Category Archives: Humanist

Humanism included in online RE resources

The Guardian has a revieew of ICT resouces to support religious education classes.

It refers to REonline, “perhaps the best UK’s subject-centred site…run by the Christian foundation, Culham Institute”

“We’ve analysed the national framework and identified the key concepts,” says Tony Parfitt, who runs the site. “The framework now mentions 10 major faiths rather six, including Bahai, Humanism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism. We have 10 people from the faith traditions writing about them, and we give links to websites and supplementary reading. That’ll all be free with REonline.”

The inclusion of Humanism is welcomed especially in light of  calls from Ofsted for religious education to include non-religious beliefs. Although in reality it is pretty uneven and not particularly favourable, with humanism lumped in with ethical egoismfor example (but not say rights or utilitarianism) in one section. At least it’s a start though and hopefully more, better resources will grow in time. (I am involved in developing some myself so watch this space!)

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.

Service for victims of road traffic accidents

An interesting little story from Northampton. A remembrance service dedicated to people killed in road traffic collisions is being held on Sunday, November 18 as part of a worldwide memorial day organised by road accident victims’ charity RoadPeace.

What’s interesting is that this public memorial service will be a humanist one when traditionally you would expect it to be a Christian event. Someone out there is obviously alive to the fact that only humanist services can offer the inclusivity needed in a society of diverse religions and beliefs.

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.

Black History month – Confucious

ConfuciousConfucius, the Chinese philosopher who lived 500 BCE, was a great moral teacher who tried to replace old religious observances with moral values as the basis for social and political order. When he was asked if he could sum up “the true way” in a single word, he replied, “‘Reciprocity’ is such a word.” Confucius was not technically a humanist, but like humanists today he did not see “the true way” as following religious codes, but as based on reason and humanity, stressing the importance of benevolence, respect for others, and looking pragmatically at individual situations rather than blindly following traditional rules. Confucianism had many interpreters and followers – it was the state religion of China until the upheavals of the twentieth century.

Taken from British Humanist Association website

Black History month – Kwame Nkrumah

Kwame NkrumahKwame Nkrumah (1909 – 1972), one of the most influential Pan-Africanists of the 20th century, served as the founder, and first President of Ghana.

Nkrumah graduated from the Achimota School in Accra in 1930,  later studying at the Roman Catholic Seminary and teaching at the Catholic school in Axim. In 1935 he left Ghana for the United States, receiving a BA from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania in 1939, where he received a Bachelor of Sacred Theology. He also earned a Master of Science in education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 and a Master of Arts in philosophy the following year.

During his time in the United States, Nkrumah visited and preached in black Presbyterian Churches in Philadelphia and New York City. He read books about politics and divinity. He encountered the ideas of Marcus Garvey. He also tutored other students in philosophy. He also met the Trinidadian Marxist C.L.R. James in 1943, and later described how it was from James, then a Trotskyist, that he learnt ‘how an underground movement worked’.

He arrived in London in May 1945 intending to study at the LSE. However, after meeting with George Padmore he helped to organize the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England.

He returned to Ghana in 1947 and became general secretary of the newly founded United Gold Coast Convention but split from it in 1949 to form the Convention People’s party (CPP).

After his ‘positive action’ campaign created disturbances in 1950, Nkrumah was jailed, but when the CPP swept the 1951 elections, he was freed to form a government, and he led the colony to independence as Ghana in 1957. A firm believer in African liberation, Nkrumah pursued a radical pan-African policy, playing a key role in the formation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. As head of government, he was less successful however, and as time passed he was accused of forming a dictatorship. In 1964 he formed a one-party state, with himself as president for life, and was accused of actively promoting a cult of his own personality. Overthrown by the military in 1966, with the help of western backing, he spent his last years in exile, dying in Bucharest, Romania, on April 27, 1972. His legacy and dream of a “United States of African” still remains a goal among many.

Nkrumah was the motivating force behind the movement for independence of Ghana, then British West Africa, and its first president when it became independent in 1957. His numerous writings address Africa’s political destiny.

Nkrumah’s later humanism is apparant in these quotes:. “The African personality is itself defined by a cluster of humanist principles which underlie the traditional African society.” (Consciencism, 79)

“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 . (14)

Read more about a Communitarian Ethos, Equality and Human Rights in Africa on the International Humanist and Ethical Union Website

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

Silent, moderate majority – both religious and secular – must be silent no more

Tony BayfieldRabbi Tony Bayfield head of the Movement for Reform Judaism has written in a letter of support for charity Tolerance International UK that “the only salvation [from religious extemism] is for the silent majority, both religious and secular, to cease to be silent and for the moderates to demonstrate that moderation is not the same as acquiescence. ” Continue reading

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

Creationism in the UK – do you want the good news or the bad news?

The good news as reported by Ekklesia is that in England “after a number of requests from teaching unions and civic bodies, including the Christian think-tank Ekklesia and the British Humanist Association, the UK Department of Children, Schools, and Families has issued guidance for teachers uncertain whether and how to discuss creationism – which is rejected by both scientists and theologians as lacking factual and theoretical value.

A statement on Teachernet, a government website, states that “Creationism and intelligent design are not part of the National Curriculum for science” and describes “intelligent design” as “a creationist belief” that “is sometimes erroneously advanced as scientific theory but has no underpinning scientific principles or explanations supporting it and it is not accepted by the international scientific community.”

Not only is it good news that creationism is being clearly put in its place but it is also a demonstation of how religious and non-religious bodies can work together on common causes. Archbishop of canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has also described creationism as “a category mistake” in religious thought.

The bad news is that in Northern Ireland the Department of Education has said the teaching of alternative theories was a matter for schools. 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

Planet humanism

PlanetThe O Project is now pleased to be part of blog aggregator Planet Humanism. Planet Humanism is for blogs that have a generic humanist focus or element, regardless if they are atheistic or not.

If you’re interested in adding your blog to Planet Humanism, and if it has some kind of humanist element, you can email planethumanism@nullifidian.net.

Different beliefs are united but unheard in calling for fair and equal education

Simon BarrowEkklesia’s Simon Barrow writes in Comment is Free that Gordon Brown was right to use biblical language at the Labour Part conference against those employing religious rhetoric to oppose diversity and equality in family policy.

He goes on to argue thast “a similar pluralist case now needs to be made in relation to faith schools – where the government’s desire to ease its finance problems and promote social cohesion is misguidedly colluding with the wishes of some leaders of faith communities (not least the Anglican and Catholic churches) who are looking for a new role and new credibility in their battle against long-term decline and public indifference.

At the moment, the case against the selection, segregation, employment restrictions and discrimination wrapped up within the pro-faith schools agenda is being heard as an essentially “anti-religious” one. The exclusive tenor of some secular groups is not helping with this, given the sensitivities involved. 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

Ramadan for humanists?

MosqueRamadan Mubarak!

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims fast from dawn until dusk. This month is considered important by Muslims for a number of reasons. They believe:

1) The Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during this month

Because of this, and Muslims attempt to recite as much of the Qur’an as they can during the month. Most mosques will recite one thirtieth of the Qur’an each night during the Taraweeh prayers.

2) The gates of Heaven are open
3) The gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained up in Hell

Muslims believe that their good actions bring a greater reward during this month than at any other time of year, because this month has been blessed by Allah. They also believe that it is easier to do good in this month because the devils have been chained in Hell, and so can’t tempt believers. This doesn’t mean that Muslims will not behave badly, but that any evil that they do comes from within themselves, without additional encouragement from Satan.

But even without the religious elements Ramadan are still inspiring occasions that non-religious people could learn from. Continue reading

Boston Globe’s profile of Greg Epstein and American humanism

Greg EpsteinThe Boston Globe’s cover story the Nonbelievers reports that “an increasing number of young people in America – and adults around the world – don’t believe in God. Greg Epstein, who advises fellow atheists and agnostics at Harvard University, wants to create a kind of church for those who reject religion.”

In describing the growing confidence and popularity of atheism and humanism in the USA, the report includes encouraging signs such as Lori Lipman Brown, director of the the Secular Coalition for America who says “When I’m on right-wing radio or Christian radio, I no longer hear people say as much that I’m immoral or liable to commit murder,” she says. “Now, it seems, they acknowledge it’s possible that I could be a good person.”

It also quotes Epstein’s belief – shared by the O Project – in the importance of looking to build links with religious compatriots, a belief that has seen him criticised by fellow atheists and humanists.

“On his blog at Harvard, Epstein wrote that he hopes atheists avoid vilifying believers as they have disparaged atheists. “I don’t even have a problem with all the people who are blogging about me right now and slamming me as some kind of representative of ‘appeasement,’ ” he wrote. “We want to be treated as equals? Let’s raise hell about it, fine, but perhaps think twice about slamming me so hard as some kind of Uncle Tom (I definitely heard that one on a few blogs) if I want to speak for myself, and for the millions of atheists and Humanists out there who actually *like* and care deeply about a lot of religious people and don’t feel the need to hurt their feelings in addition to disagreeing with them.”

Anthony Grayling on Atheism

A C GraylingPhilosophy Bites – podcasts of top philosophers interviewed on bite-sized topics – features Anthony Grayling on Atheism.

“Is belief in the existence of a God or gods the equivalent of believing that there are fairies at the bottom of the garden? Or can it be defended on the basis of reason or evidence? In this interview for Philosophy Bites  Anthony Grayling (A.C. Grayling), author of a recent book of essays, Against All Gods, gives a philosophical defence of atheism and explains why he believes it to be a well-grounded and ultimately life-affirming position to hold.

Listen to Anthony Grayling on Atheism

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.

Founder of Humanistic Judaism dies

Rabbi Sherwin WineRabbi Sherwin T. Wine, founder of Humanistic Judaism, tragically died on Saturday, July 21, 2007 while vacationing in Morocco. Returning from dinner Saturday evening in Essaouira, his taxicab was hit by another driver. Both Rabbi Wine and the taxi driver were killed instantly. His partner Richard McMains survived the collision and currently is hospitalized in stable condition.

Wine was born in Detroit, Michigan on January 25, 1928. He was a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Hebrew Union College. In 1963 he founded the Birmingham Temple in suburban Detroit, the first congregation of Humanistic Judaism.

In 1969 he helped establish the Society for Humanistic Judaism to serve as the national outreach vehicle for the humanistic movement. In 1986 he helped to create the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews, a worldwide association of national organization. At the time of his death, Wine was the Dean of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism in North America.

The American Humanist Association selected him Humanist of the Year for 2003. The Humanist of the Year award was established in 1953 to recognize 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. As Humanist of the Year, Rabbi Wine joined such notables as Stephen Jay Gould, Betty Friedan, Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Margaret Sanger, among others.

Rabbi Wine is the author of Humanistic Judaism, Judaism Beyond God, Celebration and Staying Sane In A Crazy World. In addition, he was a principal contributor to Judaism in a Secular Age: An Anthology of Secular Humanistic Jewish Thought.