15 June meeting: Blasphemy and freedom of expression – a matter of life and death, by Paul Sturges

Professor Paul Sturges OBE, Emeritus Professor of Library Studies at Loughborough University

Professor Sturges’ talk will range over the history of the offence of blasphemy in relation to freedom of expression, with examples from some different parts of the world. The examples of blasphemy will include some that would seriously offend religious believers. There will also be accounts of hangings, lashings and horrible murders by people enraged by blasphemy. He will contrast blasphemy laws and their consequences, with laws and international statements on freedom of expression.  In the process he will attempt to draw useful distinctions between critical comment, satire, offensive speech and publication, and incitement to hatred, whilst stressing the value of good manners and consideration for others.

University Centre Shrewsbury, Guildhall, Frankwell Quay, Shrewsbury SY3 8HQ, at 7.30 pm on Thursday 15 June.

BHA responds to the Archbishops’ letter

From the BHA, 6 May 2017

In a letter written to the Parishes and Chaplaincies of the Church of England ahead of the 2017 general election, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have argued for faith to continue to play a central role in politics, and denounced the growing secularism of the United Kingdom.

In the letter, the Archbishops write:

This election is being contested against the backdrop of deep and profound questions of identity. Opportunities to renew and reimagine our shared values as a country and a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland only come around every few generations. We are in such a time. Our Christian heritage, our current choices and our obligations to future generations and to God’s world will all play a shaping role….

Contemporary politics needs to re-evaluate the importance of religious belief. The assumptions of secularism are not a reliable guide to the way the world works, nor will they enable us to understand the place of faith in other people’s lives…

Religious belief is the well-spring for the virtues and practices that make for good individuals, strong relationships and flourishing communities. In Britain, these embedded virtues are not unique to Christians, but they have their roots in the Christian history of our four nations…

Political responses to the problems of religiously-motivated violence and extremism, at home and overseas, must… recognise that solutions will not be found simply in further secularisation of the public realm. Mainstream religious communities have a central role to play; whilst extremist narratives require compelling counter-narratives that have a strong theological and ideological foundation.

Responding to the letter, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘This is a letter to a country that no longer exists. The public today overwhelmingly recognise that sound virtues and ethics are not the preserve of the religious nor “spring” from Christianity. That is just a self-aggrandising lie, and an insult to the majority of the British people who have non-religious beliefs and values and contribute enormously to British life as they have for generations.

‘The Archbishops  are right that our country stands at a crossroads but they are wrong to say that greater religious privilege is the path that will lead to a happier future. The cause of social cohesion and a peaceful society will not be advanced by the special pleading of already powerful elites whose beliefs have no popular support, but by the creation of a shared national life that treats everyone equally, regardless of religion or belief.

‘Polls show that British people also believe that religion is already too privileged. The Church of England in particular often uses that privilege today to harm others. The most glaring example is the way in which many of its fully state-funded schools continue to turn away those of other religions and beliefs in their admissions – a practice that may shortly be extended – and shut out poorer children. If the Archbishops want to do their bit for a better Britain they should put their own house in order before lecturing others.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3072.

Read the letter: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/electionletter_TEXT.pdf

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

Why is the persecution of non-believers worsening?

Bob Churchill of the IHEU discusses the annual Freedom of Thought Report, which highlights state repression and extremist violence worldwide.

This year has seen disquieting trends in global politics: the continued prevalence of Islamist extremism in many parts of the world, and the rise of reactionary populist nativism in others. Perhaps it is no surprise then, that this year’s Freedom of Thought Report is not a happy read. This annual survey of discrimination and persecution against non-religious people across the world has been published by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) since 2012. Here, Bob Churchill, director of communications at the IHEU and editor of the report, answers questions about the report and the status of free thought across the world.

Read more…

Shropshire Humanist Group at the Shrewsbury Cultural Diversity day, Saturday 23rd July

Cultural Diversity DayThe Shropshire Humanist Group has a table/stand at the Shrewsbury Cultural Diversity day on Saturday 23rd July in the Square in Shrewsbury from 12 noon until 4.30pm.

We are there to reflect our humanist support for human rights, our stand against discrimination and to emphasise that, although we live without religion, we support religious freedom as well as the freedom to live without religion.

Iranian blogger: ‘Why I Love Being an Atheist Even Though I Live in Iran’

Here in England, we tend to take religious freedom for granted. But it was not always so. Up to the 18th century, it could be very dangerous to be an atheist, and at the very least there were serious restrictions on non-members of the established church. Even up to the 19th century, you had to be an Anglican to go to university or (apart from Jews or Quakers) to get married.

We may forget that for many people their religion still requires that others should not be allowed to practise their own beliefs freely, and given a chance, they would force that on the rest of us.

In some parts of the world, not believing still can mean death at the hands of the state or of mobs. This is why we can be impressed at the courage of Iranian blogger Kaveh Mousavi (a pseudonym) who would certainly be murdered if he were known. He writes:

So this is what good atheism has done for me: atheism has enabled me to wage a war to liberate those “the few cubic centimeters inside my skull”. It is ultimately a war destined to be lost – I will never not be the child of my time and my place, and I will never be entirely free in my thought. But it is a worthy war to wage nevertheless, for every battle won is a great victory in itself.

Because of atheism I can support democracy, oppose theocracy, support the equal rights for women and LGBT+ people without having to hold sacred a book which embodies the opposite of all these values and I do not have to resolve the mental dissonance of such an intellectual contradiction.

Because of atheism I can easily accept science and not be forced to choose between my dogma and the facts on issues such as evolution or circumcision or masturbation or abortion.

Because of atheism I can laugh at Mohammad and all else that is sacred, and save my outrage for the real injustices in the world, instead of getting angry at harmless satire targeting warlords of the past.

Because of atheism I can indulge in my harmless desires and to consider the naked human body beautiful, not something to be covered in shame.

Because of atheism I can think about the great questions without a God vetoing certain areas and certain concepts. I am not aware of all my unconscious biases and failings of critical thinking, but at least religious ones are not among them.

Atheism is freedom. Atheism does not equal critical thinking, or tolerance, or a truly liberated mind. But atheism is an opportunity, an option, a potential blank slate. To me atheism means that on this Saganian speck of dust we inhabit I find my own destination and I walk my own road and all my accomplishments and all my failures are ultimately my own, no idol is my god and no lord is my shepherd.

And this is something I relish, something that makes all those traumas and abuses worth it.

Read his article in full here.

His blog is here.

Whitehouse consultancy survey of the backgrounds and beliefs of candidates in marginal seats

DSCN8349-edited-Parliament-WestminsterThe next parliament will likely continue to be dominated by white male MPs, but is unlikely to be swayed by any one religion, according to a survey of parliamentary candidates for marginal seats conducted by political communications specialist the Whitehouse Consultancy.

The survey, which was responded to by 225 parliamentary candidates, has found that two thirds (65.9 percent) are male, with 82 percent claiming to be ‘White British’ in origin. Less than four in ten (37 percent) confirmed they believed in a deity, with a third (33.78 percent) claiming to be atheist. More than four in ten candidates (42 percent) claimed to have no religious denomination – with Church of England being the most common (16 percent), followed by Catholicism (12 percent).

The findings follow a recent Win/Gallup poll that found that only 30 percent of Britons claimed to be religious. Other religions were found to be poorly represented in the Whitehouse Consultancy survey, with only two percent of candidates claiming to be Jewish, with two percent claiming to be Muslim and two percent claiming to be Buddhist.

The Whitehouse Consultancy has warned the findings suggest a lack of diversity and that more needs to be done to encourage people of different backgrounds to participate in party politics.

Read more….

The Green Party (49 percent), followed by Labour (48 percent) was found to have the highest percentages of atheist candidates. The Conservatives have the highest percentage of Church of England candidates (41 percent).

The UK is one of the least religious countries in the world, survey finds

From The Independent, 13 April 2015:

The majority of Brits are atheist or agnostic, a poll has found, with only 30% of the population describing themselves as religious.

53% of respondents said they were “not religious”, though only 13% said they were a “convinced atheist” and the remainder said they “did not know”.

The survey, carried out by WIN/Gallup International, questioned 63,898 people around the world (around a thousand per country) creating a ranking of countries by their religiousness.

Out of 65 countries, the UK was sixth from bottom, vastly less religious than Thailand (94% religious) and Armenia, Bangladesh, Georgia and Morocco (93%).

Read more…

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