Adam Lee, 29/08/2014
Source: Daylight Atheism
Adam Lee, 29/08/2014
Source: Daylight Atheism
Emma C Williams, 28/08/2014
My school was proudly old-fashioned. Questions were viewed with suspicion and contempt, especially in the context of religion. We were not allowed to study RE as a subject, since exposure to a variety of religious views would have ‘confused’ us. Instead, we had Divinity with the School Chaplain: we read passages from the Bible and he explained them.
My parents were deliberately neutral in their stance, and so I came to my religious schooling with a completely open mind – in many ways, an easy convert. I was profoundly respectful of what I assumed were the sincerely-held beliefs of those around me and I would bow my head during prayers. I was utterly fascinated by the ritual of Chapel, and knew all the traditional hymns; I can still sing most of them all the way through, much to my husband’s consternation, and can recite the Creed, some of the Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer and several others.
While I would listen with interest during the Sermon, it took me a long time to realise that I was pretty much the only one doing so. On an increasing number of occasions I would find myself enraged by the message that we had been given in Chapel, or puzzled by the hypocrisy of our situation. If Jesus said to ‘sell all thou hast and give to the poor,’ what were we doing in an expensive boarding school? Did God honestly care how I performed in my exams – didn’t He have something more important to worry about? And why on earth did I have to pray for the Queen? Ignored by the staff and ridiculed by my peers, it became clear to me that most people neither listened to nor cared about the lessons that we were taught by the Reverend. Even he didn’t seem to care that much. Yet when I questioned the charade, I was bullied for it – by students and some of the staff.
Atheists are often accused of being ‘angry’ and I guess it’s hard for believers to comprehend the unpleasant mix of condescension, prejudice and paranoia that some of us have faced, growing up in a society that tends to equate faith with morality. Soon after I started attending school, I went to a meeting that was announced for ‘all students who are not Christians.’ In my innocence, I failed to realize that this was a euphemistic way of gathering our tiny handful of Muslim students so that their non-attendance at Chapel could be agreed. The Housemistress nearly fainted when I showed up, the only girl in the room without a headscarf. She asked me what on earth I was doing there, so I explained that I didn’t believe in God and was therefore not a Christian. She told me not to be so ridiculous, said that my views ‘didn’t count’ and sent me away. That was probably the first time that I felt really angry.
Despite the pressure (or perhaps because of it – I was a rebellious child at heart), I became more and more convinced during my childhood that an unswerving acceptance of a bundle of ancient writings made very little sense. In addition, a school rife with bullying was a fine place to observe that religious beliefs have no effect on a person’s humanity. Over the years I watched some of the worst bullies in the school pass through their Confirmation ceremony, in which they agreed to ‘turn away from everything which was evil or sinful.’ Some of them became servers in Chapel. My distaste for the whole sham increased, and by the time I reached University I was thoroughly relieved to be away from it.
Yet given that we’re all a product of our experiences, I sometimes wonder what kind of person I would be had I not attended such an old-fashioned ‘faith’ school. I fully support the BHA’s campaign against them, as in principle I believe that every child should have an education that is free in every sense – not least free from indoctrination and prejudice. Yet for me, my experiences shaped my convictions – and not in the way that the school had intended. Maybe I’m unusual, but if my story is anything to go by and you want to nurture an atheist, then I guess you proceed as follows: send them to a ‘faith’ school, ladle on plenty of hypocrisy and tell them not to ask questions. The result may surprise you.
Guest author, 28/08/2014
Todd Battistelli makes the case for humanists turning to words other than ‘spirituality’ to describe feelings of wonder and awe.
I enjoyed reading Saif Rahman and Jeremy Rodell’s essays on spirituality. Even though I don’t use the term spirituality myself, I share their appreciation of our deepest experiences. Non-humanists can stereotype our worldview as coldly rational, but humanism has long embraced the insight that reason and emotion depend on each other.
The IHEU Amsterdam Declaration describes this interdependence in ‘a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfillment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our time.’ Humanism can movingly describe profundities. While some humanists may choose the word spirituality to do so, others do not, and their choice is informed not by negative associations between spirituality and religion but by the positive associations of alternative words.
There is more to be said about spirituality than I can discuss here. Rodell raises several questions worth exploring: Can humanists be spiritual and/or use the term spiritual? Should humanists use the term? Is spirituality ‘the best word’ to describe our sense of deepest meaning? I will focus on the question of why I do not use the word, but I also want to state up front that humanists can use the term spirituality if they find it appropriate. I do not use it for two reasons. First, using other words helps me clearly communicate my humanism to non-humanists. Second, I find other words more moving.
I approach language from a descriptivist perspective where the most common usage of a word defines its meaning. This isn’t to say that meaning doesn’t change or that people can’t intentionally and successfully work to change a word’s meaning. However, if a word carries one set of connotations for most who hear it, then using the word to mean something different poses a challenge.
When religious people call deep feeling spiritual, they connect it to supernatural or transcendent meaning. I could try to change that meaning, describing a purely naturalist usage for spirituality (after all its root traces back to the word for breath), but such usage conflicts with the way most understand the word.
Instead of departing from this widespread connotation of spirituality, I turn to other words more commonly understood to have secular connotations. Looking to other words also helps head off confusion when spirituality is used to refer to multiple distinct ideas that can be discussed separately (e.g. aspiration, respite, wonder, awe, a sense of connection to the universe and others, etc.).
To give one example, I could speak of the frisson that accompanies Carl Sagan’s ‘we are made of star-stuff’ no matter how many times I think of it. Sagan’s idea speaks to humanity’s primal connection to nature. It is a deeply moving idea, but not, I would say, a spiritual one.
Others would disagree. For them the word spirituality does describe that frisson, and yet others would find the idea of an entirely natural existence abhorrent instead of moving. Such disagreements are part of the challenge of talking across worldviews and traditions. We can see this challenge even within a group such as humanists and our different reactions to the word spirituality. Certain words hold powerful meaning for some while ringing hollow for others.
When my audience attaches supernatural connotations to the word spirituality or uses it to ambiguously refer to multiple ideas, I will use alternatives to explore in detail where we agree and disagree. For instance, by the word mystery do we mean some unknown but potentially knowable element of the cosmos or some supernatural aspect to existence that surpasses any possible understanding?
It’s been my experience that many have trouble accepting that I or any humanist could be authentically satisfied with a wholly naturalist understanding of existence (and satisfied with always having more questions than answers about that existence), but we are. Trying to revise the dominant understanding of spirituality adds another layer of potential misunderstanding.
As for whether using the word spirituality would decrease anti-atheist stigma, I suspect that the prejudice of those like Christina Rees will last for some time no matter the words we use. What will decrease stigma, according to social science research, is more personal interaction with people who identify as atheists.
Sociologist Penny Edgell and her colleagues have found that people reflect more on atheists as an abstract group than on their experience with actual atheists, and that the atheist identity is seen to reject a common morality that has been (incorrectly) linked to belief in deity. Psychologist Will M. Gervais discusses [pdf] how stigma for non-obvious characteristics, like atheism, declines when people believe the stigmatized are more common in society.
This research suggests that the more atheists freely identify as such to their fellow citizens, while at the same time demonstrating their commitment to common values, the more they will help lessen stigma. This should hold true whether or not atheists use the term spiritual. Indeed, a greater diversity of atheist and humanist identities could help even more, conveying how similar we are to our religious neighbors in our own disagreements.
Just as using spirituality isn’t a term used by all atheists, it also doesn’t describe how everyone makes meaning. Rodell quotes the NHS language on ‘spiritual care’ where ‘spirituality’ is ‘looking for meaning in your life.’ The Department of Defense in the United States uses similar language, and, yes, nontheists have asked that that language be changed. A term that has religious connotations for many should not be used by government to describe the meaning making of all.
It is certainly possible to qualify the use of the term and to try to revise its definition, but doing so appeals less to me than using alternatives to spirituality that I find much more compelling. This approach is not solely or even primarily a matter of pragmatic communication. As I have developed as a humanist, the language of explicitly naturalist thinkers has moved me more deeply than those who talk of spirituality. These voices include Sagan and early twentieth century Unitarian humanists such as Arthur Wakefield Slaten and Earl F. Cook and others recorded in the 1927 book Humanist Sermons.
My humanism is neither spiritual nor transcendent. My avoiding the term spirituality comes not from pride or distaste for anything that smacks of religion. My motive is something else altogether: a delight in secular language and ideas. I too have had profound experiences of grandeur, of feeling my small place in the seemingly infinite gulf of space, of fellowship with other people of Earth, and of art that speaks to the core of my being.
These emotions spring from my recognition of the deep interconnectedness of all elements of the universe. From my perspective, there is simply nothing to be transcended. Existence is of one piece counterbalanced only by nonexistence. We live for a short time in a place we know little about, a place indifferent to us and where we alone make our lives meaningful. As Cook puts it more poetically:
‘Although the universe cares not particularly about our morality and our ideals, we must care for them. Upon our shoulders is being carried the ark of life through the wilderness. All the virtues, all there is of goodness, kindliness, courtesy is of our own creation and we must sustain them, otherwise they will go out of existence into darkness, as a star goes out.’
This aspiration to virtue, the promise of helping to build a better world for ourselves and those who come after, urges me forward. It is an aspiration I gladly share as common ground with those who, religious or not, describe it as spiritual so long as they allow me to describe it otherwise as Slaten does:
‘Humanism sets before us a great World-Hope…. Humanism may take away some of the old consolations, but it offers others more convincing…. Our sojourn here becomes a wonder-awakening romance, a pilgrimage through mysteries and marvels, and as we walk together our hearts burn within us.’
However we describe the flame of our burning hearts, it lights the way on our brief journey between oblivions, revealing moments of profound feeling and understanding.
Todd Battistelli is an independent scholar in rhetoric and a freelance writer. He runs the blog Humanism Speaks.
Unknown author, 28/08/2014
Source: New Humanist Blog
Chris Street, 27/08/2014
Sabio Lantz, 27/08/2014
Sometimes, for fun, I share some of my ghost experiences with people.
Here are some I have shared on this blog:
After I share these stories, people will often incredulously ask me, “How can you have these experiences and not believe in ghosts?”
To which I sometimes reply:
During summers, I have driven down long, hot roads and have occasionally seen large puddles of water span the road ahead of me. But when I get to the puddle, they mysteriously disappear. Have you ever had an eerie, supernatural experience like this?
You see, I don’t believe these common hallucinations are actually supernatural at all, but I won’t deny that I have indeed had these unusual experiences.
Mind you, if someone could prove to me that I have really seen ghosts, I’d be fascinated and change my opinion. But the reason I don’t believe in the ghosts I have experienced, is because of my intense distrust of my (and your) human brain. :-)
Question to readers: Have you had any weird experiences you don’t believe in?
Chris Street, 27/08/2014
Adam Lee, 27/08/2014
Source: Daylight Atheism
Unknown author, 27/08/2014
Unknown author, 27/08/2014
Source: New Humanist Blog
Unknown author, 26/08/2014
Source: New Humanist Blog
Adam Lee, 25/08/2014
Source: Daylight Atheism
Sabio Lantz, 24/08/2014
Patients are notorious from not telling their doctors that they take herbs, do scent therapy, take homeopathy or have a chiropractor. Not to mention, that they usually hide the religious rituals they go through for healing: laying on of hand prayers, burning candles or praying to saints. Heck, your best friends may be doing things that would surprise you. People are private about their unorthodox practices.
People are generally more comfortable with inconsistent beliefs and practices than their medical or religious professionals would want them to be. “Lived Religion” is a term used to describe the actual “religion” held by real people. Lived religion contains these heterodoxical practices and beliefs.
The Lived Religion of a given person may actually have very little orthodox belief within it. It may be very dissimilar to the religion they confess. It may instead emphasize community, rituals and holidays or just be a cultural identity.
Many Christians go to fortune tellers, carry luck charms, listen to horoscopes. Besides doing things outside their orthodox religion, they may also hold heretical views: believe in reincarnation, believe in universal salvation and much more.
So when we discuss the meaning of the word “religion”, we must remember that believers are not limited by the religion they may confess — their lived religion is bigger than orthodox beliefs.
Question to Reader: Share some unorthodoxy in your life — medical, religious or otherwise. Remember, if you are religion-free, you still have the potential for unorthodoxy within your “lived religion”.
Unknown author, 23/08/2014
While I’m not sure about the new opening theme, I thoroughly enjoyed the 12th Doctor’s first outing. A nice callback to a 10th Doctor episode and introduction to a possible new (possibly old) antagonist. Capaldi plays The Doctor very differently than I was expecting, but quite brilliantly. Here’s hoping for more serious and darker episodes and less of the “it’s a children’s show” mindset.
Adam Lee, 22/08/2014
Source: Daylight Atheism
Marilyn Mason, 22/08/2014
by Marilyn Mason
It’s now more than three years since the BHA decided to join the Stop Climate Chaos coalition (now The Climate Coalition or TCC) and asked me to be their volunteer representative. This inspired the creation of a new humanist interest group, Humanists for Better World (H4BW), with the broad aim of ‘putting humanist values into action - because the whole world is in our hands.’ Since then, the BHA has also joined the Jubilee Debt Campaign and Anti-Slavery International, and my fellow organiser and volunteer Richard Norman and I have attended the meetings and conferences of TCC, JDC and Anti-Slavery, as well as the occasional demonstration where we have been joined by the occasional humanist.
We set up the H4BW website, which passes on actions and news from these and other campaigns on global issues such as poverty, justice, human rights, the environment – and later moved it to become more accessible as a section of the BHA website alongside other humanist interest groups. And very recently we set up a Twitter account, @humanists4bw as a quick way for humanists who tweet to keep in touch with our news and campaigns. We have grown in numbers and hope to continue that growth, as we know that many, perhaps most, humanists are interested in the global issues that we cover, and that humanists probably think longer term than the average politician or businessman and see only too well the many connections between the various issues. It has been interesting to observe, alongside our expansion, the expansion of The Climate Coalition which now includes organisations as diverse as the RSPB, Population Matters, Greenpeace, CAFOD, Frack Off, the Woodland Trust, Oxfam, WWF, the WI, and many more groups large and small, national and local, that accept the scientific consensus on climate change and understand the potential negative impacts on their causes. (Humanists who support any of these organisations are thus already part of TCC.)
H4BW’s basic principles, interests and aims and have not changed much in the three years we have existed. The world is no more peaceful than it was then (rather the contrary); human rights are still under threat in many places; poverty, hunger, and exploitation of the poor still exist; and, despite our ‘greenest government ever,’ climate change and environmental sustainability remain low priorities for most UK politicians. The articles that Richard Norman and I wrote then explaining H4BW for HumanistLife, which disappeared when the website was hacked into and vanished, still represent our perspectives and have just been republished here. We know that all the causes that H4BW promotes don’t all appeal to all humanists, and there was hostility from a few members to the BHA getting involved with causes that are not central to its remit. But we firmly believe that humanists should not stand aside from the big moral issues of the day, letting the religious take all the credit for being ethical, and that we shouldn’t talk a lot about being good without religion while ignoring opportunities to act for the common good. (One of the names we considered for our group was “Humanist Action” – still my favourite – but we were told it was already taken.) And in any case, to borrow and adapt a Muslim tenet, “There is no compulsion in Humanism”. Right from the start we have seen it as our task to pass the requests for action on global causes that come our way, but to leave it to individual humanists to sign up via the website to receive these requests and then to choose which ones to support.
As Lord Deben (formerly Conservative MP John Gummer) reminded those of us at the recent Climate Coalition AGM, anyone can write a letter or email – and letters have a disproportionate effect. The BBC responds when they receive just 25 letters of complaint on the same theme (as they did recently to well over 25 complaints about the inclusion of climate change deniers like Nigel Lawson to ‘balance’ discussions on global warming). MPs assume that for every letter they receive, there are 40 or 50 voters who think the same but didn’t bother to write. Lord Deben’s extra insight and advice was that it is worth getting to know your MP and what makes him or her tick, and to use that knowledge in your correspondence, be it protecting the countryside, energy or food security, jobs, concerns about refugees and immigration… He also reminded us that ‘Puritans never win!’ – it’s useless urging everyone to give up all the things they value and enjoy, even if that could lead to a better world. Somehow we have to move towards a better, fairer, more sustainable world without making the journey seem too painful – a challenge for humanists and everyone else.
Emma C Williams, 21/08/2014
How do you sleep at night? Or get up in the morning? Doesn’t life seem pointless?
The religious conviction that a life without God is somehow one devoid of meaning has always baffled me. Personally, I see the situation in reverse, for I struggle to understand how the faithful deal with the following.
Life is mundane – it’s inevitable. There are forms to fill in, dishes to be washed and toenails to be cut. I do struggle to grasp how someone of faith gets through the unavoidable tedium of an average day whilst maintaining a conviction that life resonates with cosmic meaning. Demonstrably, much of the time, it doesn’t. Furthermore, and unless you live in the Bible Belt of America, the majority of your days must be spent mixing with people of different faiths or indeed no faith at all (hello!) However worthwhile your job might seem, I wonder how you motivate yourself to care about it when you believe that most of your colleagues and clients are destined for hell – whether for you that means oblivion, the absence of God, or the fiery furnace.
Life is cruel – or it can be. Whilst religious people claim that their faith is a comfort, this is another train of thought that I cannot get my head round. If your baby is sick and you pray fervently to God to save him, how can you still trust your God when your baby dies? Was God not listening? Then He abandoned you. Could He not help? Then He is impotent and prayer is pointless. Was He testing you? Then He’s one sick-minded ruler. For those of us without faith, a devastating loss such as the death of a child is not something that we somehow have to reconcile with the paradoxical belief that an all-powerful and all-loving God still cares about us. It just …. happens. It’s terrible, it’s heart-breaking and it’s unfair. And it happens.
Life is insignificant – in the span of the universe. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m starting to come to the conclusion that the convictions held by Creationists, as barking mad and as scientifically untenable as they are, make more sense than those held by the majority of moderate Christians. Why? Well, let’s just take a couple of points that we know to be the facts (unless you’re a Creationist, of course). The earth is around 5 or 6 billion years old. Dinosaurs roamed upon it for c. 65 million years. By comparison, homo sapiens has only been knocking around for roughly 200,000 years. Why on earth do we think we’re so important as to be made in the Creator’s image? From a Christian point of view, we then have to accept the bizarre notion that humans had to wait 198,000 years for the Messiah to pop up in a spectacularly unpromising part of the world. For an all-powerful being, God does make things difficult, doesn’t He?
For me, religion does not bring meaning, for it fails to explain anything even remotely to my satisfaction. As Dawkins said in his letter to his daughter, tradition, authority and revelation are three very poor reasons for accepting something to be true. For me, inventing a supernatural significance in order to give myself a sense of purpose is an empty and pointless exercise.
So where do we find meaning in our lives? Well, it will be different for everyone. An older lady once said to me that life is a series of moments, and increasingly I think she is right. It is hugely important to me to be present in the here and now as much as I can. To feel filled with awe and wonder as I look straight into the eyes of an urban fox. To watch a pond-skater as it whisks across the surface of the water, and to be in a position to realise that the pond is their universe. To gaze at the stars and remind myself that some of them may not be there any more. To stroke a purring cat. To stand on a limestone pavement and be told by a more knowledgeable friend that it was formed over tens of thousands of years.
This world and this life – with its inevitable tedium, its inescapable pain and its relative insignificance – is astonishing. For me, that is more than enough.
Aniela Bylinski, 20/08/2014
Aniela Bylinski discusses her experience of sending her daughter to a ‘faith’ school
After a lot of anxiety and against my wishes, my daughter was assigned a religious school by the county. It was the best school academically, receiving ‘Outstanding’ from Ofsted, but it was not the education that I was concerned about. I had heard differing accounts concerning the religious education from parents whose children already attended the school, other parents were mostly indifferent, but I was becoming more and more uncomfortable with the idea. My daughter was born in a very high birth year and although I appealed to send her to a county primary school, my efforts were disregarded by the authority.
Before my daughter started the school, I met with the headteacher on more than one occasion to express my concerns about what my daughter may be taught. The head assured me that my daughter would be instilled with Christian values such as tolerance, forgiveness, and love for one another. To me, these were simply human values. I was not satisfied with her explanations and was left wondering if she thought only Christians held these values, and if so, where she thought I got my values from?
We disagreed on the definition of indoctrination. For me, it meant to instil a set of values, one’s own set of values, usually a set based in scripture. So by definition, this is what was going to happen to my daughter, as they were teaching only Christian values. I asked the headteacher, ‘If my daughter was to ask you whether god was a male or female what would you say?’ She said she would say that she doesn’t know. I asked her then ‘Why do you have signs around the school referring to god as a he?’ and mentioned that the signs should probably alternate between him and her, otherwise the message would be patriarchal. As half of the school is made up of girls, I was concerned by how girls and women would be represented (or not) in Bible stories and how this would affect my daughter, as well as about the impact of these sort of lessons on wider society.
The teachers assured me that they would always talk to the children by confirming that ‘this is what I believe’. I still had my reservations, but in the end it was out of my control. There was nothing I could do. My daughter started school in September 2013 into what was a moderately religious school, funded by the taxpayer with no financial contribution made by the Church since it was first established in the 1960s. However, the school was still governed by the Church.
Within the first few weeks my daughter came home to tell me that ‘our god is the Christian god’, ‘god lives in the sky’ and that ‘my soul is in my stomach’. She sang songs like ‘Our god is a great big god’ and ‘Love the lord your god’ all with hand actions and great enthusiasm. I realised that she probably didn’t understand half of it, even asking me what a soul was, but my fears had been realised. She was too young to think critically, to ask the Reverend ‘How do you know my soul is in my stomach?’ and ‘How do you know god lives in the sky?’ I was starting to wonder why they would tell children this. How would this information benefit my child? Despite their best intentions there was no evidence for these teachings. I knew I was unlikely to receive a satisfactory answer. However, I felt a duty to at least raise these concerns with the school, though I did not want my daughter to become singled out. Just because I had a lack of religious belief, did that mean they could impress their beliefs on my vulnerable daughter (anyone under the age of 18 in law)?
I wrote to the school stating that the values which they teach could be taught in an inclusive setting, outside of Christianity, so that the Muslims, Jews and non-believers alike could all reflect together. There was no need to separate children based on their parent’s beliefs and surely this is what is creating division in the world. I informed them that I was bringing my daughter up to take responsibility for her own life, that her failures, successes and achievements were her own and that she is good because it makes her andpeople around her feel good. In 2014, schools should be teaching children how to think, not what to think, surely. For me, taking Humanism to school literally means applying logic and reason to school, something which I found very difficult to reconcile here.
Adam Lee, 20/08/2014
Source: Daylight Atheism
Unknown author, 20/08/2014
Source: New Humanist Blog