Posts Tagged ‘Uni’

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!

Happy Birthday!

March 26th, 2009 No comments

That’s right folks, is two years old today!

I am actually a little shocked about that fact to be honest. I really didn’t think when I posted that very first time that I would still be blogging two years later!

A lot has happened in thos two years, although not as much as maybe I had hoped for really. I am still studying, working for not a huge amount of money, living like a student, still rather hefty in shape but then I have developed a long term relationship, learned so much about so many things through uni and work, formed and run a national representational organisation, set the ground work for a charitable venture (more on that in the future, it’s all a bit hush hush at the moment) and made some great new friends.

Anyway, it’s cake time now!

A bit of a catch up.

February 25th, 2009 1 comment

Regular readers will have noticed a common theme running through my posts recently, namely that of the AHS. Posts on the press launch and the general publicity surrounding the build up have dominated my blog. This is for the veyr good reason that it has been pretty much all I have been thinking about. Sure, I have been involved in a lot of A-Soc stuff like Galileo Day and starting up Perspective but most of my work has been focussed on the AHS.

I have no doubt that the time spent was worth it, you only have to read the coverage the launch got to see how successful everything is proving to be. Check out a few of the pieces here, here and here. The upcoming xchallenge is to ensure that my work with the AHS doesn’t detract too much from my current commitments. I mean I am currently a student, hold down a (not so) part-time job, am president of Leeds Atheist Society and president of the AHS. All of these commitments could and maybe should be full time commitments, but I am sharing my time between them. Thankfully, I have the support of friends and family (big thanks to Liz et al) and a wonderful team working with me both at A-Soc and the AHS.

In other news, it is now only 7 weeks until Rationalist Week 2009!

We’re better, connected!

June 11th, 2008 No comments

Some of you may recognise the tagline I used for my heading for this post… that’s right, it can be seen on some of the O2 advertising from a few months ago.

They now own my services! Yep, I now work for O2 part-time in their technical support department for the newly launched O2 Home Broadband. I am currently in training, which should last for another 6 weeks but it seems like a decent enough job. I am only first line support at the moment, basically a phone monkey, but hopefully some vacancies will open up in second line support soon enough. It is a good place top work in all honetsy, relaxed dress code, good perks and a good bunch of people.

Now, the reason I had to go out and get a job. I have a new house! We signed for it last week and move in around the 23rd June, just after Chris and I get back from the Secular COnference in Edinburgh. It is a really nice house with plenty of room, which is a bugger for wiring it up with networking cable. At the moment it is looking like a good couple of hundred metres!

I will upload some pics of the new house just as soon as I get them off my phone.

Congratulations to all the Computing lot too, they all graduated!

Self analysis

April 26th, 2008 2 comments

There has been a couple of incidents of people posting some quite interesting self analysis pieces on Facebook, which can be found here and here (You may have to have a Facebook account or be friends with people in question to view links).

My first reaction was to put these posts down to late night musings and a touch of emo behaviour that is particularly noticeable in the two individuals in question. I would even go so far as to dismiss them. However, on deeper contemplationa and a second reading I came to a different conclusion. There is an element of honesty here that is raw – I imagine that neither piece really outlines the true fears and hopes of the authors but there is definitelyan insight into something worth seeing. Both of the writers are close to me in some way and so there will always be something personal to see in these kind of pieces but I think there is something more here, a more basic human need. At the moment, the exact nature of that need eludes me, but these pieces – after initially falling into the crappy Facebook notes category – have touched me in a way I really wasn’t expecting.

I don’t know if it is the end of era type emotions that come with this time of year, especially as there definitely is going to be an end of an era when most of my university friends graduate and head off into the world of whatever they choose to do, or whether it is the general aging process that I seem to be feeling more and more these days but there is definitely a cloud of self analysis around a lot of people at the moment and I think it might end up being an important thing.

One week of holiday left

April 7th, 2008 1 comment

The title says it all really, there are seven days of the Easter break left and the start of the final term of this year. This means three things.

1) Rationalist Week is fast approaching. If we pull this off then it would definitely count as one of the greatest achievements of the 21st century following an unprecedented level of set backs and foul ups. I won’t go into the details here as I feel it would lead to incredibly strong language and graphic violence and, after all, this is a family blog!

2) Exams. Enough said.

3) Summer! I really enjoy summer in Leeds. In fact it is one of the few places that I actually enjoy sunshine. This may sound bizarre but the reasons are twofold; first I burn, baby, burn – even in winter, and secondly I hate being hot. I enjoy the barbeques, the bikinis and the laid back atmosphere everyone seems to adopt. I really hope that the council doesn’t enforce its no drinking policy on Hyde Park as having a beer and a BBQ whilst watching the world go past is one of the few pure pleasures of city living.

Approaching Easter

March 14th, 2008 No comments

It is not often that St Patrick’s Day and Easter are in the same week! What’s going on here??!!

The end of the term is approaching, Easter break starts today and I have to say it can’t come quick enough. The last week has been a chore and I have developed an apathy for life that just isn’t healthy. The chance to recharge and catch up on reading, essays etc is well overdue!

The week started with Rocky Horror on Monday which went atrociously, A-Soc on Tuesday wasn’t much better – although it was a chance to see all four of the atheist characters (Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchins and Harris) sat round a table, Wednesday was School Disco (post to follow) and yesterday was a recovery day with One Life virtually being a non-event. Today has also been a write off, although I have managed to tidy quite a bit.

I hate this limbo period where my drive has gone, but it is not yet officially holiday!

Langdale 2008

February 27th, 2008 1 comment

It occurred to me not so long ago that i hadn’t been on an actual real-life holiday since June 2005 when I went to Spain for a week. This is simply bad form.

This revelation led me to organise a short break to the Lake District with Liz last week. We were away for a week and it was a week well spent. I realise that I should have been at lectures and doing coursework but it is a sacrifice I would not hesitate to make again!

We had planned to be in the Lakes all week, but due to an issue with the kennels Liz and I had to stay in Kirkham for a couple of days to dog sit for my mother. At first I thought it would be a bit of a waste of time but it was actually quite relaxing to just chill out at home for a bit, especially since my mum had redecorated my room with new bed, new carpets etc etc.

We headed up to the Lakes on the Wendesday and spent a glorious few days basking in the miserable northern weather :P I should point out here that I love the Lake District, especially in Winter. I like the rain and wind and snow. We did some walking, some shopping and some general mooching – not to mention Liz’s FOUR jacuzzi baths!!

We were staying at the Langdale Estate ina lovely little chalet. I really love that part of the Lakes with its accessible walking and lively (relatively…) atmosphere.

More importantly I got new walking boots!

Return to Oz

January 23rd, 2008 5 comments

Jack, a colleague from the School of Computing, returns to Australia tomorrow following a year’s study here in Leeds. The impact that he has had on the school, and university as a whole, is quite remarkable as was evident by the turnout at his leaving do on Sunday. He must have attracted more than thirty people from the school, archery society, ju jitsu society and atheist society. This level of impact is something I have not encountered since school when we had temproray pupils from New Zealand every year on a rugby exchange.

I often wonder if the impact i have on those around me would be as noticeable as Jack’s. This Summer will see a large transition period in many of our lives. A lot of my friends will be graduating in June and moving on to bigger and better things and as much as everyone promises to keep in touch Jack, I think the actual number will be relatively low. Will this occur amongst the circle? How many of us will remain such close friends once we move apart. I think the numbers, again, will be fairly small. This thought upsets me a little as many of the relationships I have forged over the past four years are dear to me and will not be easily recreated.

Then there is the matter of housing…

I will be leaving my current house in June after a good three years here. Living with the girls in the first two had its ups and downs but it was a defining time of my university career. The last six months, and hopefully the next six, have been really good. Having housemates that I enjoy living with has been a revelation!

I am looking at moving up slightly in the world with my next house and get something a little less studenty and more family orientated. I have been looking at houses outside of the main student areas as the rent is comparable and you geta lot more for your money. The problem I face, however, is who to live with?

Back to school

January 22nd, 2008 No comments

The first day back to school or work, or in my case university, after a holiday or time-off is always an experience, Today was no different. My first day back to uni after the Christmas vacation went relatively smoothly. Three lectures (well two down one to go) soread out over eight hours, always a nightmare, and a theme throughout this semester’s timetable. I have few consecutive lectures which means that I am stuck in uni all day every day!

Started a new course in philosophy of religion and resumed courses in programming and economics. Same old same old mainly. Philosophy of religion looks like it might be interesting but I think I might get annoyed with the rather large Christian contingent that makes up my tutor group!

Got some feedback on my CR11 mock today, which looks promising. Got an ok 2:1, not as high as I had hoped but pretty good seeing as I struggled with one of the large questions on the paper. Marks for the coursework will be out soon too. It is always exciting to get marks back, unless you know you have done badly!