Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

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.

Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies – a history.

November 13th, 2009 No comments

I was invited to speak at the Humanist Society of West Yorkshire last night on my experience with Leeds Atheist Society and the AHS. This is my first real public speaking engagement since stepping down as AHS president in June this year. Below is an excerpt from the lecture that focusses on my own personal history with these organisations, although my lecture went into a bit more detail about the general history and possible future too.

I want to talk to you about the current burst of enthusiasm amongst students to take on religious societies at their own game and build student societies based around atheist or humanist or secularist principles.

There has been a great flurry of activity over the past two or three years with regards to getting young people, especially students, involved in these societies. Much of this activity has been instigated and masterminded right here in Leeds.

Before I go on to talk about the bigger picture, or even the local picture I want to introduce you to my own personal picture.

It all started when a when an enthusiastic first year friend of mine approached me in a bar to ask if I would sign a petition to request the formation of an Atheist Society at the University of Leeds Student Union. I declined the offer. I wasn’t an atheist, at best I was agnostic. How could I sign the form?

Luckily, that wasn’t the end of story. Whilst I had felt unable to literally sign up as an atheist there and then, it did inspire me to look at the matter in far more detail then I ever had previously. It was with this new found desire to understand atheism that within a month I was standing front and centre at the Atheist Society launch party in January 2007, fully signed up as a proverbial card carrying atheist. By the April of 2007 I was elected Secretary and had taken on a central leadership role within the Society.

This is probably a good time to speak about the growth of the Leeds University Atheist Society, seeing as much of the rest of the talk will branch off from this history as we go on.

As I mentioned before, Leeds Atheist Society was created in December 2006 as the brainchild of Chris Worfolk and quickly established itself as a society of big ideas when it announced that less than six months after forming it would put on a week long awareness event. This event was known as Rationalist Week and is now an annual flagship event for the society and has even been adopted by a number of other student societies and inspired the recent creation by the British Humanist Association’s Humanist Week.

Rationalist Week 2007 was the catalyst that allowed a small group of dedicated members to turn Leeds Atheist Society into the largest and most active student atheist society in the UK.

The society grew from a dozen members in 2006-2007 to fifty members in 2007-2008, making the society one of the fastest growing groups on campus. This growth in popularity did not go unnoticed and the society narrowly missed out on winning “Best New Society” at the annual Students Union awards.

As we moved in to our first full year we put on our first weekend away, taking 12 members to London for a weekend of debate, history and partying. We also ran a constant stream of events ranging from simple talks and lectures through to interfaith debate.

A real feather in the society’s cap was the introduction of the One Life course – a secular look at the important questions in life. The course is aimed at non-atheists and is designed to let them explore the meaning of life and the question of ethics without the need for a god.

I was elected president shortly after Rationalist Week 2008, a week that played host to over 40 events, saw us introduce a more spacious marquis and allowed us to reach in excess of a thousand students.

As president of the society, I helped steer us towards our current vision of education and enlightenment. This means a focus on teaching atheists as well as religious people what being an atheist or a humanist or a secularist really means. The launch of Perspective course also allowed us to teach atheists about other religions.

The society continued to grow and by the end of the 2008-2009 academic year we could boast a membership of just over 100. We also continued to develop Rationalist Week, with the 2009 event going 24/7 with events all day every day for a week. Answers course was also launched in March, aimed at developing our own members’ ability to express themselves and their atheist ideas.

In April 2009, a brand new executive committee took over the running of the society with a new brand of the education vision. The focus of the society is about not just educating our members but helping them to enrich their lives by providing opportunity for charity and helping them discover a way to live a more positive life based on humanist philosophies.

The growing popularity and the ever increasing range of events started to get the attention of other faith groups on campus. A screening of the documentary “What Muslims Want” developed into a heated debate, but nothing compared to some of the difficulties we were to encounter.

During Atheist Week in November 2007 we had our banners stolen in broad daylight and in February 2008 during the run up to my lecture on freedom of speech entitled “We will mock Muhammed if we want to…” I received personal death threats from anonymous Muslims. The society also received several threats from various quarters and in the end I took the decision to self-censor and remove some of the more controversial material from the presentation. Whilst running Rationalist Week 2008, we again had problems with our banners – this time seeing them defaced and covered in religious graffiti.

This problem was highlighted during Rationalist Week 2009 during a debate between Leeds Atheist Society and the Islamic Society. Not only was the atmosphere in the marquis highly charged with personal and religious insults flying around, but a group of Asian men sabotaged our generating equipment and physically threatened a number of our members.

So, I have regaled you with the saga of Leeds Atheist Society and many of you might wonder what this has to do with the growth of the student movement nationally. Well, the reasons that drove our society’s formation are behind many of the societies springing up across the UK.

There are several factors that have been suggested as causing, or helping to cause, this recent phenomenon. The ones I want to look at are the “Atheist Superstars”, the rise of religious fundamentalism and the encroachment of religion into our daily lives.

The deluge of publications that have erupted over the past decade or two has literally swept atheist and humanist ideas into the forefront of the public consciousness. People like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Chris Hitchens and Arianne Sherine have rarely been out of the bestseller lists or off the pages of newspapers since the turn of the century.

Atheism is no longer confined to the meeting rooms of community and education centres, it is no longer associated with dusty tomes and leather patched philosophy teachers. It is part of pop culture now and as such is part of youth culture. I know that several of my friends, and even me, would say that the availability of this material has played a significant role in our taking up of the atheist battle standard.

Another factor is the rise of religious fundamentalism in the Middle East and the USA. It is virtually impossible to watch the news or read a paper or magazine without some reference being made to religious terrorism or some form of extremism – whether it be suicide bombs in Kabul or imprisoned school teachers in Sudan.

Whilst many students do not link their lack of belief directly to fundamentalism, there is a clear link between the religious rhetoric of Western leaders and the growing feeling amongst young people that they need to have their say about religion. This means that religion is no longer something that can be ignored and whispered about every now and again when some story slowly filters into the public domain. These days every religious story is in the public domain and moreover it is right in the middle of the public consciousness.

Finally, the most student orientated factor is the presence and power of religious societies on campuses across the UK. These societies represent less that 10% of the student population but many have a disproportionate amount of power and influence not only within Students Unions but also on higher education policy in general.

Many student atheist societies form to act as a counterpoint for these organisations, a way of forcing debate and critical thought amongst the student population. Religious societies have national representational bodies; some are even governed centrally too. It is this national influence that sparked the idea of a national atheist organisation specifically for students.

This national organisation started out as a single online resource centre for student atheists to use and a forum for them to share ideas and best practice, this hub was called Secular Portal. It was on a discussion thread on Secular Portal that an idea was floated to hold an atheist student conference. Several weeks later, representatives from six student societies along with advisers from the BHA, NSS and HSS sat in a lecture theatre at the University of Edinburgh and formed the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies. That was June 2008.

My role moving forwards from the creation of the AHS was to write the constitution. My remit was simple; write a comprehensive, democratic and sustainable constitution that allowed for the AHS to work towards charitable status within a few years. If any of you have had to write this kind of document will know, turning a simple remit into a workable document is not the simplest task. Nevertheless, by the November of 2008 we were ready to ratify the constitution and officially form the AHS as a legal entity.

It was decided to host the ratification conference in Leeds, the largest and most active of the founding member societies. At the conference, the constitution was ratified and I was elected its first president. My manifesto was clear, I was to lead the AHS to a national launch within six months and build membership to a sustainable level by our first AGM to be held in June 2009.

The first part of that manifesto was probably the easiest, although not without glitch, as we had a venue we could use for free in London and a host of press pulling speakers we could enlist to help us out. The only problem was ensuring that enough students would attend to help us gain members so we could really push on and move forwards.

The launch event itself was a massive success. Held in Conway Hall, home of the South Place Ethical Society, with guest speakers Richard Dawkins, Polly Toynbee and Anthony Grayling we managed to attract a sizeable audience and getting some fantastic press.

I stepped down as president in June 2009 to hand over to the next executive and the AHS has continued to build its national presence and develop its policies and procedures to continue to work towards a charitable status.

It is still vitally important that student atheist, humanist and secularist societies continue to thrive and that they are continued to be supported by a national organisation that aims to help out individual societies in a practical and meaningful way. This means supporting the development of new societies, provided guidance and resources to existing societies and also providing practical training to the committees of those societies to ensure sustainability and longevity. A national voice only works well if the4 focus is on the people it claims to speak for and not if its priorities lie in press coverage and campaigning.

Is religion all bad?

August 9th, 2009 3 comments

At Chris and Tom’s flat-warming party on Friday night I was involved in debating a variety of subjects centred on atheism and my recent post about branding and marketing a national organisation to represent atheists. One of the main criticisms that have arisen from my treatment of the subject is that by defining and then commercialising the atheist position then the outcome will be a form of religious atheism.

On mention of this I railed and started to form an argument against this outcome. It is almost universally accepted that a religious atheism is bad and should be guarded against completely. A view I have long shared. A religious atheism conjures up images of Dawkins/Darwin/Russell/”insert leading atheist figure here” worship, it implies a removal of rational thought and scepticism, and it makes most atheists fly into a long winded and well rehearsed defence of the irreligiousness of the atheist world view.


Why this instant defence though? What is it about combining religion and atheism that worries atheists? The debates I was involved in on Friday got me thinking quite deeply on this subject and I struggle to find a real and rational explanation.

My immediate reaction is to claim that the main features of religion, i.e. worship, ritual and faith, have no place in an atheist’s world view. I agree that the common themes of the Abrahamic religions and many of the Eastern religions are contrary to the scientific, rational approach of many atheists. However, religion is not defined by its practices. In fact, defining religion is an incredibly challenging and possibly fruitless task.


According to Clifford Geertz (pictured left), religion is merely a cultural system whilst a dictionary definition reads “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe.” Whilst there are a great many other definitions for religion, the fact that these definitions exist mean that religion is not dependent on faith in superhuman deities, miracles or any of the other elements that atheists abhor about the idea of religion. I would suggest that actually, the parts of religion that are common throughout all definitions, e.g. community, cultural identity, shared goals, common purpose are the exact qualities I alluded to in my article on a way of living as atheists and humanists.

Building on this premise it is logical to suggest that an atheist religion is not the oxymoron you would first assume and actually leads to a better understanding of what people find most attractive about the established religions. It is not a great leap to say that many people do not claim to be religious because they firmly believe in the ideology of their chosen religion but find that the religion offers the community support, cultural identity, shared goals and common purpose they require. Why can an atheist organisation not offer a similar service?

The downside to a religious atheism is that while it would probably attract new people there are a great many current atheists that would find the idea unpalatable. This is clearly a problem in a time when it is hard enough to unite atheists over an issue. The only way to clear this obstacle is to go back to the idea of building a brand. The need to clearly position an atheist religion in such a way as to maximise its impact on the general public whilst maintaining its current supporter base is clear and would require the most delicate handling. This is not an easy task and is likely the stumbling block that would prevent such a movement taking off. However, this should not be a deterrent. An atheist religion is not the bad idea that most atheists make out and perhaps should not be dismissed as readily as it currently is.

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!

Ethical Meat

July 14th, 2009 No comments

Below is an article I wrote for Secular Future, the newsletter/periodical of the AHS. I warn you that the content is contraversial and if it offends you, then i refer you to my ‘about‘ page.

I hope to bring you some more articles, some written by me and some not. Let me know what you think.

The article below is the unedited and unabridged version.

One of the most pervasive moral debates of the last fifty years has been whether it is possible to consume meat or animal products ethically or not. One of the main components of the debate is whether it is right to mass slaughter animals for human consumption on a commercial scale.

Whilst humans regard eating meat as a vital part of their diet, animals will need to be slaughtered to provide that meat. In today’s commercial environment, this slaughter comes in the form of the large scale abattoir which provides the cost effective production line style methods required to ensure affordable products for the end consumer. Whilst this is not necessarily an ethical position, it is certainly a practical one.

This commercialisation of the slaughter industry carries with it certain responsibilities. If we are going to consume meat, then we should do it with at least some regard to the animals we are eating. We have the power to ensure that animals reared for meat are treated to the highest possible standards in life and ultimately in death. Our responsibility as slaughterers of animals is to ensure that these standards are maintained throughout the various stages of the journey from farm to supermarket aisle. This responsibility has led us to develop certain policies and procedures with regards to how we can slaughter animals for human consumption.

These policies and procedures are designed to limit the suffering and pain of the animals as much as is humanly possible. The current law in England and Wales specifically states that it “…is an absolute offence to cause or permit an animal avoidable excitement, pain or suffering.” This law lays out in explicit detail how animals should be treated to ensure that there is no unavoidable excitement, pain or suffering. The only exception to this seemingly acceptable compromise is the fact that it specifically exempts animals slaughtered for religious reasons from the guidelines applied to the rest of the industry.

Animals slaughtered for consumption by Muslims or Jews, i.e. Halal and Kosher meat, does not have to be slaughtered using the strict guidelines laid down by the law. The main difference in the methods comes down to pre-stunning. This is the practice of knocking the animal unconscious by electric shock prior to being slaughtered. This method is considered by many to be the most humane way of mass slaughtering animals. In Britain, the Muslim and Jewish authorities deem this practice to be contrary to their traditions concerning the ritual slaughter of animals. This means that animals slaughtered for the religious market must be killed alive by the slitting of the throat and allowed to bleed to death.

The Farm Animals Welfare Council in their 2003 report on the slaughter practices in the UK concluded that all animals slaughtered for human consumption should be electrically pre-stunned and that the Halal and Kosher methods for the slaughter of animals caused unnecessary pain and suffering the animals in direct contravention of the main principle of the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995.

The religious slaughter industry is worth over a billion pounds and makes up one seventh of the total slaughter industry. In practice this means that thirteen per cent of the animals slaughtered in this country are subjected to unnecessary pain and suffering.

What is worse is that there are Muslim and Jewish authorities outside of the UK that have accepted that pre-stunning is essential in ensuring that animals do not suffer in excess. In countries such as New Zealand where there is no exemption from welfare laws for religious slaughter, the Muslim and Jewish leaders have devised ways of incorporating electrical pre-stunning into their ritual slaughter.

With an ever increasing trend for fast food outlets, takeaways and supermarkets stocking religiously slaughtered meat, the industry is going to continue to grow. This means that more and more of the meat we see in our shops will have come from animals that suffered excessively.

How does that affect you and me, the consumer? There is currently no law in the UK that requires meat products derived from animals slaughtered cruelly in religious slaughter houses to be labelled, or notice given to customers. This means that consumers are unaware of where their meat comes from and more importantly, whether the animal that provided it was subjected to the torture of religious slaughter.

Eating meat is an ethical question for us all. For those that choose not to eat meat, there is legal provision for the labelling of food that suitable for vegetarians. Consumers have a choice. For those that choose to eat meat, that choice does not exist.

There are two messages to take away from this debate. The first is that any food that is currently slaughtered outside of the spirit of the law must be labelled. The second is that the spirit of the law needs to be upheld by becoming the letter of the law. If it is an absolute offence to cause animals unnecessary excitement, pain or suffering, then let us ensure that it is an offence, under law, to cause that suffering regardless of your religious beliefs.

We do not protect other aspects of religious belief that do not conform to the spirit of our laws and human social advancement such as the stoning of adulterers and the murder of infidels. Why then do we protect the cruel abuse of the animals we eat?

The AHS Launches in London!

February 19th, 2009 No comments

The AHS is finally going public! Today in London, me and several high profile supporters will be officially launching the AHS as a pulic, national organisation.

Watch us live here!

Below is a copy of the press release we put out, if you come across any article etc whilst roaming the web, just drop me a line or leave a comment with the URL.

The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS) launches today in central London with addresses of support from Professor Richard Dawkins, Professor A C Grayling and Polly Toynbee.

The AHS will support established and newly-forming atheist, Humanist and secular student groups and give them a national voice. It will provide a network, resources and a joint platform for these societies and make sure that their needs and views are being considered on the national and international level. The AHS is affiliated with the British Humanist Association (BHA).

In the wake of the successful ‘atheist bus campaign’, the 2009 Darwin celebrations and an increased prominence for non-religious campaigns, the launch of the AHS marks the new mobilisation of the UK’s non-religious student majority and is the start of several nationwide events and campaigns.

Supporting the launch of the AHS, Richard Dawkins said, ‘Public statements of non-belief are treated as threatening, an affront to the religious, while the reverse is not true. More concerning is the enduring assumption that religious belief does not have to earn respect like any other view, an approach that has caused politicians and public figures across the UK to withdraw from asking the vital question: why is religion given such special status in government, culture and the media? Why is belief in a higher power an indication of greater moral fortitude, character and acumen? The AHS says publicly that it isn’t; on the contrary, beliefs that are unsupported, bigoted or demand special privileges should always be challenged. No opinion should be protected from criticism simply by virtue of being religiously held.’

A C Grayling said, ‘As well as making the case for reason and science, it is great to know that the AHS will be standing up against religious privilege and discrimination. All people are entitled to their beliefs but we secularists (whether religious or humanist) are right in arguing that the state must be entirely neutral in these matters. A situation where the religious beliefs of a few may dictate the personal choices of everyone – in abortion, for example, or assisted suicide – is quite wrong. Yet some religious groups defend and even aim to expand their considerable privileges – public money for their “faith-based” schools, seats in the House of Lords, exemption from laws inconvenient to their prejudices. The AHS shows that increasing numbers of young people are unwilling to put up with it.’

Chloë Clifford-Frith, press officer for the AHS, said, ‘We live in a world where religious governments execute adulterers and homosexuals, deny women and minority groups basic freedoms, circulate fraudulent claims about contraception and scientific research and create laws that protect them from criticism. We are privileged, in such a world, to live in a country where we can even have this debate, and as such we have a duty to bring it into our universities and beyond.’

Norman Ralph, President of the AHS, emphasised that, in addition to challenging organised religion in the UK, the AHS also presents a positive message of community and understanding. Bringing together diverse student societies from across the country, it will support students who wish to establish a safe space for discussion of atheist, Humanist and secular issues and defend their right to express themselves without censure. Further campaigns will promote the public understanding of science, and the importance of ethical values derived from a rational approach to reality. ‘We want to celebrate knowledge and human endeavour’, he added, ‘Humanity should take responsibility for its flaws, and also take credit for its successes, not abscond responsibility to an imaginary father figure. We’re about celebrating, learning and making the most of the one life we have.’

Polly Toynbee said, ‘I am honoured to be present at the birth of this new movement. We need to oppose zealotry and fanaticism of all sorts by promoting the positive and liberating case for believing that life on earth is precious because the here and now is all there is and that our destiny is in our own hands. The Humanist view of life is progressive and optimistic, in awe of human potential, living without fear of judgement and death, finding enough purpose and meaning in life, love and leaving a good legacy. It is great to see these values being taken up by today’s students. I’m sure the AHS will go from strength to strength and keep the rational and ethical humanist tradition alive both on- and off-campus’

Barack’s Big Day

January 20th, 2009 2 comments

Barack Obama was sworn in today as the USA’s 44th president, the first African-American (or any ethnic minority) president in their history, with the largest TV audience ever for a presidential inauguration.

I am a fan of Obama’s, i like his social healthcare plans and his views on America’s role in world politics. I even like some aspects of his economic plan, even though he is a lefty when it comes to government spending.

His inaugural address was a masterpiece in speech writing, which of course we should expect seeing as it his first global address and possibly his mosyt important. His rhetoric was sublime, he quoted just about every famous American leader to date and threw in a few bible quotes as well. When discussing the religious make up of America he even nodded in the vague direction of atheists and agnostics.

What disappointedme about the speech though, was his persistant references to his black history ad to god and faith. He must have mentioned god, faith, religion, spirit and every other Christian buzz word known to man at least once.

I realise that to be a US politcian means being Christian, but surely you do not have to make reference to it every 5 seconds or so.

I like Obama, I really do. He is a breath of fresh air in international poliics, and possibly one of the finest presidents I am likely to live through, but his religion is going to annoy me. At least Geroge W had the decency to let everyone know he was a stauch evangelical Christian who actively listened to God from the beginning – mainly by being a Texan Reublican! – Obamaq has snuck his evangelism under the radar.

Oh well. We are getting there at least.

Christmas is over…

December 28th, 2008 1 comment

…and not soon enough if you aks me!

I am not a fan of Christmas. Not only do I dislike the modern festival, complete with three month build up and ridiculous commercialism, but I hate the fact that a “Christian” festival has been nationalised and rammed down our throats to such an extent that every body feels the need to suddenly pretend to be pious and religous! Seriosuly, I know muslims that celebrate Christmas! What the hell is that about?

Christmas is a Christian festival that was created in the 19th centurty when the Catholic Church decreed that the eponymous midwinter festival was now officially a celebration of the birth of Jesus (who almost certainly was not born in December, never mind the 25th!). For most of the rest of that century nobody really gave a monkey, until the Victorians started making something of the festival. The majority of the traditions we now associate with Christmas, the tree, the decorations, the food etc was all started in the latter half of the 1800s by the middle and upper classes of Victorian England and hence the rest of the Empire.

I am not a Christian, so I do not ‘celebrate’ Christmas. I, like many other non-Christians, partake in the festivities surrounding the tradition but I do not hold it sacred in any way and would have no qualms about selecting any arbitrary day to celebrate family, togetherness and peace to all men. These are not Christian ideals, all of these ideas were celebrated for hundreds of years before Christianity and will continue to be celebrated for hundreds of years after Christianity. I just wish everybody would accept that Christmas, as it exists today, has nothing to do with Jesus. We shouldn’t all be forced to take time off work and we should not be subjected to the nationalising of a religious holiday to the point of causing offence to every non-Christian. If I were a Muslim, Sikh, Jew etc I would be similarly outraged.

The fact I am an atheist means I am also outraged at the increasing nationalisation of Eid, Ramadam, Hannukah, Diwahli etc.

When we go to the zoo, why can’t we talk to monkeys?

July 29th, 2008 No comments

I was reading Facebook today and an AHS colleague of mine from Oxford Secular Society had written a note based on a blog post from God Be Gone and the follow up.

It cracked me up. Seriously, how crazy are some people?

For those who can’t be bothered going to the links, here is the the content mercilessly ripped off and reposted…

‘Proof that evolution is wrong’

i saw on your blog that you like to talk about the religion of evolution and trick people by using big words and pretending that science actually proves evolution. I dont know any science or anything and even i know evolution isnt real. for one it isnt in the bible the bible said god made everything in 6 days, not millions of years. second, when we go to the zoo we cant talk to monkies, if we used to be monkies why cant we talk to them? three, how could a monkey become a person over billions of years when they dont live that long? AND why are there still monkies if they turned into people? five, even darwin said he was wrong. on his death bed he converted to christianity and said evolution was a hoax. If there is any science that makes it look like evolution is real then it has to be either a hoax by EVILutionists or put there by god to find out who believes in him.

I hope that after reading my questions you will see that evolution cant be true and people dont come from monkies. i will pray to god asking him to make you think like me.

From: GBG
To: kevin

You are joking, right?

From: kevin

firstly i didnt give you permission to put my email on your blog. teh email copyright is owned by me and i will talk to my solisitor about making you take it down.

And no im not joking, you know im right thats why you didn’t answer. If we used to be monkies we should be able to talk monkey. its like if a french man becomes american he can still talk french, its called logic. also on tv a scientist says crocodiles havnt changed for million of years. if evolution was true they would be able to fly by now or talk or grow fur or invent things. if evolution happens why didnt it make crocodiles better?

the devil tricked you into believing you are from mud to take you away from god. Why would you want to be from mud and monkies when you have the option to be from gods hand? If you just stop thinking the bible makes sense and you dont have to worry about anything. If you just stop trying to find things out and accept gods word jesus will forgive you.

i thing you should watch expelled by ben stein. It shows how science is from the devil and good christians are being fired from jobs because atheists know they have the truth. evolution believers know its evil and from the devil, and thats why they are frighetened of christianities real sciense


Lets Get Rational!

April 26th, 2008 1 comment

This post could be a long one if I included everything that happened at Atheist Society’s Rationalist Week 2008. A pretty good run down of everything that went wrong for us can be found here so I won’t include them in this account. I want to focus on the positive sides and more of the human interest aspects of the week.

Chris, the retiring president, wrote this account of the week, well worth checking out. My version of the week follows here.

The week got off to a bad start, the tent was late and the generator needed fetching, and we were late starting. There were hiccups during the rest of the week, not least of them me being ill, but in general the week got better. A lot better.

We signed up a lot of people, didn’t lose too much money and our events ran smoothly for an A-Soc event but the ultimate success came from within the society. We finally got people involved, found leaders from within our ranks, something we have been sorely lacking the past two years.

We reached a lot of people during the week, I would estimate that we probably developed our brand to over a thousand staff, students and members of the public during the week and that we physically spoke to well over a hundred (excluding all night debate) and signed up a quarter of those that came into the tent. The membership numbers now rival our competitors and should hopefully mean we can start playing with the big boys in terms of politics and campaigning as well as securing some decent funding for the year!

The highlights for me included the CU debate, where again we out argued the opposition and should have come away with the victory had the crowd not been partisan, and the internal debate on the Flying Spaghetti Monster where the key flaws in religious argument were highlighted and exposed. In fact, most of the events went well – especially the evening ones. Once again Mike Lake was excellent and converted some fence sitters.

My personal highlight however, was the friends and friendships that I forged and strengthened during the week. The improved ties we developed with the CU and other societies. The fact that I think our message got across. Atheist Society is not about religion bashing or telling people they are wrong, but to offer an alternative that wasn’t available.

It was a success that didn’t kill us financially.

We finally pulled off an event that was worthy of the work that went into it.

Well done all!