HOW TO COMMEMORATE A HUMANIST ICON
Original Article: http://ahsstudents.org.uk
Upon hearing about the death of Sir Terry Pratchett I felt the world had lost one of its great minds. I’m a huge Pratchett fan: having read his books since I was a small child, I always found them interesting and sort of knew they were funny, but it took getting a little older and wiser to understand why they were so amusing sometimes. Terry’s humour was clever like that. I also had the privilege to attend the British Humanist Association’s (BHA) conference in Leeds where Terry received the Humanist of the year award in 2013.
When I heard the news I thought, “What better way to send Terry off than to show that humanists can do death too?” After all: “DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING” said Death. “JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.” It occurred to me that this would be an excellent opportunity to raise awareness of the good life of a great man. A man who has left behind not only a wealth of literary works and a rich universe containing the Discworld – precariously perched on the back of four elephants, who themselves stand on the back of Great A’Tuin the turtle – that we can all inhabit simply by turning the pages of his books, but also a legacy in ethical and compassionate charitable and social efforts including supporting assisted dying, and raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease.
Students and staff from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) are inviting people to join them as they pay tribute to the late author Sir Terry Pratchett.
Following the death of the award-winning author last week, several UCLan student societies have teamed up with Alzheimer’s Research UK to host an event on Thursday 19 March to celebrate the life and work of Sir Terry Pratchett.
Event organiser Glen Carrigan, who is a Masters by Research Student in UCLan’s School of Psychology, will share a reading from Sir Terry’s 2013 humanist of the year acceptance speech which will be followed by the screening of two films; Terry Pratchett:Shaking Hands with Death and The Colour of Magic.
Glen commented: “Sir Terry Pratchett was a fantastic and unique individual, talented and conscientious, as well as a beloved patron of humanism.“He leaves behind not only a wealth of literary works that many of us have enjoyed from childhood through to this present day, but also a legacy in ethical and compassionate charitable and social efforts including supporting assisted dying, and raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease.This event will celebrate the life and work of Sir Terry Pratchett as we hope he would have wanted it; with humour, reflection and a feeling of only slight embuggerance.”
The event will take place in UCLan’s Darwin Building Lecture Theatre from 6pm – 8pm. It is free to attend but the organisers welcome donations to Alzheimer’s Research UK. People can book via EventbriteFor more information contact Glen on GACarrigan1@uclan.ac.uk or call 01772 893775. The tribute evening will be run in association with the British Humanist Association, the UCLan Students’ Union Atheist, Humanist, and Secularist Societies and Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Many activists including myself have signed this statement (and it isn’t the first time we’ve done so) condemning the treatment of Raif Badawi who is being imprisoned, lashed, and may even be executed for merely founding a website (Free Saudi Liberals), being critical of the regime, and “insulting Islam.” Condemnation of violence and atrocities is never enough. We need to put pressure on our government to take action against Saudi Arabia.
As a member of this electorate, our voices are more effective when we speak together, so if you sympathise with the plight of Raif – as well as many others who are the victims of systemic religious prejudice throughout the world, such as bloggers in Bangladesh – then please put pressure on your local MP to back this statement.
Theocratic nations like Saudi Arabia with its regressive religiously inspired penal code might not care what we think, but that’s only because no consequences for their actions are forthcoming. WE can be the motivators for such action and help to end these practices:
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, January 7, 2015 in Paris, many opinions abound, and it becomes difficult to offer any unique insight of one’s own without being drowned out, or indeed, wondering if you should offer anything at all.
Opinions range from outright disgust and condemnation to stating that the cartoonists deserved it. But there also exists a slightly more insidious view: that of condemning the killers and also condemning the cartoons. I have no doubt that people who say something along the lines of “While I condemn the killing, nobody should insult the Prophet” think they’re protecting all Muslims and their sensibilities. They’re also justifiably protecting themselves from reprisals. But perhaps this view deserves scrutiny in itself, and Tehmina Kazi does an excellent job of simply explaining some of the misconceptions that create such a position.
I would urge us, if we haven’t already, to think before acting, and to consider whether protecting rotten behavioural yardsticks such as blasphemy, even with the best of intentions, is the right thing to do. After all, lampooning religion isn’t done to upset the religious, but to challenge bad ideas.
Continue Reading this article at Atheist Republic.
I was once asked by the Stockport Humanists if I could present a wreath at the official Remembrance civic ceremony. I was extremely happy to help and also honoured to be asked to take part in a day that has particular importance to me and all other serving and non-serving military personnel past and present. Imagine my surprise to be contacted a little later and told that I was not allowed to lay a wreath as an official part of the ceremony to pay my respects. Certain individuals and organisations including The Rt Revd Robert Atwell have the opinion that “we remain clear that this is a religious ceremony and wish it to continue as such” (Jan 14th 2013). This is also particularly galling when bolstered in a recent telephone conversation by the words of one local Councillor who exclaims that there was “no stomach” to take on the church.
Continue reading this article at Atheist Republic.
“The UK Law Society has rescinded its practice note relating to the drawing up of Sharia compliant wills. Such wills stated that “illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs. … The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir. … Non-Muslims may not inherit at all. … a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir. …” This has been welcomed by many as the UK’s legal sector finally making a statement against the practicing of Sharia in Britain.
The campaign against the guidance included groups such as South Hall Black Sisters, One Law for All, and equality and social justice campaigners across a diverse scope of representation, from LGBT rights activist Peter Tatchell to feminist comedienne Kate Smurthwaite”
Continue reading this article at Atheist Republic
Calling any religion, a religion of peace is a problem. We might wish they were, and our media takes every opportunity to tell us that they are despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, but that isn’t the same as it being true. Blanket statements to the effect that they are, negate any need for criticism or improvement and for this reason are not just misleading, but dangerous. Tony Blair would have us believe that violence in the name of religion is an ‘abuse of religion’ and a ‘perversion of faith.’ This is probably a well intentioned attempt at preserving community cohesion, but it’s anything but true as Ian Reader, a Professor of Religious Studies at Lancaster University succinctly points out. Such sentiments enable the ‘moderate’ believer to rest easy, knowing that they’re unlikely to have to change their opinions, but then the fanatic can equally believe that they don’t need to either, because after all, theirs is a religion of peace too.
Freedom of Religion, and Freedom from Religion
Conspiracy theories and exponents of revolution have many holes in their arguments, even when they’re not as poorly made and detached from reality as when Russell Brand makes them. One of the main problems though, could be the mindset of the individual making all the noise themselves. Putting the word theorist after conspiracy, doesn’t then mean that an opinion becomes a testable hypotheses or is worth being taken seriously. Calling yourself a revolutionary, doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about, have a good heart, have the answers, or indeed, any solution at all. In Brand’s case, I don’t doubt that what he says comes from a good place, and I agree there needs to be a change in the way we live together in the world, but it needs to be actionable, and not just polemic that satisfies the idealistic – which is very difficult in the real world. I don’t discount everything he says, indeed, I’m impressed that he cares at all given his extremely privileged position as he might stand to lose out most. But, I’m skeptical of much of what he says for a few reasons.
One of the main problems if you identify as a conspiracy theorist, an anarchist, or a revolutionary, is that you tend to be against the ‘official’ narrative, whatever it is. It’s also possible that you’d object to many of the official positions and policies even if they’re beneficial, and any verdict surrounding unrelated events, even before there’s anything to object to, because you’ve primed yourself to. Another issue is the notion that you have to be open-minded to any alternative, whatever that option might be, even if it’s nonsense or just not feasible. However, without stretching the imagination, there are some theories that potentially have grains of truth to them: That aggressive financial lobbying for oil may have contributed in part to the Iraq war, or that the government are watching everything we do aren’t too far-fetched. There’s definitely a correlation between resources and war. And the government (and the media) are surely watching some of us, they have the technology, hopefully they’re focusing on terrorists though, but not me, I’m not interesting enough…. but maybe that’s what they want me to think!
A glaring worry here is that even if the idea is patently ridiculous, such as the belief that there was no moon landing (you must see Prof Brian Cox’s reaction), or that global warming is a government plot, people might be inclined to believe them, and their opinion becomes the norm: In short, you’re so open-minded that your brain falls out. This in turn leads to the conspiracy theorist often being more closed-minded than those they accuse of wearing blinkers. This is in part due to a rigid obedience to an overarching anti-authority attitude, and which people like Charlie Veitch who change their mind in such circles are vilified and threatened for deviating from. The notion that there must be something more sinister at play, and importantly that it must have been intentional rather than random is also prominent; A phenomenon psychologists call attribution error. Because of this, anything you want to cite as evidence propping up your theory doesn’t really need to be evidence, it just needs to fit with your particular schema, so things become proof through necessity, rather than them actually proving anything. And anything that is contrary to your view is discounted as merely part of the cover up or the establishment’s self-serving narrative.
Take 9/11. Many people, potentially even Brand by his own admission believe, for whatever reason, that the USA blew up the twin towers. Since then many other conspiracy theories abound regarding the USA’s part as an intentional and nefarious actor in many other domestic and foreign affairs. Many people concluded the Boston bombing was the work of the CIA, even before there was any evidence to go by. Alex Jones (who also knew Charlie Vietch mentioned previously, and made a film calling him a “psychopath” with “sociopath eyes” just for changing his views) at Info Wars in particular cites two men dressed in ‘off duty’ Seal attire as proof that it was an inside job, even before anyone really knew what was going on. And that’s what I’m talking about: Two men dressed in a particular way became evidence to fit the pre-existing mould of governmental suspicion, rather than actually being evidence in favour of any explanation of the event in question. By the way, I’m not saying don’t be suspicious of the government, we should be, we should hold them to account, but reasonably so, and actually have an alternative in mind rather than just waffle.
The final problem is that people who claim to be the archetype of open-mindedness (whatever that looks like), could be in their own way, just finding another source of information to swallow hook line and sinker. The lure of celebrity is powerful (it’s why I used a picture of Brand in this post and probably the only reason you’re reading this), and when someone so passionate seems to be fighting the good fight, then they must be right every time…. mustn’t they? In fact, some research shows that there is a link between conspiracy theories and feelings of political powerlessness and a reduced intention to engage in politics, so it might not be such a coincidence that Brand espouses both. It might actually be fear and despair that Brand is unintentionally stoking, rather than revolution or reform. If he’s serious about his politics, perhaps giving up is fortune and committing to focusing on his revolution would convince more of us that he is, now that would be a positive and self-less act.
It requires a huge amount of cognitive effort and attention, as well as an ability to constantly critique one’s own biases (which can be uncomfortable) to do all of the research on every issue you might be interested in. Thus, it’s much easier to watch the apparently open-minded Brand on the Trews because he mirrors your expectations, just like any other social, political, or religious ideologue you might follow. But be wary, you might actually be relying on being spoon fed and misled by such people, rather than actually do the research, vet the sources (including Brand, and governmental mouth pieces), use a critical eye, and truly come to your own conclusions in line with what is evidenced beyond reasonable doubt, and realistic in practice.
The National Union of Students (NUS) won’t condemn Islamic State (IS), because it would be Islamophobic to do so, despite the proposal being tendered by a student of Kurdish descent. This tells us quite a bit about ‘Islamophobia,’ and the associated post-colonial rhetoric that stifles discourse on these issues, ultimately forcing people to be tolerant of the intolerant… lest they be branded intolerant. It also tells us that gross generalisations occur on both sides of an argument even by those claiming to be addressing them. Read the rest of this entry