18 June meeting: The English Collective of Prostitutes on Sex workers organising for safety and justice

A recent survey found 5% of students are working in the sex industry to pay off debt and cover living expenses. At the same time, unemployment, benefit cuts and sanctions, lowering wages and homelessness, are driving increasing numbers of women, mostly mothers supporting families, into the sex industry where we are being arrested, criminalised and even imprisoned. Sex workers who report violence can find themselves prosecuted while their attacker goes free; victims of trafficking, instead of the support they are entitled to, are treated as immigration offenders and face detention and removal. It’s about time consenting sex was decriminalised. Find out what sex workers are doing to insist on our rights to safety, protection and justice.

7.30 pm at The Lantern, Meadow Farm Drive, Shrewsbury SY1 4NG

Climate Shock

Gernot Wagner visited Google’s Cambridge, MA office to discuss the book he co-authored with Martin L. Weitzman, “Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet”.

Cartoonists across the world face threats to their liberty… and their lives

Cartoon by David Pope, http://www.scratch.com.au/
Cartoon by David Pope,
http://www.scratch.com.au

A global report by Committee to Protect Journalists documents cases of satirists who are being intimidated.

On January 7, two gunmen burst into the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing eight journalists and bringing into focus the risks cartoonists face. But with the ability of their work to transcend borders and languages, and to simplify complex political situations, the threats faced by cartoonists around the world — who are being imprisoned, forced into hiding, threatened with legal action or killed — far exceed Islamic extremism. A Committee to Protect Journalists special report by Shawn W. Crispin.

Read more…

Young Humanists Midlands Launch Party, 11 June

10151235_1501549900099387_947616533382384541_n Celebrate with Young Humanists in Birmingham! The new section of the British Humanist Association (BHA) for 18-35 year olds, Young Humanists, invites you to its official Midlands launch party in central Birmingham. So if you’re young(ish), godless and interested in the big questions, check out Young Humanists! And it’s free! June 11th, 2015 7:00 pm Island Bar 14-16 Suffolk Street Queensway Birmingham B1 1LT Book here.

Mother Teresa: anything but a saint…

From the University of Montreal:

The myth of altruism and generosity surrounding Mother Teresa is dispelled in a paper by Serge Larivée and Genevieve Chenard of University of Montreal’s Department of Psychoeducation and Carole Sénéchal of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education. The paper will be published in the March issue of the journal Studies in Religion/Sciences religieuses and is an analysis of the published writings about Mother Teresa. Like the journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, who is amply quoted in their analysis, the researchers conclude that her hallowed image—which does not stand up to analysis of the facts—was constructed, and that her beatification was orchestrated by an effective media relations campaign.

“While looking for documentation on the phenomenon of altruism for a seminar on ethics, one of us stumbled upon the life and work of one of Catholic Church’s most celebrated woman and now part of our collective imagination—Mother Teresa—whose real name was Agnes Gonxha,” says Professor Larivée, who led the research. “The description was so ecstatic that it piqued our curiosity and pushed us to research further.”

As a result, the three researchers collected 502 documents on the life and work of Mother Teresa. After eliminating 195 duplicates, they consulted 287 documents to conduct their analysis, representing 96% of the literature on the founder of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity (OMC).

Facts debunk the myth of Mother Teresa
In their article, Serge Larivée and his colleagues also cite a number of problems not take into account by the Vatican in Mother Teresa’s beatification process, such as “her rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding, in particular, abortion, contraception, and divorce.”

The sick must suffer like Christ on the cross
At the time of her death, Mother Teresa had opened 517 missions welcoming the poor and sick in more than 100 countries. The missions have been described as “homes for the dying” by doctors visiting several of these establishments in Calcutta. Two-thirds of the people coming to these missions hoped to a find a doctor to treat them, while the other third lay dying without receiving appropriate care. The doctors observed a significant lack of hygiene, even unfit conditions, as well as a shortage of actual care, inadequate food, and no painkillers. The problem is not a lack of money—the Foundation created by Mother Teresa has raised hundreds of millions of dollars—but rather a particular conception of suffering and death: “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering,” was her reply to criticism, cites the journalist Christopher Hitchens. Nevertheless, when Mother Teresa required palliative care, she received it in a modern American hospital. 

Read more…

Ludlow and Marches Humanists summer social, 21 June

Our neighbours the Ludlow and Marches Humanists are holding their  Summer Social on Sunday 21st June. They plan a walk from the Cliffe at Dinham car park (SY8 2JE) followed by lunch at the Cliffe.  Lunch has been booked for 12.30pm. If you are interested in joining in, please contact David Trotter.

The walk will be along the Teme and over Whitcliffe Common, with points of interest on the way. The less energetic will not have to make the climb up Whitcliffe. The walk will be lead by Juliet & David Trotter. Please bring suitable clothing and boots or stout shoes.

NSS: Government’s anti-extremism plans will have ‘chilling effect’ on free speech

The National Secular Society has expressed concern at the Government’s new proposals to challenge extremism and radicalisation.

Home Secretary Theresa May has announced renewed plans to introduce “extremism disruption orders” that would target those spreading extremist ideology.

David Cameron said: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.”

The Guardian reported in 2014 that the EDOs, then blocked by the Liberal Democrats under the Coalition Government, would include “a ban on broadcasting and a requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web, social media or in print.”

NSS executive director Keith Porteous Wood commented: “The Government should have every tool possible to tackle extremism and terrorism, but there is a huge arsenal of laws already in place and a much better case needs to be made for introducing draconian measures such as Extremism Disruption Orders, which are almost unchallengeable and deprive individuals of their liberties.”

The NSS is concerned that the plans are currently very vague, and would have a chilling effect on free speech. The Society is calling for a stronger civil society response to counter extremism, and is critical of an approach that relies too much on new legislation.

The Christian Institute also criticised the proposed “Extremism Disruption Orders”. Simon Calvert, spokesperson for the Christian Institute, said: “While everyone applauds the principle of tackling Islamic extremism, comments by David Cameron and other senior members of the Government suggest EDO’s will exceed even Labour’s notorious religious hatred Bill or Section 5 of the Public Order Act.”

The NSS and the Christian Institute worked together, along with other civil liberties organisations to defeat the then-Labour Government’s proposals to criminalise “deliberately insulting a religion.”

Mr Calvert continued: “Last year the Government was forced to back down on proposals to outlaw ‘being annoying in a public place’. Now it looks like they are returning to their theme with a vengeance.

“The Christian Institute warns the Government not to rush through these measures, but to engage with groups with a track record of defending free speech.

“In the current climate, there is a real risk that EDOs will be used to clamp down on legitimate expressions of dissent.

“If the Government does not ensure that there are adequate safeguards, then, because of the low burden of proof, it is perfectly plausible that comedians, satirists, campaign groups, religious groups, secularist groups, and even journalists could find themselves subject to these draconian measures.”

A Telegraph editorial called on the Government to safeguard free speech, and argued that “In trying to protect democracy, the Government should be careful not to water down further our most precious value: freedom of expression.”

The Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank, was also critical of the Government’s plans.

Yet another secularist writer murdered in Bangladesh

Ananta Bijoy Das and Avijit Roy

From The Guardian, 12 May 2015: A secular blogger has been hacked to death in north-east Bangladesh, the third such deadly attack this year.

Police said Ananta Bijoy Das was murdered as he headed to work at a bank in the city of Sylhet, an attack that fellow writers said highlighted a culture of impunity.

Kamrul Hasan, commissioner of Sylhet police, said a group of about four masked attackers pounced on Das with machetes at about 8.30am on Tuesday on a busy street in Bangladesh’s fifth-largest city.

Read more…

It appears that Ananta Bijoy Das had been refused a visa to attend a writers’ conference in Sweden, as the death threats against him led the consulate to consider it a risk he might not return home.

See also BBC report.

It appears also that the Bangladesh government is reluctant to upset Islamists by investigating the murders and threats too closely.

‘There is a threat to British values – the British government’

I am including this to raise awareness of the issue. The new Government is undertaking laws against freedom of speech. Given that this government is committed to promoting ‘faith’, it’s not too difficult to see that those who criticise religion can easily be labelled ‘extremist’. Unlike most democracies, we don’t have a constitution and a court that can rule such laws unconstitutional.

Caroline Lucas MP writes: A Conservative government has been in power for less than a week, and already our fundamental human rights are under threat.
It has been announced today that the Queen’s Speech will contain plans for banning orders intended to limit the “harmful activities” of extremists. The detail of the plans are chilling.
They are part of a strategy to promote “British values” including freedom of speech and democracy, yet they’ll actually prevent people from exercising those very values. According to the proposals, anyone who undertakes activities that cause harassment, alarm or distress, could be faced with a high court order requiring them to submit anything they plan to publish online, in print, or even on social media, to the police.
That means actions like placing 200 body bags on the beach in my constituency of Brighton Pavilion, as Amnesty International did last month, could be prevented, and Amnesty subjected to police censorship. That act was distressing because it brought home the reality of the suffering endured by migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. But it was also powerfully important in raising awareness, and encouraging moves to prevent further tragedies.
The planned banning orders for “extremists” are particularly concerning. They are intended to hit not only organisations that incite hatred on the grounds of gender, race or religion, but also those who seek to “undermine democracy”. Does that mean campaigners like the Electoral Reform Society, who call for an overhaul of our democratic systems as they stand, could be outlawed? The phrasing is simply too vague to rule it out.
The national extremism database currently includes the names of people who have undertaken such “extreme” activities as organising meetings on environmental issues. That suggests people like me, who push for strong action on climate change, could be outlawed if we so much as come together to plan a protest. Read more…

Report on April meeting: A not-so-grim look at death

A report by one of our members on the talk given to SHG by Matthew Simpson.

Maybe death is the real ‘last taboo’ today. It has become somewhat invisible in our society, unlike in the past where many children would witness, say, the death of a grandparent.

Matthew Simpson pointed this out in a highly entertaining way, and went on to propose an idea which had certainly not occurred to me, that the biggest difference between atheists and those with a religion is not belief in a god, but belief or non-belief in an afterlife.

He talked about how as we cease to talk about death, belief flourishes in fairies, vampires, guardian angels, out-of-body experiences and psychics.

But do believers really, deeply believe in an afterlife? Surely then a death would then be cause for rejoicing, at least for the person moving on.

To a non-believer the impermanence of life actually enhances it. It is important to remove the fear of death. Many religious people think, quite wrongly, that atheists will change their minds at the end of life, and can adopt be a patronising attitude.

Matthew finds, as a Humanist celebrant, that people realise at Humanist funerals there is clearly no fear, and that this can be sensed. However, with any death, it is those left behind who are in want of comfort. Here Humanists can help, maybe at funerals and through chaplaincy. The NHS spends a great deal of money on religious chaplains, but very little on non-religious, although there are signs this could be changing.

So what is death like? Describing it as akin to sleep is not helpful. We dream in sleep, and in the end wake up. It is probably better to describe it as being the same as before we were born.

Matthew left us with several quotes on this subject from some respected thinkers.

It is hard to believe anyone could make this topic as acceptable and relaxed as Matthew did. I won’t tell you the answers to his quiz in case you have not yet heard him speak. (But apparently it is true that President Jackson’s pet parrot was removed from Jackson’s state funeral when it started swearing!)

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