Various Religiousity

It is very clear to me (both when I was a Christian and now), how the religiosity of two Christians can be very different from each other, even when they confess the same theology.  This applies to any religion, of course. This is because people knit together their packages of religion very differently.  See my posts on Religion as Moral Signalling and as Entertainment.

Here are just some of the varieties of Religiosity:

  • Good Citizen Religiosity: For some, the moral signaling is important (“I am a good person. I am an upstanding community member. I am a team player.”),
  • Fearful Religiosity: for some, putting off the fear of death and meaninglessness may be more important,
  • Prosperity Religiosity: for some, the desire for safety and prosperity (using the magic of prayer and belief) may be central.
  • Happy Religiosity: for some, the warm fuzzy feelings they get talking to their God, singing in choir, celebrating holidays with family or community activities.

Below I illustrate these four types, for instance, but you can imagine many more examples.  The larger traits at the top are those that have the greatest influence in that person’s religious life (inner and outer). This illustrates how the abstract package called “Religion” comes in many different combinations:

Functions of Religion many people Conclusions:

  • When trying to understand a religious person (or yourself), you have to understand the various functions that “religion” serves in their life.
  • Do not assume religion to merely be a set of beliefs — it functions at a much deeper level.
  • Most people hold their theology lightly (though they may confess otherwise) and their theology is almost always subservient to these deeper functions.

Related Posts:

10 Books You Pretend to Have Read (And Why You Should Really Read Them)

Science fiction and fantasy offer a rich legacy of great books—but that abundant pile of reading material can also be daunting. So sometimes, it’s easier to fake it. We asked some of our favorite writers, and they told us the 10 books that everyone pretends to have read. And why you should actually read them.

BHA reveals over a fifth of latest Free School proposals are from faith groups

School should be inclusive of all children

Schools should be inclusive of all children, regardless of their beliefs

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is today publishing the names, locations and religious characters of all Free School applications from the ‘ninth wave’, after the Department for Education (DfE) provided the information in response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by the BHA earlier this year. The information reveals that just over a fifth of applications recently submitted to the DfE were from faith groups.

In total there were 61 proposals for Free Schools during the ninth wave. 13 of these applications were for ‘faith’ schools, including:

  • Two Church of England schools, both primaries, in Barnet and Waltham Forest.
  • Three generically Christian schools, two primaries in Kent and Greenwich and an all-through school in Hertfordshire.
  • Two Jewish schools, both primaries in Hertfordshire.
  • Two applications for Hindu schools, both all-through schools, one in Leicester and one in Hounslow.
  • Three applications from Sikh schools, two primaries in Newcastle and Southampton, and a secondary in Wolverhampton. The school in Southampton is being proposed by the Khalsa Academy Trust, whose academy in Leeds attracted headlines earlier this year after a number of local non-Sikh parents expressed anger that their children were being sent to the school.
  • One primary school in Brent which is listed as having a ‘Spiritual (World View)’ ethos. In fact, this school has been proposed by a group of former Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s students, who belong to the Indian spiritual community Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

In addition, the Colston Cathedral School in Bristol has been jointly proposed by two existing academies – Colston’s Girls’ School and Bristol Cathedral Choir School (BCCS). The DfE have not listed this as having a ‘faith ethos’, but given the role played by BCCS in establishing the school, it seems that there will be some Church of England influence.

The BHA has been requesting this information at pre-approval stage for four years now, with the DfE’s previous refusals having been the subject of numerous cases at the Information Tribunal. This represents only the second time the Government has released the information at the formative stage prior to announcing successful applications – although it still delayed before doing so.

BHA Education Campaigner Jay Harman said ‘Faith groups make up over a fifth of all Free School applications in this group and that figure is far too high. All new schools should be equally inclusive of everyone, regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs, and “faith” schools stand in the way of this goal. We hope the Secretary of State will move to only approve those schools that seek to cater for all the children in their communities.’


For further comment or information, please contact Jay Harman on 020 7324 3078 or

See who the latest proposers are:

Read the BHA’s timeline of its cases at the ICO and Information Tribunal asking for details of Free School applicants:

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools:

View the BHA’s table of types of school with a religious character:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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In a just world, how you act depends on who you think delivers justice

Many years ago I worked a couple of seasons as a porter on the now-defunct hovercraft service across the English Channel. One of the old hands used to tell me regularly that “what you lose on the swings, you make up on the roundabouts” – a phrase that’s stuck with me ever since. What he [Read More...]

There’s No Religious Freedom to Refuse Service

Last week in Washington state, another special religious privilege bit the dust. The Ninth Circuit appeals court ruled unanimously that a pharmacist doesn’t have the right to refuse to fill a prescription for emergency contraception: A unanimous three-judge 9th Circuit panel on Thursday decided that the rules are constitutional because they rationally further the state’s [Read More...]

Can non-Europeans think?

A Q&A with Hamid Dabashi, whose new book examines knowledge, power, and European dominance.

Poetry: Theodore Roethke


by Theodore Roethke

I saw a young snake glide
Out of the mottled shade
And hang, limp on a stone:
A thin mouth, and a tongue
Stayed, in the still air.

It turned; it drew away;
Its shadow bent in half;
It quickened, and was gone.

I felt my slow blood warm.
I longed to be that thing,
The pure, sensuous form.

And I may be, some time.

Frau Bauman, Frau Schmidt, and Frau Schwartze

by Theodore Roethke

Gone the three ancient ladies
Who creaked on the greenhouse ladders,
Reaching up white strings
To wind, to wind
The sweet-pea tendrils, the smilax,
Nasturtiums, the climbing
Roses, to straighten
Carnations, red
Chrysanthemums; the stiff
Stems, jointed like corn,
They tied and tucked,-
These nurses of nobody else.
Quicker than birds, they dipped
Up and sifted the dirt;
They sprinkled and shook;
They stood astride pipes,
Their skirts billowing out wide into tents,
Their hands twinkling with wet;
Like witches they flew along rows
Keeping creation at ease;
With a tendril for needle
They sewed up the air with a stem;
They teased out the seed that the cold kept asleep,-
All the coils, loops, and whorls.
They trellised the sun; they plotted for more than themselves.

I remember how they picked me up, a spindly kid,
Pinching and poking my thin ribs
Till I lay in their laps, laughing,
Weak as a whiffet;
Now, when I’m alone and cold in my bed,
They still hover over me,
These ancient leathery crones,
With their bandannas stiffened with sweat,
And their thorn-bitten wrists,
And their snuff-laden breath blowing lightly over me in my first sleep.

See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

About Author: Wiki on Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963)

My thoughts: I love introspective poems, and here, he adds the strong flavor at the end.

Source: Both from Writer’s Almanac: July 18th and July 22nd 2015

Poetry: Emily Dickinson

The Props assist the House

by Emily Dickinson

The Props assist the House
Until the House is built
And then the Props withdraw
And adequate, erect,
The House support itself
And cease to recollect
The Auger and the Carpenter-
Just such a retrospect
Hath the perfected Life-
A past of Plank and Nail
And slowness-then the Scaffolds drop
Affirming it a Soul.


See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

About Author: Wiki on Emily Dickinson

My thoughts:  Though I am not “soul” believer, as I say in my post entitled “The Will to say ‘No’“: if there were a soul, I like Gurdjief’s notion of growing a soul — or building one as Dickinson alludes to.

Religion-Free Moral Signaling

Functions of ReligionReligious people often use their religion to signal to themselves and others that they are moral, upright, trustworthy and more.  But religion-free people (atheists, agnostics etc) also send out moral signals.Here are some secular methods to signal your virtues:

  • Politics: (depending on the audience, declaring your political allegiance can have this affect.
  • Diet:  Vegetarians often reek of this.  (I am a former vegetarian, see my confession here)
  • Philosophy:  Talking about ethics and morality are a signal, no matter how false.  (see prev. post)
  • Sports:  Heck, even declaring oneself a sports fan can signal identity, bonds and allegiances (all part of morality).
  • Consumption Habits:  Environmentalists, Recyclers etc use their positions as signals

You see, we all signal our morality in some way.  Religious folks usually include this signaling in their abstract package of religion as I illustrated in the diagram to the right (from this post).  By using religion as their packaging, they feel they can amplify their signal. The problem with religious vs. secular signaling is that, for the most part, religions discourage questioning of the package, of the values or of any doctrine.  Whereas secular folks, though signaling, are much more open to discussing and questioning their signals — but that is an intuition, I can’t quote an article to support my impression.

Question to readers:  Name others secular signals you can imagine.  What do you feel about my last claim?

— See my other posts on Morality here.

Meta-Ethics: two articles

Here are two articles on Ethics that agree with my primary insights into Ethics and Morality.

(1) Alex Rosenberg: Duke University philosopher: Can Moral Disputes Be Resolved (NYT)

His conclusion, like mine, leave many uncomfortable: “Many people will not find this a satisfactory outcome. They will hope to show that even if moral judgments are expressions of our emotions, nevertheless at least some among these attitudes are objective, right, correct, well justified.”

(2) Eric Schwitzgebel: Univ. of Calif. at Riverside philosopher: Cheeseburger Ethics: Are professional ethicists good people? (Aeon)

According to our research, not especially. So what is the point of learning ethics?  This article shows research showing that our intuitions about morality are wrong.

My Ethical Positions (backed in part by these articles):

  • There are no absolute moral positions, no matter how deceptively clear it is to our intuitions that there must be moral truths.
  • Talking about morals is usually just a way to try to signal others and ourselves that we are good and safe.
  • Ethics/Morals are temporary, tenuous agreements between peoples who share goals.
  • For those interested in Meta-Ethical philosophical terms, I am probably an anti-realist, non-cognitivist, relativist (but not a moral nihilist). See Wiki on Meta-Ethics


See my other posts on Ethics and Morality here.

Public figures write to Jeremy Hunt to demand protection for abortion clinics under threat

Anti-choice protesters camped out in London, displaying gruesome images of dead foetuses. Photo: David Holt

Anti-choice protesters camped out in London, displaying gruesome images of dead foetuses. Photo: David Holt

A number of public figures and medical professionals have signed an open letter calling on the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP, to ask that he take steps to protect abortion clinics under threat. This follows on from news last week that an abortion clinic in the UK has had to close due to the aggressive protest tactics of hardline anti-abortion campaigners.

The letter’s signatories include a number of Patrons of the British Humanist Association (BHA), including Professor Richard Dawkins, physician Dr Evan Harris, comedian Kate Smurthwaite, and writer Zoe Margolis. Other signatories include the comedian Sara Pascoe, humanist MP Diane Abbott, and MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Caroline Lucas.

The BHA has long called for action to protect women’s access to abortion services. In 2014, it teamed up with groups such as Mumsnet, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, and Brook to support the ‘Back Off’ campaign and petition which calls for buffer zones around clinics so that women can access reproductive health services without facing a gauntlet of abuse and torment.

BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘As it is, hospital staff in many parts of the country must already endure serious harassment in order to access basic health services, and the fact that one clinic has now had to close should be a matter of serious concern for the Health Secretary. We urge Jeremy Hunt to act swiftly to prevent further closures and to ensure that no woman is prevented from having a legal abortion should she need one.’

**Take Action: sign Abortion Rights’ open letter to Jeremy Hunt**


For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal on or 0773 843 5059.

More on the Back Off campaign ( and petition.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.


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Muslim school rated ‘good’ by Ofsted despite banning pupils from ‘socialising with outsiders’

A private Muslim boarding school in Dewsbury has been rated ‘good’ by Ofsted despite the fact that its pupils are allegedly forbidden from ‘socialising with outsiders’, it has  been revealed. In documents obtained by Sky News, the Institute of Islamic Education in Dewsbury was reportedly threatening pupils with expulsion if they were caught mixing with other children, among other draconian requirements. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has condemned these practices and once again expresses its incredulity that Ofsted can give favourable grades to such schools.

The school, situated inside Markazi Mosque compound in Dewsbury, is run by the Muslim sect Tablighi Jamaat, known for its strict adherence to Sharia law. In addition to the stipulation that pupils will be expelled if they fail to stop socialising with children outside the school once cautioned, the school’s Pupil and Parent Handbook allegedly lists a number of other practices and items that are ‘prohibited by Islam’, including portable televisions, cameras, music players and mobile phones. However, in its latest inspection report, Ofsted concludes that the school ‘provides a good quality of education and meets its stated aims very well’, reserving specific praise for the school’s efforts to accommodate the needs of British Muslims.

The findings come just a week after David Cameron gave a speech on the need to tackling extremism and segregation in our schools, and represents yet another example of ‘faith’ schools spectacularly failing to contribute to community cohesion and the promotion of ‘British values’.

The BHA has raised concerns about schools with similar policies to the Islamic Institute of Education before. In November 2014, for instance, the BHA wrote to Ofsted to complain about the ‘good’ rating given to a Jewish girls’ school in Hackney. Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School was found not only to have advised pupils to ignore exam questions on evolution, but had also claimed that evolution, homosexual relationships and social media were not in keeping with its ethos.

Commenting on this latest news, BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Jay Harman said ‘If these reports are true, we are once again left in the position of having to repeat our outrage that yet another “faith” school is seeking to limit its pupils’ rights and freedoms, and being praised by Ofsted while doing so. Allowing schools to have a religious character will always give cover to this kind of thing, so until such a time as religious schools can be scrapped altogether, Ofsted must get tougher on identifying these types of abuses.’


For further comment, please contact Jay Harman at or on 07970393680.

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

The post Muslim school rated ‘good’ by Ofsted despite banning pupils from ‘socialising with outsiders’ appeared first on British Humanist Association.

The Cognitive Dissonance of Pro-LGBT Christians

My post last week asking LGBT people and allies why they still consider themselves Christian touched off a firestorm. Both in the comments here and on Twitter, I got a flood of responses from liberal Christians – some polite and friendly, others extraordinarily hostile and aggressive. There were several objections that came up repeatedly. I [Read More...]

Arab atheism, identity and work, and the meaning of forgiveness

The best long-reads from the New Humanist this month.

Salò: The unseen movie

Pasolini’s shocking film, Salò, was banned in the UK for 25 years. But if we can’t laugh at it, we are missing the point.

SF/F Saturday: The Half-Made World

Something I’ve often wondered is why so many great or classic fantasy stories are set in a real or fictionalized Europe. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, Robert E. Howard’s Conan series, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising, [Read More...]

Atlas Shrugged: The Jolly Roger

Atlas Shrugged, part III, chapter II Left alone in John Galt’s house, Dagny is cooking breakfast when a visitor arrives: She was setting the table, when she saw the figure of a man hurrying up the path to the house, a swift, agile figure that leaped over boulders with the casual ease of a flight. [Read More...]

When it comes to tackling segregation, ending ‘faith’ schools is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet

2015 07 23 Davd Cameron 2 CREDIT The Prime Minister's Office

David Cameron is looking right at the problem, but choosing to ignore it. Photo credit: The Prime Minister’s Office/Creative Commons license.

The Prime Minister’s speech on extremism on Monday has received a mixed reaction; unsurprising given the sensitivity and complexity of the issue.  However, as is so often the case, the mixed reaction was also at least in part a result of mixed messages. Specifically, the praise that should have been provoked by Cameron’s admirable emphasis on the need to tackle segregation in our education system was tempered by his contradictory reaffirmation of support for ‘faith’ schools.

The response of successive Governments to the increasing religious and ethnic diversity of the UK has been to provide more ‘faith’ schools, of more kinds, to cater for these different groups. In 1998 there were 24 state-funded Jewish schools, and no Muslim, Sikh or Hindu schools. In 2015, there are now 48 Jewish, 21 Muslim, 10 Sikh and 5 Hindu state schools, and growing. More children of all religions are being educated in ‘faith’ schools now than ever before.

There are many, the British Humanist Association among them, who are absolutely convinced that this approach to building a multicultural society will be remembered as one of the most ruinous and damaging to the fabric of our communities and our society that has ever been pursued. It is an approach which is impossible to fathom.

Presented with the challenge of integrating a complex mix of religions, beliefs, ethnicities, and social backgrounds into one cohesive society, we have two options. The first option is to continue with an education system which divides children in almost all imaginable ways. ‘Faith’ schools segregate along religious lines, along socio-economic lines, and along ethnic lines – the evidence for this is clear. This first option therefore involves accepting this sorry starting point and then working round the clock to think of ways to get these different groups to interact with and understand one another (Shared facilities and integrated teaching being the Government’s latest proposals).

The second option is simple. We make all schools inclusive, we bring all children together, we ensure that it is their similarities that are celebrated and which become ingrained in them, rather than their differences, and then we sit back and watch while all our work is done for us.

Regrettably, this is not the option that has been taken.

In his speech, the Prime Minister referred to the policy introduced under the Coalition Government of only allowing new ‘faith’ academies and free schools to allocate half their places on the basis of faith. That development was to be welcomed, but it didn’t go nearly far enough. More than a third of state-funded schools in England and Wales – over 7,000 schools – are religious schools and only a small proportion of these are free schools.  Clearly no religious selection at all would be preferable, but it is equally important to remember that discussions about religious selection should not detract from the fact that whether religiously selective or not, ’faith’ schools are inherently exclusive.

That is why Cameron’s expression of hope that ‘our young people can be the key to bringing our country together’, immediately preceded by a promise that he will not seek to ‘dismantle faith schools’, was so disheartening.

One has to ask, how we can expect our children to create the inclusive, integrated and cohesive society that we have thus far been unable to achieve, if we continue to define them and divide them by the religions and beliefs of their parents?

When it comes to tackling segregation and promoting integration, there is clearly no silver bullet. The process is difficult and there’s a long way to go. You can be absolutely sure, though, that an end to ‘faith’ schools and an end to the division they foster, is the closest thing to that silver bullet we have. If only our Prime Minister wasn’t so gun shy.

BHA welcomes AHS leadership team for 2015–16

Students from across the United Kingdom and Ireland gathered in Warwickshire this weekend for the eighth AGM of the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS), where society members elected a new leadership team for the group.

The new AHS Executive. From left-right: Caitlin Greenwood, Richard Acton, and Luke Dabin.

The new AHS Executive. From left-right: Caitlin Greenwood (Secretary), Richard Acton (President), and Luke Dabin (Treasurer).

The AHS is a section of the British Humanist Association (BHA) and is made up of non-religious student societies at universities across the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. It aims to have a thriving member society on every university campus in the UK and Ireland, and works to defend and uphold the rights of non-religious students.

Newly elected to the leadership team were Richard Acton (President), Caitlin Greenwood (Secretary), and Luke Dabin (Treasurer). Richard previously served as President of the University of Nottingham Agnostic, Secular and Humanist Society, while Caitlin is a former Vice President of the Bristol University Atheist, Agnostic and Secular Society and has been working as the AHS’s Campaigns Officer. Luke was Communications Officer for the AHS’ national operations under the previous Executive. Society members thanked outgoing President Chris Malburn and Secretary Martin Smith for their work over 2014–15, and the Executive handover process has since begun.

The AGM weekend was hosted by the University or Warwickshire Humanists, who delivered a spectacular series of activities and seminars, including a lecture from humanist philosopher and BHA Vice President A C Grayling on ‘The Stalin objection’ and a comedy set from BHA Patron Kate Smurthwaite.

AHS society members from around the country hear from former AHS Secretary and current Chair of the AHS Board Ruth Haydock. Photo: Benjamin David.

AHS society members from around the country hear from former AHS Secretary and current Chair of the AHS Board Ruth Haydock. Photo: Benjamin David.

Elsewhere, former BHA Dialogue Officer and past AHS President Rory Fenton delivered a session explaining the importance of humanists engaging in dialogue with religious groups, and skills sessions covered how student societies and their officers could better use social media and digital communications, as well as the AHS’ role in the context of wider trends in our universities and shared public life.

Commenting on his election, new AHS President Richard Acton said, ‘I’m delighted that the AHS caucus saw fit to entrust me with the responsibility of being AHS President. Luke, Caitlin, and I have big plans for expanding and improving the work of the AHS over the coming year and I am looking forward to working closely with our member societies and the BHA in realising those ambitions.’


For comment or information, contact Richard Acton, AHS President ( or email the BHA (

The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS) is the umbrella organisation for all non-religious student societies in institutes of higher education across the UK and Republic of Ireland. The AHS’s vision is a thriving atheist, humanist or secular student society in every institute of higher education in the UK and Republic of Ireland, networked together, with a shared voice in public life, whose members can contribute to and be part of the wider national and international movement. The AHS’s mission to build, support and represent atheist, humanist and secular student societies; to facilitate communication between them, to encourage joint actions and to ensure that their members have opportunities to be part of the wider national and international movement. It is a section of the British Humanist Association.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity representing and supporting the interests of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

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The Manhattan Option

In retrospect, the coming of marriage equality to America may well be the high-water mark of religious influence. This was the one social change that Christians fought against harder than any other, and they still failed to stop it. It’s not a stretch to conclude that this will irreversibly taint their moral credibility in the [Read More...]