humanism

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A new poster campaign from the British Humanist Campaign that suggests people should try to avoid indoctrinating children into religious (and other) beliefs seems to have riled certain sectors of society.  The posters feature a couple of happy kids (of which more later) on a backdrop of ideologies and religions, with a slogan in the font and colour scheme familiar from the atheist bus campaign.

Please dont label me

The billboards seem to antagonise religious people (though notice the grey captions in the background aren’t restricted to religions).  For example in Befast, that hotbed of religious tolerance, we see in the Belfast Telegraph (Humanist poster stirs up religious storm) that

Reverend David McIlveen from the Free Presbyterian Church said: “It is none of their business how people bring up their children. It is the height of arrogance that the BHA would even assume to tell people not to instruct their children in the religion. I would totally reject the advertisement. It is reprehensible and so typical of the hypocrisy of the British Humanist Association today. They have a defeatist attitude and are just trying to draw attention to themselves. I think it is totally arrogant, presumptuous and sparks of total hypocrisy. I believe this doesn’t deserve a counter campaign. I will be expressing my public position on it in my own church on Sunday. I will be saying that this advert is another attack on the Biblical position of the family and will be totally rejecting it.”

I call this sad and pathetic.  It’s not telling people how to bring up their kids, it suggesting we might leave kids to make their own minds up in their own time.  How is it an attack on the Biblical position of the family?  Has the Rev McIlveen read the poster?  Elsewhere the press seems equally exercised.  Ruth Gledhill over at The Times (Children who front Richard Dawkins’ atheist ads are evangelicals) gleefully reports that:

The two children chosen to front Richard Dawkins’s latest assault on God could not look more free of the misery he associates with religious baggage. With the slogan “Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself”, the youngsters with broad grins seem to be the perfect advertisement for the new atheism being promoted by Professor Dawkins and the British Humanist Association.

Except that they are about as far from atheism as it is possible to be. The Times can reveal that Charlotte, 8, and Ollie, 7, are from one of the country’s most devout Christian families.

Her satisfaction at this news is shared by a variety of evangelicals.  However the backers of the poster campaign point out that

“That’s one of the points of our campaign,” said Andrew Copson, the association’s education director. “People who criticise us for saying that children raised in religious families won’t be happy, or that no child should have any contact with religion, should take the time to read the adverts.

“The message is that the labelling of children by their parents’ religion fails to respect the rights of the child and their autonomy. We are saying that religions and philosophies — and ‘humanist’ is one of the labels we use on our poster — should not be foisted on or assumed of young children.”

Well, exactly.  And it’s really quite telling that the religious axis seem to be so thoroughly paranoid that they regard any questioning of the indoctrination of children into any belief system – political and religious to be an attack on their superstitious claptrap.

It’s not just christians that take umbrage.  Also from the Belfast Telegraph is this gem:

Father-of-four Sheikh Anwar Mady from the Belfast Islamic Centre added: “We believe that every child is born as a Muslim. Religion is not given by the family, but it is a natural religion given by our God at birth. The role of the family is to teach the traditions of the faith. But that faith is implanted at birth.”

This chap is claiming every child as a muslim.  How does that square with his fellow-travellers in mystic mumbo-jumbo?

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Well, it looks as though the splendidly anachronistic daily Radio 4 slot Thought for the Day will remain the province of a variety of a number of religious types (often spectacularly dotty). The Guardian reports (BBC rejects call for non-religious speakers on Thought for the Day) that the BBC Trust has in the face of serious lobbying from the Church of England (among others) rejected calls from Humanist organisations that TftD doesn’t breach impartiality by not including views from atheists, secularists and humanists.

The NSS president, Terry Sanderson, said: “Naturally we are very disappointed. This is a campaign we have been waging for 50 years, ever since Thought for the Day and its predecessors were first broadcast on the BBC. Every edition of Thought for the Day is a rebuke to those many people in our society who do not have religious beliefs.”

In contrast, of course, the religious establishment is delighted. The Guardian reports a Church of England spokesman as saying:

“We are glad that the BBC Trust has protected a unique slot in Radio 4′s schedule where religious views from across the faith communities of the UK can be expressed openly. Thought for the Day is highly valued by people of all faiths and none as a distinctive slot that, if diluted, would have become nothing more than just another comment slot.”

It would indeed be interesting to know whether it is indeed valued by people of all faiths and none. I mean other than as an object of ridicule. And why indeed are the faith-based opinions on current news stories of any worth whatsoever? And is it really the case that they don’t have other opportunities to pontificate away to their heart’s content “openly”?

Of course, there’s a brighter side to this arbitrary and unreasonable decision, continued meat for the very excellent website Platitude of the Day, which can now continue to present entertaining interpretations of the latest drivel emitted by representatives of a variety of faiths, often based on dusty mediaeval or bronze age texts purporting to represent the views of a number of Invisible Magic Friends (all mutually incompatible). Indeed the news is reported there as Glad Tidings:

I bring glad tidings of great joy to my flock of sheep. Thought For The Day will continue in its present form! You realise what this means? Yes, Platitude Of The Day will also continue in its present form.

I knew that the good, noble, principled, unelected people of the BBC trust would not let me down.

As a matter of interest, has a Church of Scientology representative ever been invited to the god-spot? After all, their batty beliefs aren’t really that much more batty than any of the others on display in Thought for the Day…

You can read the BBC Trust Press Release here.

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The Daily Telegraph reports (Britain is no longer a Christian nation) on the declining participation in the Church of England.  Despite modest increases in church attendance for Easter and Christmas, congregations continue to decline, at around 1% a year.  The article claims this makes it unlikely that the Church will survive 30 years from now, though I don’t know on what evidence that is based.

Fortunately for the C of E, the size of donations has increased as the number declines – but this may not be able to cope with the large infrastructure they need to maintain.  More statistics in the article:

  • Church closures expected to rise from 30 to 200 a year in five years’ time
  • The church has to maintain 16,200 buildings, 4,200 of which are listed Grade I
  • Baptisms into the C of E now at a record low of 128 per 1000 births (in 1900 this was 609)

The author of the article is Rt Rev Paul Richardson, the assistant Bishop of Newcastle.  He clearly thinks the Church of England isn’t facing up to this threat in a realistic way.  He worries that the Church of England may no longer deserve to be the established church, pointing out:

The reason offered for upholding establishment is usually that it gives the church a sense of responsibility to the whole nation. In practice it often looks as if the church is really trying to keep its special privileges on false pretences.

In fact, it’s increasingly looking as though Bishops will get the heave-ho from the House of Lords.  A report, also from the Daily Telegraph – Bishops ‘could be banished from the House of Lords’ – indicated one option to be included in a paper to be published by Jack Straw will be for an entirely elected upper house:

One option under consideration is a move towards an all-elected upper house. In the new, elected House of Lords, there would be no seats reserved for Church of England bishops or any other religious leaders.

The more likely option however is a partly elected upper house, a proposition which will find more favour with the Conservatives (and anyway, I suppose the next Government might well be Conservative):

A less radical option being discussed is for an 80 per cent elected Lords, with the remaining seats reserved for appointed members and others such as the bishops.
Advocates of the 80 per cent option say it would allow the Lords to retain the expertise of some of the distinguished academics, scientists, lawyers, medics, economists and generals who now sit as life peers.

But it’s not clear how much longer the Church of England can claim the right to be the established church.  Not is it obvious to me as an atheist where bodies like the Church of Scotland fit the picture.  And above all, I worry what’s filling the vacuum left by the decline in participation in the main churches – it doesn’t seem to me that people are necessarily moving towards secularism, but rather towards fringe religions and new-age claptrap.  At least that’s the sort of impression one gets reading surveys of belief and evolution run by organisations such as Theos.

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There are a set of 12 new “God Trumps” trading cards over at New Humanist (God Trumps Part II).  I happen to particularly like the Jedi Knight card (click on the thumbnail).  Also be sure to check out the first set of trading cards here.

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George Hargreaves (a minister and leader of the Christian Party) has posted a terribly aggrieved article at The Guardian’s Comment is Free (Our answer to the atheists).  In the article, he grumbles how:

over the past month I have had to be at my most tolerant as the 149 bus passes my office bearing the words “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

Well, he’s upset is he?  George should just get on with his life.  As an atheist, I have to deal with a considerable barrage of religious tosh thrust at me via quite a range of media, including bus adverts. He’s advocating a religious backlash in the shape of their own bus adverts.  He goes on:

[...] atheists and humanist are, of course, a minority group. Most people, whilst not being attached to an “organised religion”, do believe in God. There is, as it were, an innate recognition of God in mankind. The Bible does, however, say “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.’ (Proverbs 26:5). Our party’s bus advertising campaign, which says “There is definitely a God. So join the Christian party and enjoy your life”, does just that – it answers the foolishness of the atheist and humanist ad. Indeed, the recent Advertising Standards Authority ruling on the humanist ad seems to suggest that we all can express our opinions on the side of buses. So from next week our adverts will compete alongside the atheist ads in a simple case of “Don’t get mad, get your own advert up.”

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