The Demonic Humanists and the Insecure Christians

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In December the British Government blocked the legal recognition of humanist marriages because it was seen as a ‘fringe’ issue.  Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association called this decision an insult, pointing out that ‘under this government, Scientologists have been added to the list of religions that can perform legal marriages, joining Spiritualists, the Aetherius Society (which believes in aliens and that the Earth is a goddess), and dozens of other religions. To describe the legal recognition of humanist marriages as a “fringe” issue insults the many couples – much larger in number than these many small religious groups – whose planned marriages next year will not be able to go ahead if Number 10 blocks this change.’

Today on The Big Questions aired by the BBC (available to view here for the next 29 days), one of the questions for discussion was “Should humanists have equal rights to religions?” and this, apparently, was just way too much for some of the guests to handle.

Taiwo Adewuyi of Discuss Jesus jumped straight in and described Humanist weddings as “entirely demonic.” He said “It all goes back to the origins of humanism, humanism is the cancer of thanksgiving, it is the devils PR, it is a first class ticket to the sea of Wantonness and debauchery.”

He explained that humanism is apparently attempting to knock god off of his throne, just as Lucifer himself attempted, explaining that “the issue with humanism is that it tries to knock God off of the throne. The bible talks about lucifer, whose name is The Devil and his attempt to ascend to the most high, and basically replace god.”

“Humanism” he explained a bit later “is a 1st class ticket to the very hyper-sexualised society that we are now seeing.”

Perhaps he has been to a few Humanist orgies that the majority of us were not invited to? Not sure, but I think that Adewuyi has a very perverse view of the non-religious around him. I wonder what it is about us that he finds so repellent?

I think the answer lies with an insecurity in his belief system that is knocked so badly when someone who doesn’t agree with it asks for equal representation in society. After all, Adewuyi himself suggested that two people who identify as non-religious getting married in a non-religious context could overpower his god. It seems he doesn’t think his god is that mighty after all.

I also think that the question being discussed should actually have been “Should the religious have more rights than non-religious people?”

This might have been too much for Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin to process though because she apparently couldn’t even get her head around why non-religious people would want to get married.

In fact, Hudson-Wilkin who is the Speakers Chaplain in the House of Commons didn’t even seem to understand what humanists were, mistaking us for some anti-religious group rather than just people who are a-okay without religion.

She said “I am puzzled why a group that is anti-religion is then trying to keep the religious practices. Marriage is a sacred act. We see it as a gift from god, so it is not something we think anybody just gets up and, stands in front, and says I’m marrying you. If humanists are anti-religion I don’t understand why you want to keep and do all of the things that religion does.”

Well, that’s a good point Rose, you’ve totally got us there except MARRIAGE PRE-DATES RELIGION ACTUALLY SO BE NICE AND SHARE.

Interestingly Hudson-Wilkin would not provide an answer when asked by other guests if she would attend the Humanist wedding of a friend if invited, or if she would attend a Muslim wedding ceremony if invited. It was extremely uncomfortable to watch her battle with whether or not to commit herself either way. Perhaps she was afraid that her words would be used as rope to hang her with by people on either side of the debate at a later point? Either way, how insecure must you be with your position on a subject that you’re so afraid to admit or deny that you’d attend a ceremony that was conducted away from your personal religious traditions?

Taiwo Adewuyi finished off by explaining that he isn’t exactly happy with the way in which humanists are trying to force their doctrine down other peoples throats (more evidence of secret humanist orgies?), he said “They’re trying to copy the very thing the bible does. I think teaching young people about humanism, that there is no god is a problem. I think the teaching of evolution is a lie. If we are evolving what are we evolving to. If we are subject to matter, time and space then if it is finite then when did it come to be?”

Wow. Yeah… I don’t think we have any reason to even pretend that Adewuyi is a man to be taken seriously, or even a man to be given the position of speaking on behalf of other Christians. Especially considering he shouted “POL POT!” at Andrew Copson for no apparent reason.

However, to be serious for a moment, doesn’t it speak volumes that when humanists- or even non-religious people who don’t identify as humanist -ask that their beliefs are given the same treatment as the beliefs of religious people one of the main reactions is absolute panic, fear and confusion? What a great indicator of how privileged the religious are in Britain. What a great indicator of how much this needs to change.

Sunday Assembly is not enough

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‘The philosophy of Atheism represents a concept of life without any metaphysical Beyond or Divine Regulator. It is the concept of an actual, real world with its liberating, expanding and beautifying possibilities, as against an unreal world, which, with its spirits, oracles and mean contentment, has kept humanity in helpless degradation.’ – Emma Goldman

In her essay The Philosophy of Atheism Emma Goldman groups religion with other man-made systems of domination.  The essay came to mind recently while reading an Alternet article by Alex Gabriel titled 10 Ways to Make Sure the Atheist Movement Is Not Just for the Wealthy. His experiences with religion were much harsher than mine and the piece is eye-opening to a whole new experience of discovering atheism. One in which the author and his family would have been unable to leave the church if they’d wanted to because of how much they depended upon it for support. In his article Alex tells those claiming to offer ‘alternatives to church’ to offer more, writing: 

When I was five with a mum on benefits, we had intense beliefs, but mainly church meant help. Our priest wrote a check when she needed money. Church friends offered food when we had none. Cast-offs were donated when I needed clothes. Lifts were given when we had to travel.

This help was paid for in religious loyalty. It’s easy to demand people quit their churches, but quitting’s sometimes impossible. Where would these things have come from had we left? If you want to replace religion, don’t just replace the abstractions the middle-class get from it. Replace the food and clothes. Find out who needs a fridge, a lift, a babysitter. Keep track of this. Put volunteers and email lists in place.

And don’t just do what churches do, do what rationalists do. Distribute food and clothes and condoms. Support meetings for humanist choir practice… and a secular sobriety circle. (Looking for class-related issues faith groups hijack? Substance abuse should be high on your list.)

Today I read a piece written by Simon Clare titled I have left Sunday Assembly. It’s important to me to point out that I have a lot of respect for Simon and how he approaches ideas. When Simon writes ‘I love the idea of reclaiming the positive aspects of traditional churches for humanity, but those in charge of the Central Sunday Assembly (SA) group have lost sight of this aim, allowing SA to succumb to the same flaws that twisted the institutions we’re supposed to be providing an alternative to’ I pay close attention and think others should too. I’d recommend reading his piece before continuing. 

I have written my thoughts about Sunday Assembly before, concluding that if it floated your boat that was great, but that I hoped you’d also find something to float your boat that didn’t mimic religious traditions. Sunday Assembly, you see, offers those abstractions that Alex Gabriel wrote of. The nice bits. The feel good bits. The singing and the assurance that life is good, that you are good, and that there is purpose for the non-religious. However, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think what Sunday Assembly offers is enough. Even if it does float your godless boat.

‘Man must break his fetters which have chained him to the gates of heaven and hell, so that he can begin to fashion our of his reawakened and illumined conciousness a new world upon earth.’ – Emma Goldman

A friend recently wrote “Until I attended the Sunday Assembly I thought my problem with religion was God. As it turns out, my problem with religion is church.” The church service, in my humble opinion, is one of those chains that Emma Goldman writes of. A fetter to be broken. That whole communities have, for centuries, been built up around the local church, that our ancestors were suspected of devil worship if they did not attend their local church service is disturbing. (Conflict of interest declaration: Somewhere in my family tree there are Pendle witches…)

When I have been vocal about my dislike of Sunday Assembly people have asked me ‘what’s the harm?’ and while there’s little harm, we do risk becoming complacent in our opposition of the dominance religion has in modern society. I’m sure that many who attend Sunday Assembly support other organisations who actually work in communities to help those in need which is great, but the point of Sunday Assembly then, is completely lost on me.

That the most popular alternative to religious church ceremonies mimics church ceremonies so closely is unsettling. If secularists want to reclaim the good of religion and forget the bad then they need to forget religious traditions altogether.  We already know that as secular people we can do good without any mimicking of religious traditions or settings. 

People don’t need church and Alex Gabriel is right when he talks about access to the vital things in life being more important; access to education, to food, housing, addiction treatment programmes, counselling, health services and more… services that, at the moment, are often heavily influenced by the church.

So, while Sunday Assembly pays their CEO to do what he does so that godless people can feel good, I hope others will continue supporting secular causes that reach out for humanity in the dark corners of society where no singing can be heard…

Abortion Rights
Age UK
Amnesty International

British Humanist Society
Fairtrade Foundation

Kiva
Oxfam UK 
Medecins Sans Frontieres 
National Aids Trust

National Secular Society
WaterAid 
UNICEF

David Cameron: the terrible Christian

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One of the teachers at my Church of England Primary School used to tell us children that a good Christian treated others as they wished to be treated themselves. She would explain that even the smallest kind gesture would make others think well of you and of your testimony in Christ. We were taught that good Christians were selfless, kind, shared, volunteered and loved their neighbour regardless of their story. Our teacher would remind us that we should live as Jesus did himself, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you Jesus said, John 13:15”, she would say “I have given you an example, that as I have done, so should you do.”

With this in mind, then, it seems that I am a better Christian that David Cameron, and I’m as rabidly atheist as they come.

His recent proclamations of religious pride come very soon after after several clashes between the coalition and the church, including a letter this week from Anglican bishops and church leaders calling on political parties to tackle food poverty.

I  happen to think that the messages and lessons we were taught from the bible at primary school can be taken out of the context of religion entirely and taught as secular values. Yet British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that non-believers, such as me and my family, fail to see that faith can give people a ‘moral code’.

A moral code? David Cameron wishes to teach us about being moral people?

The same David Cameron whose government has forced austerity onto the poorest to pay back the debt of the rich, irresponsible and selfish? whose government forces families to queue at food banks (often run by the sort of Christians that Cameron claims to be like, but isn’t) just to survive? The same man whose government punishes the sick and disabled for being sick and disabled and declares them ‘fit for work’ when they’re not and allows them to die as a result?

Fuck your moral code, David Cameron. Morals do not come from religion, they come from good people regardless of what they believe and you, the proud Christian, are living proof of that. 

Hate and Discrimination: Forgetting Atheist Students

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no place for hateIn 2012, after interviewing 9,229 students about their experiences with religiously motivated hate crime in Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE), the National Union of Students (NUS) published the ‘No Place for Hate’ report.

In it they concluded that ‘hate incidents on the basis of prejudice against peoples’ religion or belief are relatively rare, affecting a small minority of the students’ surveyed. However, our findings show that these hate incidents are not exceptional occurrences, indicating that colleges, universities and students’ unions need to take action.’

‘Almost one fifth of hate incidents were thought to have an element of religious prejudice, making up 7 per cent of all bias and non-bias incidents reported in our survey. Respondents identifying as Jewish (30 per cent; 21), Muslim (16.6 per cent; 54) or Sikh (12.7 per cent; 8) reported considerably higher rates of incidents motivated by prejudice against their religion than students from other religious or belief groups.’

They made the ten following recommendations for FE & HE institutions to help develop a cross-sector strategy to tackle hate and prejudice experienced by students across the UK. They also suggested the recommendations could be used by other agencies, law enforcement practitioners and Student Unions.

1. Demonstrate a firm commitment to equality and diversity
2. Develop preventative and educational activity on prejudice and hate
3. Stop or mitigate against hate incidents
4. Establish multi-agency, joined-up approaches to tackling hate
5. Strengthen existing support services
6. Establish strong support networks (for victims and faith socities)
7. Encourage reporting of, and maintain systematic records on, hate incidents
8. Provide flexible options to report hate incidents
9. Promote greater confidence in reporting mechanisms
10. Provide clear guidance on the law

The gov.uk website defines a hate crime as ‘crimes committed against someone because of their disability, gender-identity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation’ [protected characteristics], including threatening behaviour, assault, robbery, damage to property, inciting others to commit hate crimes and harassment.

Discrimination based on these protected characteristics can include treating someone less favourably than others because of their gender, race, sexuality, disability, religion and so on. It can also be indirect too, such as putting rules or arrangements in place that apply to everyone, but that put someone with a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage. Discrimination also comes in the form of unwanted behaviour (harrassment) linked to these protected characteristics that violates someone’s dignity or creates an offensive or hostile environment for them.

In 2012 the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASHS) at University College London got caught up in a censorship row with the university’s student union (SU) for using a Jesus and Mo cartoon on a Facebook page advertising a weekly social event they were holding. Why? The SU had received a “number of complaints” that both the depiction of Muhammad and the fact that the image shows him with a drink that looks like beer were offensive. The issue was resolved a short time later with the SU agreeing that they can not ask the society to take down the image because, you know… censorship isn’t okay.

www.jesusandmo.net
www.jesusandmo.net

Later that year the Reading University Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Society (RAHS) were forced to leave the Freshers Fair at the start of term because of the inclusion on their stall of a “blasphemous pineapple” named Mohammed. The point of the fruit was to promote their upcoming debate “Should we respect religion?”  but they were intimidated into leaving by the SU and other students.

In 2013 Sabbatical Officers of the London School of Economics (LSE) intimidated students and members of the LSE Student Atheist and Humanist (ASH) society at a Fresher’s Fair because they wore t-shirts with comics from Jesus and Mo on them, which allegedly depict the religious figures of the prophet Muhammad and Jesus of Nazareth, and other students had made complaints.

(You should check out Jesus and Mo, by the way. The cartoons are wondering and make bold statements in such a admirably gentle way. These cartoons have a way of summarising in four panel what some of us can’t summarise at all.)

all hail himMore recently, the South Bank Atheist Society (SBAS) fell foul of the same sort of censorship when members of the SU at London’s South Bank University (SBU) removed posters featuring the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Initially SABS were told the issue centred around the visibility of Adam’s genitals being offensive, but when society members offered to blur out the genitals, they were told the problem with the poster actually concerned religious offence. The issue was resolved recently and it became clear that the censorship was carried out by over-zealous and untrained staff.

It seems that perhaps HE and FE institutions, their agencies, and their Student Unions need further training about what does and does not constitute a hate crime so that they no longer treat people as though they are committing such offences when they are not. Either that or they’re being extremely over-zealous in stopping anything that has the potential to escalate into such from happening…. but at what cost?

Atheist and Secular student organisations have the same responsibility as other student organisations to ensure that they do not discriminate against other students based on protected characteristics, but holding and expressing different view points and opinions does not automatically become a form of discrimination. Free thought and free expression should not be censored simply because others are not willing to hear something they do not agree with, or something that challenges their own viewpoint.

SBAS president  Cloe Ansari is quoted at politics.co.uk saying “I never expected to face such blatant censorship and fragile sensibilities at university, I thought this would be an institution where I could challenge beliefs and in turn be challenged. All I have seen is religious sensibilities trumping all other rights with no space for argument, challenge or reasoned debate. It is not what I expected when I came to university.”

This sums up this worryingly growing problem in a nutshell. Religious sensibilities are being made a priority ahead of the right of every student to freely express themselves. Being offended doesn’t whisk up the right for the material that challenges you and your view to be removed at your demand, and yet Student Unions appear to be acting as though this is the case and it is bitterly disappointing.

During the research for the 2012 NUS report those who identified as non-religious or atheist reported that they adapt their behaviour to avoid discrimination, were worried about being victims of religious discrimination, and had experienced discrimination on the grounds of their religious beliefs just as those with a religious affiliation did.

It is right that educational institutions and organisations are aware of the possibility that the expression of differences of opinion and viewpoints focusing on religious beliefs could turn into discriminatory behaviour and hate crimes, but it is vital that the experiences of the non-religious are also included when developing codes-of-conduct, protocols and guidelines on what is and isn’t tolerable behaviour, and how to deal with discrimination and hate crimes when they occur. This doesn’t seem to be happening, and by not considering the experiences of non-religious students agencies and unions and demonstrating both direct and indirect intolerance of atheist and secular students and this needs to change. This is not acceptable and it never will be.

 

Whatever floats your godless boat

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I am non-religious. I always have been despite the best efforts of a Church of England Primary School, and those two or so years I spent in the company of Spiritualist friends, seduced by their ideas of an afterlife. I’m a happy non-religious, non-worshiping, atheist human being with as much good as bad to my name.

When I turned my back on tempting religious ideas I didn’t find it a struggle and I know that I am fortunate because of this. I know that many people are isolated, excluded and cast out when they doubt religious teachings. For some, identifying as an atheist is a life changing event – sometimes even a life endangering event. I think it’s important not to judge people who approach their atheism in different ways than I do, but sometimes it’s difficult. Sometimes other atheists make it difficult.

When Sunday Assembly became a thing, and when it’s popularity soared, it made me feel uncomfortable. For as long as I have been open about my atheism I have been questioned about my ethics and morals and what I live for. The person that I am is the person I became without religion and I am proud of that. I have personally never needed church and, in some ways, find the concept of belonging to a church congregation – being a part of a ‘flock’ – creepy as fuck.

I have read horror story after horror story from friends about the awful things they had to endure growing up in families who heavily relied on the church, and I vowed to myself long ago to never take the good and ignore the bad. The sense of belonging offered by the church must be lovely, and the giving-back-to-the-community aspect is nice and all – but can that good ever erase the terrible? No.

When I encounter people on the streets offering to pray away cancer, aids, crippling disease and more… or trying to entice people to join their congregation and speak in tongues I feel angry and disgusted. There is nothing appealing about organised religion and it’s traditions for me, and that includes church congregations – even parody, feel-good, ‘we all love the universe‘ ones.

I don’t believe in any gods, but I do believe in humanity. Unlike gods, humanity isn’t perfect and has never claimed to be. That’s why I like it. When tragedies occur I am always moved by the selfless acts of people who run towards the danger to help those in need. When there is a natural disaster, a famine or some other global crisis, I am moved by the generosity of those who don’t have much to give. When I do my food shopping I am moved when I see the basket at the front of the store collecting food for the local Food Bank always overflowing onto the floor with donations.

I get the need to belong. I’ve tried belonging to atheist and secular organiations but they never felt enough, or they tried too hard, or didn’t represent atheism in the way that I identified as being non-religious. After spending so long trying to find belonging I realised that to do so I needed to look away from organisations and just live.

I’m an old-fashioned atheist. I’ve never needed my atheism to make friends or to feel a sense of belonging or meaning, even though for a little while I thought the opposite. I am not defined by what I do or do not believe in. I don’t feel a desire or need to congregate with others on a Sunday morning and give thanks or to celebrate life. I celebrate it every day, and I get meaning from the people around me, and music, theatre, art, the cinema, a good book, writing, my job, going for coffee, libraries, museums, my community, learning new skills and many, many more things.

I have never felt the need to clap, dance or sing about these things that are touching and moving and inspire me.  It doesn’t seem satisfying enough, and I have heard people sneer one too many times at the atheists ‘who need church after all’. I don’t.

Yet, some atheists need church, and as mind boggling as that is to me, and as physically uncomfortable as it makes me, I understand that. Whatever floats your boat, right? Leaving religion is difficult. I understand the need for a support network for those who have started to doubt their religious teachings, or those feeling isolated or lost after leaving their religion. I just hope, deep down, that one day that celebration of what we are, and that sense of meaning, belonging and wonder can be found away from religious traditions – secular or not.

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