdoors including walking, climbing, mountaineering, skiing and cycling – all of which have been progressively eliminated from his life by muscle weakness as has even his love of cooking. But the muscle that Noel still flexes with gusto and to great effect is the muscle of his fierce intellect and his passion for languages and for books and for writing. While too weak to use a keyboard, Noel has written (using voice recognition software) and published not only “Hard Days’ Journey into Night” but also “Tales from the Hill” a delightful book of short local folklore stories and a number of articles in various publications.

Throughout the book there is a clear sense of Noel’s strong personality. On one hand his kindness, his humour and his love of family and friends and on the other is his fierce determination to confront injustice and unfairness wherever he finds it. This is an inspiring book on many levels.

Dr Simon Nightingale MBBS BSc FRCP MD, Retired Consultant Neurologist

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