Category Archives: Humanists doing good

10 Ways to Start a Fund for Social Good Online

Mashable/Social Media: Fundraising is a key component for most social good campaigns and projects. Thanks to the the Internet and the social web, raising money for a non-profit, community project or charitable organization or relief effort is easier than ever before…

If you have an idea or a cause that you want to bring awareness to and raise funds around, there are lots of great online tools to help get you started… Read more

Holocaust Memorial Day – rescuers

“Only a few Evangelicals, a few Catholics a few Orthodox, a few agnostics, and a few atheists (and not necessarily in that order) helped the Jewish people during their persecution.

Varian Fry, a bespectacled, frail, moody intellectual; a man who would seem to be a most unlikely candidate to stand against the Gestapo, succeeded in organising the escape of approximately fifteen hundred men and women from Nazi occupied France in 1940-41. A man who appeared to have no religious motivation, Fry explained to his mother that he stayed because it took courage and ‘courage us a quality I hadn’t previous been sure I possessed’. To his wife he wrote: ‘Now I think I can say that I possess an ordinary amount of courage’

Source: Rausch, David A. (2000) ‘Hard Questions Asked by the Holocaust’ in Rittner, Carol, Smith, Stephen D., Steinfeldt, Irena (eds) The Holocaust and the Christian World Continuum: New York

Research suggests generosity is in the genes

The BBC reports that an Israeli study involving 203 people revealed those who had certain variants of a gene called AVPR1a were on average nearly 50% more likely to give money away in an online task.

Lead researcher Dr Ariel Knafo said: “The experiment provided the first evidence, to my knowledge, for a relationship between DNA variability and real human altruism.”

The gene AVPR1a plays a key role in allowing a hormone called arginine vasopressin to act on brain cells. Vasopressin, in turn, has been implicated in social bonding.

Humanists raise money for poor effected by Californian fires

Hemant Mehta,the Friendly Atheist reports the Center for Inquiry—Los Angeles is launching an effort through the Secular Humanist Aid and Relief Effort (SHARE) to raise charitable funds to assist low income and displaced families who have been affected by the recent fires sweeping Southern California.

SHARE is a charity, maintained by the Council for Secular Humanism for over two decades to channel aid to victims of natural disasters, forwards funds received to organisations providing direct relief to the victims.

Virtues linked to faith?

Canada’s National Post reports on new survey findings that religious believers are more likely than atheists to place a higher value on love, patience and friendship.

The researcher is reportedly claiming that the results could be a warning that Canadians need a religious basis to retain civility in society since those who are involved with religious groups are being exposed to a whole range of values that are not being propagated well by any other major source.

Although “he acknowledged that many non-believers still place a high value on morality and ethics” he attributes this partly to “a legacy from previous generations who held deeper religious views.

The smallest difference was in relation to the value of honesty (94% theists vs 89% atheists valued honesty) which the report notes is the least “emotional” virtue.

But as Justin Trottier, executive director of the Centre for Inquiry Ontario, points out the categories are not culturally neutral and are framed around Christian values ignoring other qualities such as “scientific thinking”, “Critical thinking” or [my own suggestions] equality, and respect for human rights.

Furthermore both Trottier and the study’s author acknowledge that claiming virtues is not the same as enacting them and so it rather than (or as well as) exposing people to the values themselves, religious organisations might merely be exposing people to the language and rhetoric of virtue.  And as Trottier says “Religion tends to be very polarizing, so religious people always feel very passionately about those values. They always feel ‘very strongly.’ Religion always does this black-and-white thing. An atheist is a lot more temperate, a bit more hesitant. An atheist might be more nuanced in his or her thinking.”

We should instead look to people’s deeds.  Of course we humanists should not be so defensive that we can never accept an unpleasant portrait of ourself (just as we would hope religious people can be accepting of their faults). These virtues are not things that we will ever have too much of but it does appear that this survey only tells part of the story.

Social virtues graph

World Food Day

John Boyd OrrToday is World Food Day which commemorates the anniversary of the founding of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on 16 October 1945.

The first Director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (and the World Health Organisation) was John Boyd Orr (1880-1971) later Lord Boyd Orr. He was an adviser to the British Humanist Association, and put his humanist ideals into practice. As a scientist and a humanist, believed that we should use our knowledge to ensure that everyone in the world had enough to eat. The titles of his books, Food and the People , Health and Income , and Famine and Feast, showed the main concerns of his life. His efforts to eradicate hunger in the world won him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1949, and he was made a Companion of Honour by The Queen.

Daniel Dennett – works speak more loudly than words

Daniel DennettDanniel Dennet offered this gem in a recent interview with Hemant Mehta:

“We need to show those who fear us that atheists are not value-challenged, and works speak more loudly than words. I think that well-organized and well-publicized campaigns for health, justice, safety, environmental protection, etc. to rival the good works of the churches would actually swell our ranks. Many people want to be part of large, inspiring projects that make the world better. (And we should let believers participate in OUR projects as long as they don’t try to use them to spread their own messages.)


Black History Month

Black History Month has been celebrated across the UK every October for over 30 yearsand serves as a time to highlight and celebrate the achievements of Black communities. Although I am not Black I will be using this opportunity to highlight Black and other humanists with a non-European heritage.

Secular humanism today is very much rooted in Christian European culture and the most famous humanists today and in history – Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Grayling, Russell, Bradlaugh and Holyoake – are White, male and – with the exception of Harris- fairly old.

But humanist experiences are more diverse than this as we shall explore this month. Let us begin with the picture of religion and belief in the UK. The 2001 Census revealed that 15 per cent of the British population reported having no religion (although subsequent diffenetly worded surveys have revealed the proportion to be much higher). Just over half of all Chinese people (53 per cent), and just under one quarter of people from Mixed ethnic backgrounds (23 per cent), stated they had no religion. Asian, Black African and White Irish people were least likely to have no religious affiliation. Around 1 in 200 Pakistanis and Bangladeshis reported having no religion.

But as we shall see, in the UK and abroad there are plenty of notable Black, Indian, Chinese and other non-European people who are part of the story of humanism..

Religious Composition of Ethnic Groups in the UK April 2001

Humanism in Ghana

GhanaLeo Igwe was speaking at a Workshop on Humanism at the University of Cape Coast to explore the opportunities for the International Humanist Ethical Union to work with activists and universities in Ghana.

He began by referring to Ghana’s humanist heritage  – Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah was a humanist:

And he exemplified his humanism in his dogged fight against colonialism and imperialism, particularly in leading Ghana to become the first Sub Saharan African nation to gain independence in 1957.

Listen to what he has to say about humanism in Africa . “The African personality is itself defined by a cluster of humanist principles which underlie the traditional African society.”

Nkrumah said it loud and clear that “Fear created the gods, and fear preserves them, fear in bygone ages of wars, pestilence, earthquakes and nature gone berserk, fear of acts of God. Fear today of the equally blind forces of backwardness and rapacious capital . Continue reading

Labour vice chair says Britain needs more Christians to shape its future for the better

Traidcraft Chief Exec Paul Chandler, Stephen Timms MP and Chino Henriquez of Chilean co-operative ApicoopEkklesia reports that Stephen Timms, the Labour Party’s vice-chair with special responsibility for faith communities, has highlighted the critical role of Christian organisations in shaping modern Britain.

Speaking at the national conference of Traidcraft, the Christian-based fair trade organisation he said:

“There is positive impact when Christians are involved in the lives of their community, because these people bring valuable qualities in their service which are rare elsewhere and they are qualities modern Britain urgently needs,”

“If our aim is a new world freed from the injustice and poverty, we need active input in our communities from people whose starting point is Christianity, and Traidcraft is a very good example of what can happen when we get it.”

 His remarks have upset Muslim groups who… Continue reading

Hold on, aren’t atheists suposed to be the ones everyone thinks aren’t good people?

Karen ArmstrongIn the Islamica interview with Karen Armstrong I mentioned yesterday, it is also put to her that “Too often it seems that religious people are not necessarily more compassionate, more tolerant, more peaceful or more spiritual than others. America, for example, is a very religious country, and at the same time it is the most unequal socially and economically. What does this say about the purpose of religion?”

She replies:

“The world religions all insist that the one, single test of any type of religiosity is that it must issue in practical compassion. They have nearly all developed a version of the Golden Rule: “Do not do to others what you would not have done to you.” Continue reading

Atheism services on the rise at US colleges

Divya Bahl reports for the Daily Free Press that at Harvard University and Tufts University, student clubs in the Secular Student Alliance, hold services for atheists.

Although Boston University has no alliance and its atheists do not congregate Boston Atheists Director Zach Bos says atheist congregations can use the same methods churches do to draw nonbelievers together: “[Use] the aesthetic pleasure of song, the humane hunger to address questions of ultimate meaning and just remove from it all those things that religion comprises for the sake of its own perpetuation,” he said.

Greg EpsteinThe services offered at Harvard range from weekly services, such as a the Humanist Passover Seder, to community-service congregations. “Some of our events lately have been sold out while others have been a smaller group of 15 to 20 people,” Humanist Chaplian Greg Epstein (pictured) said. “Some students might perceive it closely to a religious service and do not want to be a part of it. My main goal is to make this world which will never be perfect a better place.”

Should there be a British humanist of the year award?

Australia has one, so does America. Should Britain?

 The Australian Humanist of the Year is awarded to an “Australian who had demonstrated outstanding qualities of the type needed to advance mankind…An occasional award is made to a Humanist Society member for outstanding contributions to the Humanist movement or to furthering the ideals of Humanism: this person is given the award of Outstanding Humanist Achiever.”

The American award goes to “a person of national or international reputation who, through the application of humanist values, has made a significant contribution to the improvement of the human condition.”

The National Secular Society last year introduced the Irwin Prize for the Secularist of the Year (worth £5000) which appeared to be given on the basis of how much a person has done to promote secularism or science or criticise religion (nominees included Flemming Rose, the man who commissioned the Mohamed cartoons for Jyllands-Posten). Continue reading

The inspirational foxhole atheist

Matthew ChapmanMatthew Chapman writes in the Huffington Post about Pat Tillman, the professional American football player who gave up a lucrative sporting career to join the army andf fight in Iraq” “When Tillman went to war, he knew he was alone and finite. When he contemplated the possibility of getting killed, he did not see angels and fluffy clouds beyond that moment, but utter darkness. He required no guarantees of ultimate survival before he jumped in. In fact, according to credible reports, the very last words he spoke were to a nearby soldier who was lying on the ground crying out to God for help. “Would you shut your (expletive) mouth?” yelled Tillman. “God’s not going to help you. You need to do something for yourself, you sniveling…”

Patrick TillmanWith his comic-book good looks and dialogue to match, perhaps Tillman can provide a role model for young atheists. A real hero with real courage, he not only refutes forever the lie that there are no atheists in foxholes, but more than that provides an opening for a far more radical thought: atheism, in and of itself, is courageous, and faith, in and of itself, is cowardly.”

New York New York

New YorkI’m off to New York today to run the New York half marathon and will be back on the 14th. I might even try and blog whileI’m there to get some US perspectives.

I’m running in aid of the Poppy Project which is run by Eaves Housing and is one of the charities that the South West London Humanists are supporting this year.

Poppy provides high quality supported accommodation across London for women who have been trafficked into prostitution. Poppy combines direct services, support and advocacy with research, development and lobbying. This allows the project to bridge the gaps between theory, practice and the need to influence strategy.

If you’re feelign generous you can even sponsor me at Donating through this site is simple, fast and totally secure. It is also the most efficient way to sponsor me: Eaves will receive your money faster and, if you are a UK taxpayer, an extra 28% in tax will be added to your gift at no cost to you.

Non-religious doctors just as likely to care for poor

Doctor and Child

Doctors who said they were “spiritual, but not religious,” also ranked high in caring for the poor.

“We can say a lot of doctors are doing a lot of good, whether religious or not,” said Dr. Farr Curlin, one of the authors of the study, published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

Most studies show religious people more likely than others to help the poor, according to Dr. Harold Koenig, director for the Center for the Study of Religion, Spirituality and Health at Duke University.

“But nobody has looked at this question in physicians,” he said. “It’s the largest and most systematic study of U.S. physicians. The fact that there weren’t large differences is interesting.”

…Curlin, who attends a nondenominational church, said the findings disappointed him.

“Caring for the poor is an expression of faithfulness and commitment,” he said. “But many religious physicians don’t make the connection.”

Humanist Jews stand by Muslim victims of hate crime

The arson-attacked houseIn Sarasota County, Florida, authorities are investigating an arson that destroyed a Muslim family’s home as a hate crime.

The blaze happened on July 6. The Sejfovics, who moved from Bosnia in 2001, were out of town on holday and returned to find their home completely destroyed and spray-painted with anti-Muslim graffiti.

Several agencies, including the FBI, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, are investigating the fire.

Members of the Unitarian-Universalist Church – the church that sponsored the family in 2001 – are standing by the family and vetting correspondence and phone calls. Others who have offfered theire suppport are a local rabbi and a Humanist Jewish Congregation, a couple of American-Islamist Groups, as well as many, many outraged individuals. Condolences and a reward have been offered; a fund is in the process of being set up.

Humanist of the month?

The Observer Magzine’s regular column “This much I know” interviews Harry Gabriel this week, a 72 year-old stage door keeper from London. And what a guy!

It was shocking to arrive in Britain in the early Sixties and experience the hostility towards immigrants, which was almost everywhere.

I found theatre people more forward-thinking in their acceptance of different people. This environment enables me to be without unhappiness, anger or frustration.

My reaction to seeing – on my security camera – women urinating in the doorway is to think, ‘It’s already happening, so it’s not something I can do anything about.’

One advantage of wearing a silk suit and tie to work is that you don’t have to go home and change before a party. You’re prepared.

I opted out of eating meat 20 years ago when I realised it was being contaminated by chemicals. I say contaminated because it is unnatural and unnecessary. It is poisoned.

The actor I’m most happy to have met is Jack Lemmon, who made the film Missing, about American involvement in Chile. He said that when you know people and you see what bad things they do, you puzzle why, terribly. And he had the opportunity to ask Reagan directly, ‘How could you do these things in Chile?’ But Reagan just laughed.

The best way to move on someone who is stalking an actress is to go out to him and ask, ‘Is there any particular person you are always coming here to see?’

I can’t resist intervening anywhere to beseech people not to fight. If I see a lady’s bottom slapped, I will say, ‘How would you feel if someone slapped your sister in such a manner?’

I love parties and get invited to a lot. The most lavish and enjoyable was for Miss Saigon. I rarely leave before the music stops and I’m often first on the dance floor. Luckily I’ve never, ever, smoked or drunk alcohol, so I have the health and energy to dance until 5am.

I love the rhythms of Nigerian music but ignore the words, which mainly praise politicians or God, or both. My parents were high-church Christians. When I revisit Nigeria it’s difficult for my family to reconcile that I relate to people in a Christian manner yet opted out of a belief in God.

Accidents occur during high-speed costume changes because actresses forget they’re wearing high heels on stairs. Nine times out of 10 they land on their bottoms.

Choosing years ago not to own a car put me at an advantage money-wise, but also meant I no longer had to have contact with the police, who stopped me frequently for being a black man.

The most difficult thing for me to think about is the unnecessary, tragic Nigerian civil war, which meant I lost many friends and close relations.

Rather than give money to a gym in order to exercise and lose weight, one can eat well and walk.

When your tailor retires, you can find a new one who follows instructions and does everything perfectly – except there’ll be one little problem, like a zip that’s noisy or threatens to trap your willy.

I don’t believe there would now be extreme poverty if Africa had co-operatively become a United States of Africa, as envisaged by Kwame Nkrumah. So I call myself an African, with Nigeria as my place of birth, Britain as my home and the world as my country.

I’ve never missed a day’s work through illness in 20 years on the door. But I’ll ask for a day off to attend any lecture by Noam Chomsky.

Madeline Bunting claims humanists lack a moral language

Madeline BuntingIt’s that time again for another Madeline Bunting attack on humanists in the Guardian. Apparantly Gordon Brown is using religious shorthand to show moral purpose: “his government was going to be about two things – competence and serious moral purpose. It’s the latter which this son of the manse repeatedly emphasises as he refers back to the devout family background which provided his “moral compass”. He is the third consecutive Labour leader to put religion at the heart of his politics, and it’s not just a matter of leaders.

It’s a curious phenomenon that at a time when Christianity continues its steady decline in this country, religion has re-emerged as a central inspiration of political rhetoric – not as the flash-in-the-pan aberration of one individual but now well established as a convention of the centre ground, acknowledged by the Cameroons as much as by Labour. This strange afterlife of religious belief must be pretty galling to secularists and humanists.

…It is as if with the collapse of what John Gray in his new book calls the “political religions” – most significantly, communism – there is no effective alternative ethical language other than that of the Bible. The 20th-century traditions of humanism, secularism and even atheism have signally failed to develop a popular language of morality in which to describe moral character and the disciplines of responsibility, self-restraint and duty which are essential to democracy and social wellbeing. If you want to convince a sceptical, inattentive electorate of your moral purpose, you have to use the shorthand of faith.”

Hmm.. talking about a ‘moral compass’ and ‘soul’ is hardly putting religion at the centre of politics now is it (more like a desperate attempt at rebranding)?

So what if we still employ language with religious roots? Meanings change and it’s be pretty odd if we threw away our cultural roots suddenly. So for example, when when we talk about charity today most of mean something slightly different than the original biblical concept. Ideas like ‘spirituality’ still are useful to a humanist like myself. None of these indicates a failure of humanism any more than co-opting pagan festivals indicated a failure of Christianity.

What’s important is that non-religious basis of ethics, whether it’s rights, utilitarianism or the Kantian moral imperative (which have been developed by the religious as much as the non-religious) have replaced literal obedience to holy books.

And so what if Gordon Brown is personally religious? As long as people don’t assume that one or any religion is the only way to live a good life.

Environmental Humanism in Guyana

Guyana's Kaituer Falls

Environmental Humanism Guyana is a humanist organisation that seeks “to apply common sense, proactive environmental concern and a Rationalist approach for Guyana.”

It’s founder Gareth says “There’s a huge and untapped constituency for humanists, plus people who probably are humanists but just don’t know it yet, to do great things. The likes of CAFOD, Christian Aid etc do some terrific work – but we could do better. Environmental Humanism Guyana is an opportunity for humanists to actually do something, and bind us together whilst we’re at it. “

Hat tip: 21st Century Network