Two news items: are they related?

Poll: Young people turn decisively against religion
Tuesday, 25 June 2013 9:26 AM By Ian Dunt at

Young people in Britain have turned against religion, with many considering it a source of evil, a new poll suggests.A YouGov poll for the Sun found intense hostility towards religion among 18-24 year olds and very low levels of belief in God.

Forty-one per cent of young people told pollsters ‘religion is more often the cause of evil in the world’ while only 14% said it was a cause for good. Asked which figures had influence in their lives, religious leaders came bottom, with only 12% saying they were influenced by them.
That was a lower figure even than for politicians, who scored 38%, brands, which scored 32% or celebrities, who scored 21%.

Twenty-five per cent of young people said they believed in God, 19% believed in a non-Godlike ‘spiritual greater power’ and 38% were atheists who didn’t believe in any greater spiritual power. Read more…

Church Could Take Control Of Secular Schools Under New Deal, Report Says
4 July 2013 PA/The Huffington Post UK

The Church of England could be given the power to run thousands of secular schools, the Times has reported, in a move that could “bring the education system under religious control” according to secular campaigners.

Read more…

Reason Week at the University of Birmingham, 25 February to 1 March

25th Feb – 1st March 2013  is Reason Week at the University of Birmingham Atheist, Secular & Humanist Society (UB:ASH), and they have some interesting talks and discussions lined up.  These are open to all. Unfortunately they haven’t given exact details of all events so confirm times and locations at their Facebook page.

List of speakers – rooms and times to be confirmed:
Monday 25 Feb: Andrew Copson (Chief Executive of the BHA) – Blasphemy by the Backdoor
Tuesday 26 Feb: Maryam Namazie (Human rights activist) – Apostasy and Freedom of Conscience. Arts Building Room 201
Wednesday 27 Feb: David Pollock (Former President of the European Humanist Federation) – The Church’s Influence on Education
Thursday 28 Feb: Dr Allan Hayes (University of Leicester)- topic to be confirmed
Friday 1 March: Prof. Paul Sturges (Loughborough University)- Defamation of Religion

Lunch time (13:00-14:00) discussions and collaborations – rooms to be confirmed:
Monday 25 Feb: Collaboration with Interfaith Association – Interfaith Marriage
Tuesday 26 Feb: Collaboration with Christians in Science – Has Science Buried God?
Wednesday 27 Feb: Collaboration with Islamic Society – Islamophobia
Thursday 28 Feb: Collaboration with Fetish Society and LGBTQ – Sexuality and Religion
Friday 01 March: Collaboration with Philosophy Society – Euthanasia: The Right to Die

UB:ASH writes: 

The  UB:ASH is proud to present Reason Week 2013 –  an exclusive event with opportunities to inquire, and hopefully leave you feeling inspired!”We will be joined by other student societies to engage in frank, but respectful discussions about issues relating to religion, science and their impact on everyday life, as well as welcoming high-profile speakers who will be giving lectures on various interesting topics. This is a free and open event, so come along if you have any burning questions, a thirst for knowledge, or you simply want to learn what other people think. We are very excited to host Reason Week, and we hope to see as many of you there as possible.

“N.B.: As a group, we promote tolerance and respect. Religion is a topic that needs academic challenge, not conflict. So agression will not be tolerated. We encourage people from every belief group to come along and participate in what we hope will be engaging discussions, and to learn what other groups think without giving or taking offense.”

It doesn’t matter whether you are current student / ex-student / aspiring student / never been a student  ……you are welcome to attend.

Humanism – news and action!

We have put a feed of news items from our national organisation, the British Humanist Association, in the left sidebar of this blog.

We urge all local humanists and secularists to read these. Clicking on the title of each item will take you to the BHA web site where you can read the news item in full.

Many of these items request help from the public, where a contribution can really make a difference in influencing the government, your MP or another body. As I write, the BHA is requesting supporters to respond to the schools admissions code consultation and to write to their MPs to make the case for secularism in contracting out government services.

Please read and act, and let us know about it, especially if you get a response.

Charity single

The Great Divide is a Liverpool based guitar band who are planning to release a single to coincide with the Pope’s visit to the UK. The song is a comment on religion in the 21st century and all profits from UK sales will be donated to a secular based charity that works with victims of child abuse (for example, NAPAC).

You can listen to a rough mix of the song at The song will be released in a downloadable format on 13 September. In order to maximise publicity and enable the track to chart as high as possible, the band is encouraging people to download the track on a specific date.

The band feel the song has the ability to cross over in to the mainstream of popular music and is an ideal platform to promote the secular message, stimulate debate and engage young people.

(The band is not associated with Shropshire Humanist Group – for further information contact Chris Jones.)

A Christian approach to public service

Recently-elected councillor Pat McCarthy found the inclusion of prayers as the first item on any agenda of the Wellington Town Council to be an uncomfortable anomaly. He was told he could absent himself for the first part of the business if he didn’t like it, and maybe he shouldn’t have applied to be a councillor if he wasn’t willing to take part!

Subsequently, Pat tabled a motion asking for the prayers to be an optional event prior to  the agenda’d business. In support of this sensible position, Derek, as chair of the Shropshire Humanist Group, requested permission to speak in the debate.

So, Derek and myself attended the council meeting on 11th May, together with another lady who had also asked to make a statement. Prior to the meeting, the mayor explained that (interestingly) the usual half-hour for  public comment had been suspended for this meeting and that if there was actually no council debate on the motion but an immediate vote called, it might be difficult for him to invite speakers from the `gallery’. However, reassured that Derek did not intend to be antagonistic and ‘bring the council into disrepute’, he promised to invoke a paragraph of standing orders which gave him the right, as Chair, to allow speakers after the vote. Re-assured, we sat down.

The meeting started not, as I had thought, with a quick prayer similar to a grace at table, but a full-blown five minutes of Church of England service with chanted responses and ending with the Lord’s Prayer in unison.  That was Item 1!

Pat’s proposition was no. 21 (b) on the agenda, but they did eventually get to it. He was invited to read it. A councillor immediately shouted for a vote. Another member’s hand was up to make a statement, but she was shouted down. A vote had been called for (indeed shouted for) and if anyone tried to say anything, including the chair, they too were shouted at. A vote was taken to have a vote, seconders were found after the event and then a vote on the proposition followed hot upon its heels. Pat was not invited to  speak to his motion; there was no opportunity for debate and the timid suggestion by the mayor that the outside speakers should make their statements was likewise comprehensively shouted down.

Smug with their little victory, like a gang of bullies in a playground, the opposition councillors quietly congratulated themselves on their successful intimidation. Are they so fearful of hearing that some of their colleagues and constituents may have different beliefs and world-views to theirs?

Pat’s seconder, a Muslim councillor, was unable to be at the meeting, quite possibly cowed by the thought of having to face this mindless intimidation. No wonder ‘tradition’ persists unchanged in our backwaters.

Sue Falder

Derek wrote the following letter to the Shropshire Star:

Dear Sir,

In discussion with the Mayor elect prior to the meeting, it was agreed that any debate on Councillor McCarthy’s motion regarding prayers at Council meetings should be conducted in a manner that did not bring the Council into disrepute.

The bully boy tactics that prevented Councillor McCarthy from speaking to a motion that had been properly presented and  appeared on the order paper, were a blatant denial of the fundamental right of free speech and reflected considerable discredit on those responsible.

The fact that the meeting opened with prayers that were an invocation for tolerance and understanding of those with different views, who are charged with the responsibility of making difficult decisions, added an element of farce to the proceedings. It was apparent from the display of boorish bigotry that followed that it would be more appropriate for the Councillors to recite the Queensberry rules in unison.

Derek Woodvine,

Chair, Shropshire Humanist Group.

The name for not having a religion

I think I was fortunate in my ‘spiritual’ upbringing. My parents sent their children to a Congregational Sunday school, but they never showed any evidence of religious belief and I suspect that was mainly to get us from under their feet on Sunday morning. (This was in the days when children could be trusted to walk a couple of miles by themselves.) And, conveniently, we could collect the ice cream for Sunday lunch from the sweetshop on the way home. I can remember very little of the experience that had anything to do with religion, although I enjoyed the social side of it (including quizzes led by our young teacher instead of bible lessons!) and discussions on all sorts of things, including psychic phenomena and non-belief. I read plenty of books, including Bertrand Russell. I had a sort of kind of type of vague sixties view of a supernatural being until my late teens. And then it just went.

Before I went to University, I discovered the local Young Humanist group, and on going up I found that the university Humanist Group was one of the largest and most active student societies. It had a major speaker every week and a Sunday afternoon discussion. I even joined the committee for a while, although I drifted off as I followed other interests.

The issue came up a while ago as to whether I’m an “atheist”, but I don’t see any reason to call myself that. I don’t like the word. It’s defined by theists, to imply an opposition to their own point of view, regarded as some kind of standard. I simply don’t have a religion. My own lack of belief in any god or supernatural power is exactly the same as my lack of belief in fairies, tree-spirits, ghosts or interstellar teapots. What all these have in common (apart, perhaps, from the teapot) is that people have expressed a belief in them, without presenting any evidence at all. But I don’t call myself an ‘afairyist’ or ‘aghostist’.

There is always the possibility that there is some first cause, ground of existence, transcendent force, Supreme Being or what-have-you, but as it never seems to make its existence known by any effects in the real world I just remain ‘agnostic’ to it.

All the arguments for the existence of God, whatever their merit, are really irrelevant to the real world. People do not practice ‘faith’ or believe in ‘God’ – they practise specific religions, which make very specific assertions about what their god is and what he wants from humans: he was crucified and rose again, he wants you to fast every year and to pray five times a day, or not to work on a Saturday, and always to regard other religions as mistaken. As far as I know, no theologian has ever been able to make that leap by argument from ‘God’ to any specific god that people really believe in. There is only one argument that really matters in religion, and that is ‘my revelation (or my teacher’s revelation) is better than your revelation’. It is at root a remarkably self-centred attitude. I would like to think that one need not be concerned about convincing people to abandon their beliefs, only to convince them not to force the beliefs on other people. However, because of the nature of theistic belief, anyone who believes something different, even another theistic doctrine, will always be a threat and a source of ‘offence’.

In organised religion, this is backed up by force and ultimately violence: ‘God’ threatens retribution if you don’t behave as he wishes, but since he unaccountably fails to do this, it must be enforced by old men, often with beards. And, if that doesn’t work, the young men will come and get you on their behalf.

I guess that, like most people, I could describe myself using various terms. I don’t believe any ontological claim without good reason – that probably makes me a ‘sceptic’ (this is entirely different from denying that something exists, either without evidence or disregarding good evidence). My attitude to discovering what exists is both ‘critical rationalist’ (after Karl Popper) and ‘scientific’. To the (considerable) extent that religious people try to force their beliefs on others, I am a ‘secularist’, that is, someone who thinks that people should be entitled to their beliefs, but that no religion should be an organising principle for society.

It seems clear that the origin of moral beliefs is based on people’s shared humanity, with an innate core of (not necessarily consistent) emotional responses that originated from our evolution as a social species. These beliefs are modified and added to (and not infrequently perverted) by religion and culture. Equally it is possible to modify them and add to them through rational thought, based on what best benefits individuals, society and the wider environment on which we are all dependent. I’d call this a form of ‘humanism’.

Richard Burnham

Religion – A secular view

By Gordon Hillier

I prepare this note as a person who has only recently become a ‘humanist’ in formal terms – at least as I have interpreted the word ‘humanism’. That, in the simplest terms, is to believe ‘that man controls his own destiny’, In other words, there is not, nor ever has been, a ‘Supreme Being’ or any such supernatural influence upon this planet or upon any processes or living thing hereon.

Through most of my late teens and adult life I became increasingly sceptical of religious teaching of all denominations – for many reasons beyond the scope of these notes. Suffice to say that I accept logical and rational explanations of all events that have occurred on this earth – from the ‘beginning’ (the big bang?) to the present. This includes the evolution of the human race and its behaviour, both individually and collectively, through pre-history to today. The argument that certain things or happenings cannot be explained in purely scientific or holistic terms does not negate my opinion – there is still much to learn! In fact I will accept the idea of a ‘life force’, for want of a better term, which has not, and may never be, defined – but which may exist as a product of animal and human minds and as a product of evolution. After all, what is ‘instinct’ in both the lower animals and in human animals, what controls activities such as migration……?

So I embrace the concept of evolution in the human mind as well as body, from the development of territorial behaviour to protect the group by the dominant male, to the formation of tribes each with different behaviour and customs, and so on to ‘super-tribes’ and thence to nations in historic times. With this simple concept (perhaps expressed here in too simple terms), surely one can understand the progression of humanity to the present potentially catastrophic global situation, where human is pitted against human, nation against nation. The need to protect has now become, by development of a powerful intellect and the acquisition of knowledge about all earthly things, a tool for domination by the powerful over the weak, very often in the name of religion. And so ‘goodness1 and ‘badness’ can be ascribed to human actions, and the effects thereof, which may be good or bad for the society that is involved. Consequently, words such as ‘morality’ and ‘conscience’, which can be (and should be) defined in a nonreligious context, have been taken and exhaustively redefined in many different forms by ‘philosophers’ until the straight-forward meanings relating directly to ‘goodness’ or otherwise, has been obscured by jargon and religious hypocrisy.

Hence, whether a religious institution is Christian, Islamic, Buddhist or any other is of no consequence to me. It is evident to me that their doctrines and teachings give rise equally to goodness and badness in their followers, depending upon the degree of moderation or extremism brought about in the individual human. I cannot believe in the existence of a ‘Supreme Being, God or Gods’ or that such beings could directly control human actions in any way whatsoever. But of course, those with faith in such religion as they may believe in will be influenced to a greater or lesser degree by their teachers in that faith. Their subsequent actions may be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ with respect to other humans, this goodness or otherwise being explained and accepted as having been given by the god or gods of their faith.

With that background in mind, it may be understood that I have had no need for the philosophers and apologists to help my deliberations regarding the acceptance of humanism as my philosophy of life. My sympathy is with those who need to use religion as a comforter and a crutch. Such deliberations are behind me, and no feelings of confusion and doubt remain – I am content.

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