Humanism


In Britian, the 21 of June is celebrated as World Humanist Day, and it has become such a big thing that they have turned it into Humanist Week. The British Humanist Association is hard at work running a day long conference on Humanism, Philosophy and the Arts, as well as working with local groups to organize local activities.

A very cool project they have been working on is the Humanist Heritage website where anyone can upload stories about Humanism and Humanists in their local areas.

It would be great to see more of this type of action to help raise awareness about Humanism in Canada. I checked to see if any of the umbrella groups in Canada are recognizing the event. Humanist Canada has stated that they haven’t planned any celebrations for this event, and I haven’t seen any events from CFI on this either.

Perhaps we should all mark this down on our calendar for next year. Does anyone have any good ideas of things we can do to make this occasion special when it comes around again?

This eagerly anticipated conference features appearances by Daniel DennettPZ MyersMr DeitySusan Jacoby, and other speakers.

The theme expresses AAI’s vision of an international movement, going beyond political and cultural borders, uniting atheists and humanists in one virtual nation defined by our commitment to freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, human rights, critical thought, science and reason. This event will be AAI’s first North American convention outside the United States

Official joint hosts for this conference are  AAI and HAC,  with participation and assistance from HAO, and CFI.

For information and registration, go to www.atheistconvention.org

At the Humanist Association of Ottawa Annual General Meeting last Sunday, a motion was put forward to have the HAO take a position in support of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT) protesting the CANSEC tradeshow coming up on June 2nd. The motion was worded as follows:

The HAO draft a letter to City Council and local papers to honour the motion protesting the abuse of public lands for the promotion and sale of military equipment and arms.

The motion was defeated at the meeting. It’s defeat was as a result of one key objection. Many members felt that if the primary purpose of the show was to equip the Canadian military with the best equipment possible for doing their job then they could not in good conscience support the motion. We do have troops in Afghanistan and troops performing peacekeeping missions abroad. Sending them into the field under-equipped would not be acceptable.

However, many members stated that they were opposed to the idea of having a military tradeshow on city property that would include the sales of weapons to other nations or private security companies. It was stated that this is the case, so if it can be shown to be true, there will likely be more support to be found.

Even though the motion was defeated, I suggested that members take a bit of time to get acquainted with the issue. The Humanist Association of Ottawa is a humanist organization, and there are many other principles of the philosophy other than simply rejecting the super-natural. Here is one of them taken from the 12 Principles of Humanism:

8. Humanists advocate peaceful resolution of conflicts between individuals, groups, and nations.

I think that this issue deserves a little more thought, so I am going to post the resources that were passed on to me regarding COAT, and open up a discussion in the comments here. I also promised those that brought the motion to the AGM that we would discuss the issue in person with members at the next Unsermon being held this Sunday. We will have one circle dedicated to just this topic.

Links to COAT literature:

COAT website

Info on CANSEC 2010 Rally for Peace

“CANSEC: War is Business” (50 page PDF)

When I was a child I never understood how God could be good or just if there was a Hell. I couldn’t think of any crime that would justify eternal torture. No matter how bad a person was, it made no sense to me to punish them forever, what would be the point? When I was older, a rationalization dawned on me: the mafia were the best Christians, following in the footsteps of Christ; Jesus was just like Don Vito Corleone, making everyone an offer they couldn’t refuse.

The problem of free will was a difficult one for early theologians. (i) If God created everyone, knows everything and planned everything how can we be free to make choices? Or on another level, (ii) if God is going to punish us with eternal damnation if we don’t follow his laws, how are we free to make our own choices in any meaningful way?

Theologians never came up with a truly satisfying answer to either of these problems. Instead they made convoluted explanations for (ii) Don Jesus and pawned (i) the fated universe problem on naturalistic philosophers who believe in a Universe bound by physical laws. There is lots of debate about (i) among philosophers, even between atheist philosophers but I don’t think there should be. All we have for a point of reference is our deterministic Universe and we make contingent choices based on our beliefs. All we could mean by free will is this human decision making process. Or at least the natural process of choosing when it is free of coercion. If you want a detailed argument for this, Dennett wrote two great books on the topic: Elbow Room and Freedom Evolves.

Basically, I don’t think there would have ever been a problem of free will for philosophers to discuss if we had skipped the whole monotheistic step of our socio-intellectual development. Free Will is a problem requiring an explanation for a Christian, a muslim, or a jew, not for a Humanist.

Now some non-stampcollector videos on the topic:

D. J. Grothe is the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation

It’s about time someone expressed this in a simple an eloquent manner.  It goes back in some ways to my previous blog post that we’re all related under the same banner, reason.

On May 1, about 40 members and friends of HAO attended a matinee performance of Strange Gods, followed by a Q&A and reception with the playwright and cast.

Catholic school-teacher Richard is engaged to marry Laura, a divorced atheist. To safeguard Richard’s  standing in the Separate School bureaucracy, they must have a church wedding. But that requires his unbelieving bride to satisfy the Church — in the person of the stern and power-mongering Father Manning — that, while she is not required to convert, she will at least submit to certain of the Church’s dictates within their marriage.

This sets up the central conflict within the play Strange Gods. We watch Manning and Laura battle over the well-trodden ground of faith vs. reason, of patriarchal vs. modern humanist values; and we watch Laura battle Richard over her refusal to betray her convictions vs. his need to conform to the system. Along the way, Laura acquires an unexpected ally in the disgraced liberal Father Dorsey, and an enemy in the rectory housekeeper, the devout Mrs. O’Brien — almost a caricature of the obedient cradle Catholic. But we also see Father Manning’s amoral machinations within the politics of the diocese and school-board. In the end, the only character who has remained true to themselves is the atheist Laura — all the Catholic characters are shown as compromised in some way, torn among their ostensible convictions, their human needs, and the demands of their ancient (but still powerful) institution.

And yet Strange Gods is not, in intent, an anti-Catholic play. The playwright, Robert Knuckle, is a Catholic married to an atheist humanist, and much of the material in the play is based in some way on his experiences.  Despite everything, Knuckle remains a Catholic, he says, because of his affection for the environment he was raised in, and his faith that there is still good to be found within the people of the Church. His target, rather, is the corruption and abuse of power, and the entrenched anti-modernism of the organization. Knuckle laments the fact that Catholicism has, if anything, become reactionary since the reforms of Vatican II. In a way, Strange Gods is Knuckle’s own 95 Theses — a protest from within, rather than an attack from without. (In an ironic sight-gag, in an early scene one of the priest characters is seen idly leafing through a book entitled Martin Luther).

Speaking of which: it seems to this (never-Catholic) observer that what the Church needs now is a new Luther to scare it to death — and a new Erasmus to show it what needs to be fixed.

A Vancouver Catholic school music teacher has been told she must “work at home” after she disclosed to students that she had a lesbian partner, by way of announcing the birth of their new baby through Facebook and on email lists.

“I feel like I’ve been fired with a payout,” she told reporters at a news conference. “All the families have been told I am on a personal leave, which I am not.”

Read more here

This question has generated some lively discussion on the HAO Meetup mailing list.  Some point out that the bible is full of contradictions, not to mention just plain nastiness, and we should not waste our time on it.  Others say that the bible is useful as literature and as a cultural document.    Still others point out the usefulness of having atheists who know the bible as well (if not better) than the religious people they argue against.

The bible in the graphic has a warning sticker, along the lines of those that creationists have requested be placed on the covers of science textbooks. Here is the text of the sticker:

CONTENT ADVISORY:
Contains verses descriptive or advocating suicide, incest, bestiality, sadomasochism, sexual activity in a violent context, murder, morbid violence, voyeurism, revenge, undermining of authority figures, lawlessness and human rights violations and atrocities.

EXPOSURE WARNING:
Exposure to contents for extended periods of time or during formative years in children may cause delusions, hallucinations, decrease cognitive and objective reasoning abilities, and in extreme cases, pathological disorders, hatred, bigotry, violence including but not limited to fanaticism, murder and genocide.”

In a recent interview, Daniel Dennett (author of Breaking the Spell and other books on consciousness and evolution) said,

“I’m quite outspoken about my atheism, but I’m also outspoken about my belief that we don’t want to encourage the extinction of religion. We want to encourage its evolution into more benign forms… [such as] Simply an opportunity to join with people in a morally meaningful activity.”

Simply, what do you think?
It seems unlikely religion will ever go extinct, so is the best tactic to try to steer it towards a different form?
Further, what do you think should be the role of Humanism?

New Humanist Association formed in Malta

Psychic wasting our tax dollar

The least religious countries are also the most generous! (click on the sort by GNI/ODA) I knew the least religious offer the highest standards of living but I had no idea they also had the most generous governments.

I’ll be civil with you if you have the same religious views as me… 

Iran’s earthquake, caused by geological shifts? Not so!

A little bit of humour from xxxThePeachxxx one of my 3 favorite youtube bloggers

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