Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Letter to David Cameron

January 28th, 2010 1 comment

When Chris posted his open letter to David Cameron on his blog earlier this week it got me thinking about whether any of the main political parties took humanism and the non-religious community seriously, or whether they just saw them as an unimportant fringe sectio of society that would basically not care about the religious aspects of their party’s policies.

I have tended to vote for a Conservative candidate in general eelctions, although how much this has to do with modern Conservative policies over my liking of the candidate and the fact I believed his promises to me more than his competitors is still under consideration, and for a variety of individuals in local elections. This means that although I am broadly conservative in my political leanings (I believe in a small government, privatisation, free market economy and the need for aspiration to be rewarded not punished) I have voted Lib Dem, Labour and independent a number of times. The basis of these decisions usually revolved around what the individual stance was in secularism and supporting local initiative and enterprise.

Whilst David Cameron may not feel that charitable action is something the non-religious excell at, I dn’t think this is the view amongst all Conservative MP’s. The Rt Hon Michael Jack MP has always shown a passion and understanding for local charitable initiatives regardless of their religious (or lack of) denomination.

The Labour party has similar divisions. Tony Blair founded the Tony Blair Faith Foundation yet there are many Labour MP’s that sit on the Parliamentary Humanist Group.

I have stolen Chris’s concept and written to my MP and a number of high profile members of the governemnt and the opposition to ask for a clarification on their party’s views on this subject. I will post their responses (If I get them) on this site.

Selling education

July 25th, 2009 No comments

I have been involved in the atheist community for a little over four years now and I have often pondered the question on how atheists and humanists can actually convince other people that their worldview is just as fulfilling and worthwhile as any other, particularly the religious world views.

I first dabbled in an organised atheist society when I joined Leeds Atheist Society, the student society for atheists and associated free thinkers at the University of Leeds. Drawn by the prospect of heated debate and intellectual stimulation I quashed the feeling of unease that most atheists have at the back of their minds when considering any form of organisation for atheists. Within a few months I had converted to a believer in the necessity and usefulness of a society for atheists. This conversion enabled me to take on more and more responsibility within the organisation, delivering talks and lectures and after six months I was elected Secretary. This committee position meant that I now had to consider not only what I wanted from the society but how the society should develop and what it should provide for its members. This led me to first really think about the atheist brand and how best to sell the worldview that excludes a supreme being or beings, that excludes absolute morality and embraces rational, sceptical thought as its cornerstones.

The year I served as Secretary saw Leeds Atheist Society develop some tools with which to answer these questions, namely the One Life course aimed at non self-identifying atheists on how a secular world view could offer the same benefits and comfort as a religious one. The society itself also tried to start opening up its appeal to a wider audience by reducing the reliance on anti-religion themes and embracing a more educational feel to its meetings.

Whilst a lot was achieved, I felt more could be done to increase the appeal of the society to religious students as well as our traditional base, the atheists and agnostics. It was on this agenda that I ran for President in April 2008; as ever in a small society, the competition for committee places was low and I was elected unopposed to run the group.

The year I was in presidency saw a lot of changes to the attitudes and direction of the society. We introduced a second and third course, Perspective and Answers respectively. The former gave a soapbox to a different religious speaker each week to give a talk and explain their world view and then accept questions from the audience. The purpose of this course was to promote understanding of the world views that we are trying to compete with. The course was a resounding success and really helped develop our image on campus. Answers was a course designed to develop the debating and speaking skills of our members so that they had the ability to discuss their own world view with a sound understanding of what it was they actually believed.

The whole year had a very education theme to it, with many talks and debates on important moral and ethical issues as well as trying to define exactly what it meant to hold an atheist world view.

Through my work with Leeds Atheist Society, I got involved with setting up the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS) and ended up serving as its president for seven unforgettable months. The AHS raised many questions around the idea of selling the atheist world view. One of our main aims was to promote and facilitate the formation of new societies across the UK.

Alongside the formal involvement with the atheist community which fired by interest in the idea of developing the atheist brand, I have had the pleasure of working with a number of other people that have also had a passion for the question. My friend and colleague at Leeds Atheist Society and the AHS, Chris Worfolk, is a keen believer in the idea of spreading the atheist and particularly the humanist world view through charitable work and direct action. Chris, through his foundation, has set up and continues to be heavily involved with the Humanist Action Group, Leeds Skeptics as well as serving as president of the Leeds Atheist Society whilst a student and sitting as a trustee of the AHS since his graduation. His article in the inaugural edition of Secular Future (the AHS’s quarterly newsletter) was the spark that ignited my desire to document my grappling with this topic.

Chris believes that the only way to develop the atheist and humanist brand is to compete directly with the religious brands. That means offering the rewards that can be found by being involved with those ideas. Humanist Action Group offers a range of charitable activities with its current focus being on feeding the homeless of Leeds and offering community services such as graffiti removal. Leeds Skeptics provides an environment for sceptical discussion and a number of social opportunities too.

Richard Parker, medical doctor and co-founder of Humanist Action Group, is another friend and colleague that believes quite strongly in community action to help sell the atheist and humanist world views. Richard considers that one of the best ways to build the brand is to make an impact on both the practical and political fronts. Richard’s has long considered how he can make the difference by being involved with local and national government.

Whilst community action and involvement are clearly practical ways to offer the physical rewards that religious charity offers its followers I am left feeling that there needs to be more effort made to compete with the spiritual and emotional needs of adherents to a secular world view.

Religion offers a number of benefits that atheists cannot compete with; eternal life, salvation, love, forgiveness, security and absolute truth being a few examples. Whilst academically an atheist or humanist can refute the philosophy of the examples, they cannot offer an alternative. It is no good for an atheist to say they eternal life is a fiction and that absolute truth is a myth if they cannot offer a suitable alternative. In many ways, belief in these ideals is like an addiction. The believers are unwilling to cold turkey; they do not want to just give up their warm, fuzzy feelings of comfort and easy answers. They need an alternative, they need something to help wean them off a religious world view that, most surveys say, their adherence to is cursory and towards the atheist or humanist one.

Many atheists will not agree with that conclusion as they feel that an atheist’s role is not to convert people to “atheism” and on the whole I agree with them. The issue here is that I am not advocating conversion but merely the recognition by the majority that their apparent world view does not actually explain how they see the world.

The biggest question of all is what can we use to replace those emotional and spiritual crutches outlined above? My gut instinct is the same now as it was during my time as officer of the Leeds Atheist Society, education. Educating people about what atheists thing and believe, what it means to be a humanist, how a life as a non-believer is richer and more rewarding that the alternative.

I would urge fellow atheists and humanists to accept this challenge and start teaching people what it is you believe, not what you don’t believe!

Party Time!

July 27th, 2008 No comments

Friday night saw two landmarks.

1) I finshed my O2 training, so I am allowed to talk to real people about real problems from Monday!

2) We had our housewarming party.

The party was pretty good, it started really slowly – 5 people when I got home from work at 10pm – but it picked up nicely by the end. I was a little worried that it wouldn’t as we do live some whay away from the rest of the gang and the majority of students cannot be bothered to make the two buses to get to our house. The only disappointing thing was that a couple of mates from work flaked on me and didn’t turn up. Kudos to Dan for turning up and staying even though he didn’t know anyone! James and Mike suck!!

I was suitably drunk by the end of the evening as were most people, which is always a good sign. We also had a full house as most people stayed over.

Spent a lot of the night arguing about politics which was very grown up fo us, except the topic was socialism which is very studenty. Most people grow out of socialism when they get a job!

All in all though, a good night!

Norman for Faith and Culture

March 12th, 2008 1 comment

I have decided to stand for Faith and Culture Rep within the union. This is my mnaifesto…

My name is Norman Ralph and I want to represent you as Faith and Culture Representative for the next academic year!

I am a 4th year student, currently studying Computing and Management. I have a number of years sitting on society committees and relish the opportunity to step up to this unique challenge.

I feel I have the skills and understanding necessary to best represent the diverse group of societies that make up this assembly. I realise the need to combine our strengths yet highlight out uniqueness. I believe that this is best achieved through a combination of inter-society cooperation and support for your individual events.

Why me?

l Vote for me and I will improve communication by:
 Replying to emails within 3 days.
 Becoming the point of contact for more inquiries.
 Working with the Development Coordinator to reduce the turnaround on requests.

l Vote for me and I will improve inter-society cooperation by:
 Ensuring that all societies can contact each other easily.
 Working with societies to increase the number of inter-society events.
 Setting up a Faith and Culture forum to share best practice.

l Vote for me and I will highlight the needs of our societies by:
 Vigorously representing your views at the Societies Executive.
 Ensuring fair and equal access to union facilities.
 Fighting for your funding.

Vote for me. Vote for your future.

Norman The “No!” Man

February 27th, 2008 1 comment

It seems that my political views have led to me acquiring a new nick name, that of Norman the “No!” Man.

This came about due to my big mouth and desire to see democracy work. I was at the Union’s AGM a week or so ago which was followed by the Union’s referendum debate meeting. With student apathy at an all time high, it was astonishing that we actually got around fifty people to turn up! Unfortunately, there was no debate. The proposers for each motion got up and said their piece and there was no opposition. How can you run a debate with no opposition?? As a democratic soul at heart I got up and put forward the opposition cases for one motion at first, but this soon ran into several motions.

The Union were videoing the event and asked the speakers to do some short pieces about their motions and the opposition to the motions. I thus ended up doing a number of video spots about why we shouldn’t ban the Union from using RBS Group as our bank, why we shouldn’t oppose ID cards and why we shouldn’t prevent the university from accepting military research funding.

With all this in mind I have decided that I am going to start a new political blog called based on this nickname. So, as soon as I sort out the site I will be up and running, until then i will probably dedicate part of this site to it.

Referendum Time

February 5th, 2008 2 comments

It’s that time of year again, when the crazy political folk get their soapboxes out and try and make the student population care about the world outside of Neighbours, Deal or No Deal, cheap drinks and Carnage based incidents.

The Union Council passed the following motions meaning they now go on to the referendum ballot paper which every full member of the union gets to vote on. Compare them with the submitted motions here.

Motion 1: Don’t renew the LUU ‘No Platform Policy’– AT SECURE PETITION (330)

Everyone support this – get down to the union and sign the petition! It gives us back our right to free speech!!

Motion 2: Lobby for Activity Groups to have access to the Refectory

This is a good idea, not that it will actaully make any difference seeing as the union couldn’t organise themselves a drink, never mind a piss up in a brewery!

Motion 3: Should this Union support a re-evaluation of the decision to close Bodington Hall?

Not one I actually care about. It is going to happen whatever the outcome of this vote.

Motion 4: Stop the Royal Bank of Scotland/Natwest funding climate change

This is just ridiculous. We are intelligent people able to make up our own minds about who and what we buy from whom. Either ban everything or shut the f*** up!!

Motion 5: ID Cards

It’s already law!! Get over it and move on. If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to worry about.

Motion 6: Should our University accept money from military companies to carry out their research?

YES. Next question…

Motion 7: Should LUU lobby the University for Home Fees to apply to refugees?

NO. Either pay up or get a job like the rest of us.

Motion 8: Oppose the NUS Governance Review

A tricky one, I think that the ideas behind are pretty sound, just not sure how it would actaully work in practice.

Motion 9: Lads mags behind the counter

There are more naked women in Cosmo….

Motion 10: Occupation and education in Iraq – AT SECURE PETITION (750)

Gah. This is basically a mish mash of several motions. They are all rubbish! Stay away from this one.

Fence Sitting Anonymous

August 15th, 2007 2 comments

I’ve just finished reading a blog post on moderation and anti-fundamentalism and it got me thinking about a number of things. Firstly, is the age old question of fundamentalism. Is it wrong to believe something so strongly that you pursue it with all your might, literally in some cases? I still cannot make up my mind, my fellow A-Soc member Chris Worfolk says that moderation in religion is wrong, a cop out even in his article “The problem With Religious Moderates”. I am not entirely convinced by his arguments, I like to think that there is room even within the most deep set of principles for self censorship and the need to balance your convictions against the freedom of those around you. It is important as a religious commentator that balance is given to all arguments. It is fine blasting non-fundamentalists for failing at their religion as long as you continue that crusade against all non-fundamentalists in every walk of life. Every conviction out there can be followed fundamentally. If fundamentalism was to be applauded then shouldn’t we all be members of the BNP or the Communist Party? Extremism is not the same as fundamentalism, I think it is important that is clarified, but all fundamentalists are extremists in the modern sense.

I like the idea of fundamentalism, I think it allows an easy life. The rules and thought processes are simple. you just follow the guidelines set down by your conviction be it religion, racism, anti-semetism or just that all meals must be eaten at the dinner table! However, there is no flexibility in it, which is the crux of the issue for me. We need flexibility. We need to be able to say “wait a minute?”. There must be room for criticism, for question, for reason.

As an atheist I am often barraged with the question, “But, isn’t Atheism a religion?”. I am often forced to concede that certain aspects of the atheists beliefs can be construed as religious. Especially with idealogies such as Buddhism and Humanism. I, however, an neither of the above. I am an atheist. I have no reason to believe ina god or gods, so I don’t. Is it, therefore, possible for me to be a fundamentalist atheist? I am sure that there are many out there who would say that some of my actions within A-Soc and in public could be cinstrued as fundamental. I am not known for my lack of convictions. However, as a rational thinker I require flexibility. None of my convictions are set in stone. This would pique the author of the initial article as he suggests that weak convictions are a curse on society. it would also cause some concern for my esteemed colleague, Chris, as he maintains his convisitons as the bedrock of his motivation to pursue his goals for A-Soc World Domination!

Anyway, I hope some of you enjoyed this little discussion and I welcome your comments on the issue!

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it!

August 1st, 2007 2 comments

As I am sure many of you are aware my life has been in somewhat of a state of flux recently. New housemates, new girlfriend, new friends, new job, new starts, new found enjoyment of life etc etc all add up to something resembling upheaval in my life. I am not generally one for getting too flustered by most things, in fact it is often pointed out as a personality flaw that I tend to not to publicly experience highs or lows.

Well, I thought I would take a few moments and take some sort of stock of where I am at the moment and what I think of a few things.

I will start with my domestic situation. It has come to my attention that I tend to play quite a downer on my family, particularly my parents and that is something that does not accurately reflect my current relationships with both my mother and my father. My mother is a proverbial god send. I do not know where I would be without her. We do not agree on everything and we have been known to have some rather passionate disagreements over the years. I will say though, that we are probably as close now as we have ever been. She is my confidant and the one I seem to turn too when things are hard. I realise that she does tend to only see the worse side of me when we get together, but then I do seem to only turn to her when I am at a loss and cannot fathom any other solution. Anyway, thanks for everything you have done and probably will do over the next few years!

My father is a different matter altogether. He has been absent since I was very young and hence I have never really experienced a father-son relationship with him. To be honest, it was never something that I felt was necessary, not until I moved to Leeds and started to look at my life and try to make some head or tails of it. Since then it has been something of a rollercoaster, with a lot of downs along the way. At the moment though, there seems to be something amiss as we have barely spoken (through no lack of trying on my part) for a a few months now.

Now, onto the good news. Liz and I are flourishing. I think it is safe to say that the initial honey moon period is probably over and yet we are still as strong as ever. Which is always a good sign. I know I have a habit of jumping into these things with both feet, but I feel that if something is worth doing and caring about then its worth doing properly and with all of your heart. It brings to mind one of my favoured quotations, although the name of the quoter escapes me temporarily….”Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.” It always manages to instill me with a sense of duty and inspiration to go out and achieve whatever it is I am aiming for. In summary then, I am in love.

The current friends situation is also quite rosy with no great fallings out going on or any on the horizon. I am probably not paying enough attention to all my friends across the country, but I think I am doing OK. As mentioned previously, I have found a new level of relationship with many of the people I know. Namely, Si and George. Mine and Sarann’s relationship also seems to be going from strength to strength at the moment. I am really loving living with her. I think the closeness of our working relationship over the Summer has really helped and done a massive favour for our personal relationship. I now consider her one of my very closest friends. Otherwise a lot of my friendships are as steady as they ever were and I am still loving my new housemates! It’s turning out to be a lot of fun!

I have been reading a lot this Summer, mainly around atheism and related topics. I am hoping to really get my teeth into running A-Soc this year as Secretary. I’m looking forward to taking a more active role within union politics too. I have a lot to say about a lot of things, not just religion based, although that is my area of knowledge at the moment, and I definitely feel I have a future in politics. I realise that my relatively right wing attitude can often be construed as unhelpful and unproductive in a student environment, but I feel that a lot of my ideas are fairly central and often liberal in nature. I am very much a centre-right thinking person. With traditionally conservative views on crime, punishment, immigration and capitalism. Although my views on families, homosexuality and religion are particularly liberal in stance.

In other news, I am looking forward to Solfest in August, going to prague with Liz for my birthday and the start of the new term. I can’t wait to see how my rediscovered zest for life will be transferred to my work and study environment.

Roll on the rest of Summer!