By Jon Thompson, Jubilee Centre
This paper argues that Christianity is the most coherent form of humanism. By contrast, secular humanism is historically and philosophically dependent upon Christianity's view of the human person. In a survey of the origins, emergence and development of secular humanism, this paper explores that historical connection before examining some of the implications which flow from a divorce of human values from Christian belief.
On a beautiful, busy Saturday afternoon in Cambridge there is a massive queue outside the Cambridge Union. Meandering through an alley and taking a right angle down the street, it is full of scores of people from all walks of life, all age ranges, and all levels of education, everyone eagerly awaiting entrance to hear the philosopher Alain de Botton. While it is striking in itself to see a philosopher draw such a large crowd of non-academics (try to imagine 12 year-old children showing up to a lecture on epistemic warrant and error), the content of the lecture is even more surprising: religion for atheists. In this lecture (and in a book by the same title), de Botton attempts to use religious ideas and practices as a means to help secular people find moral direction and meaning for their lives—the two areas secular thought has perennially struggled to address.  But de Botton’s project is really nothing new. He represents one in a long line of thinkers known as secular humanists—those who attempt to ground human values in atheistic terms. It is the wide appeal and readership of de Botton’s work which suggest that the secular humanist movement is very influential today and therefore worthy of close consideration.
By Gillan Scott, God & Politics in the UK
At the end of last week the BBC’s head of religion and ethics, Aaqil Ahmed gave a damning appraisal of the current state of religious understanding in Britain. ‘The public has such “poor religious literacy” that a modern audience would be baffled by the Monty Python film The Life of Brian – because it would not understand the Biblical references’.
by Michael Heidt in Nairobi, VOL
Introducing speakers on the first full day of GAFCON II, retired Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali identified three major threats to Christian culture, he believed cannot be turned away from or denied any longer.
For Nazir-Ali, these threats are aggressive secularism, radical Islam and a syncretism that holds all religions to be essentially the same. The bishop went on to describe these in greater detail, beginning with secularism, which he felt "infects much of the West" and has increasing influence in other countries.
Citing research that shows human beings to have a spiritual dimension innately within themselves, Nazir-Ali acknowledged that Western people have a personal, instead of social understanding of spiritual life. Religion, which he equated with spirituality in its social aspect, has become a "bad word" in the West, and this has led inevitably to "excessive individualism."
Because of this rejection of religion in general and Christianity in particular, Bishop Nazir-Ali believed that secularism was jettisoning what he described as a "precious heritage" of a "nation formed by the Gospel" with the "idea of a godly ruler subject to law" and a "godly society of mutual interdependence."
There was, said the bishop, plenty of how being asked by society but little of why, "We're not asking what is the purpose of the universe, of our lives, where we're going." This retreat from Christian, Gospel values and belief has had a devastating impact on human dignity, equality and liberty. Secularism had, he felt, twisted the meaning of these qualities of human flourishing, using them without acknowledging their foundation in Christian truth.
October 21st, 2013 Jill Posted in Atheism Comments Off
By Andreas Mullings, Yorkshire Post
A godless church may seem to some as an oxymoron, but it has become a reality as the oldest church in Leeds opens its doors for an atheist congregation.
The Sunday Assembly Leeds is a non-profit organisation which has chosen to put away religion but still keep the traditions of song and sermons.
Originally starting in London last January it was created by two comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans.
After success in the capital they have now launched their movement worldwide in their ‘40 days and 40 nights tour’, which will be opening assemblies in the UK, including Leeds, Ireland, US, Canada and Australia. Michelle Beckett, 40 from Harrogate is one of the Leeds’ assembly organisers. She said: “We have had a huge response so far. We have already had over 100 people sign up for the assembly. We’d like to take all of the good bits out of church, and leave the religious stuff behind.
“It’s a shame that people who have no faith do not know the feeling of belonging that comes with religion, that’s why we are doing this.”
She added: “The structure is the same as church, you will have talks, songs and a sense of community. The London assemblies have now started to sprout charity works and community book groups.”
Without the use of religious hymns and a religious text, the group uses inspirational talks and pop songs, such as Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now and Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
By Peter Hitchens, Mailonline
I am asked in what way atheists are free riders in Christian societies. In this way: They expect the benefits of such societies, general honesty in all dealings, self-restraint, sobriety and gentleness in public and private conduct, diligence in work, marital fidelity and parental responsibility, the tender care of the old (these are examples) to persist after the morality which prescribed them has been dismantled.
Practical atheism, as I term it, is common in those blasted regions of our cities where nobody is married, there are no fathers, the remaining shops have steel shutters, the schools are places of dread for anyone who values learning or order, the police only visit to flash their lights for a few minutes before departing (and anyone who calls them is a ‘grass’), the ground-floor windows have bars, and the vandalised phone-boxes are smeared with spittle and littered used needles.
It’s also common among many bankers and other businessmen, who get away with what they can; among young people who procure abortions because babies are inconvenient to them, and older people who dissolve marriages because they are inconvenient, who drink to excess, take drugs and allow their children to do so.
These habits of mind then spread into the trades and professions where selfishness can cost more than a little self-esteem – the banker who risks his depositor’s money, the police officer who lies in court, or who fails to act when a case like that of Fiona Pilkington comes before him, the lawyer who fails to protect his clients’ interests with sufficient diligence and attention, the surgeon (or the school bus driver, or the train driver, or the lorry driver) who has cannabis in his bloodstream while he operates, the journalist who prefers to hack a phone than to do the hard grind of proper reporting.
We begin to see this around us. The test is always what people do when they think nobody is looking. Civilisation doesn’t suddenly collapse, any more than our northern Sun suddenly sets. I suspect militant practical atheism is quite common in the aborting classes, the divorcing classes, the cohabiting classes, the banking classes and the drug-taking classes. Those who spread this idea aren’t as popular as they are in the bookshops for no reason at all.
October 15th, 2013 Jill Posted in Atheism Comments Off
by David Holloway
The Girl Guide Promise
There was a problem at the beginning of last month. On 1 September 2013 the Girl Guide promise, “the beating heart of guiding” according to the Chief Guide, was to change. The promise that was being discarded was as follows:
I promise that I will do my best
To love my God
To serve the Queen and my country
To help other people
And to keep the Brownie/Guide Law
Instead it was mandated from Girlguiding’s central authority that from the 1 September every girl and leader must say these words:
I promise that I will do my best
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs
To serve the Queen and my community
To help other people
And to keep the Brownie/Guide Law
Jesmond Parish Church sponsored brownie and guide units are refusing to make the new promise. They are right to do so for at least five reasons.
Girlguiding’s charitable object and agreements
First, Brownie/Guide Law requires it! The charitable object of Girlguiding is to help girls “develop emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually”. For our units at JPC that has to be in the context of the sponsorship agreements. These require that “in accordance with the Guiding Manual all members are encouraged to be active in a religious faith”; and a similar requirement is in the Guiding Manual itself in the section entitled, Equality and Diversity – Spirituality and as updated on 9 September 2013. Of course, the religious faith in which our parents know their girls will be encouraged to be active, and for which many parents choose our groups, is that of the community of JPC – a Christian Church. But both Jesus and the Apostles make it clear that the “self” cannot always be seen as a source of enlightenment and an object for commitment to which you should be true. For sometimes a person’s “self” is a dark and conflicting source of deception and to be resisted. This biblical psychology is expressed in Ephesians 4.18-24 that says people can be …
From Canada's Sun News
MONTREAL — Catholic and Protestant instruction was removed from Quebec schools more than 15 years ago but nuns and priests are now replaced by "spiritual community animators," some of whom lead students in meditation and rhythmic breathing sessions.
The spirituality program, entrenched in the province's Education Act, has raised red flags in the Catholic church, which has publicly opposed the Parti Quebecois's plans to ban religious symbols among school workers and other bureaucrats.
The PQ abolished religious school boards in 1997, the last time it was in power, as part of a plan to implement what it calls "state neutrality" on the question of religion.
All boards were ordered to hire spiritual animators in 2000 to run anti-bullying campaigns, organize humanitarian efforts and "focus on young people's search for meaning," according to an education ministry directive.
In a 2006 report, entitled Developing the Inner Life and Changing the World, the ministry said its activities are complementary to religion and "do not present any particular belief as being superior."
Among the spirituality program's "areas of operation" are "interiority, silence and meditation."
From God and Politics in the UK
Today’s post is an immediate response by Danny Webster to an inflammatory report released today by the National Secular Society attacking the work of Christian groups who offer their services to schools. Danny blogs at the curiously entitled Broken Cameras and Gustav Klimt and tweets at @danny_webster.
By Kirsten Andersen, LifeSite News
An Ohio school district has agreed to pay five anonymous complainants $3,000 each in damages, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison, Wisconsin, a combined $80,000 in court costs after being sued for keeping an image of Jesus Christ on school property, reports the Columbus Dispatch.
By John Bingham, Telegraph
The Scouts have achieved the rare distinction of being praised by bishops and atheist groups alike after introducing a new pledge for non-believers – without scrapping references to God.
For the first time in the organisation’s 106-year history, those who do not have a religious faith be able to take an alternative version of its distinctive oath of allegiance without having to go against their beliefs.
The traditional wording in which young people promise “to do my duty to God and to the Queen” will remain the “core” promise for the organisation founded on Christian lines more than a century ago.
But the change means atheists can become full members for the first time, without having to lie about their beliefs.
The move drew favourable comparisons with that taken earlier this year by the Girl Guides which scrapped all mention of both "God" and "country" from its own pledge, requiring members to promise to “be true to myself”.
It was accused of denying girls and Guide leaders a choice and of ditching the Almighty in favour of “consumerist self-help jargon”.
September 24th, 2013 Jill Posted in Atheism Comments Off
Charles Moore reviews An Appetite for Wonder by Richard Dawkins (Bantam Press)
September 19th, 2013 Jill Posted in Atheism Comments Off
By David Baker, Christian Today
The world's most famous atheist is back in the headlines again.
Richard Dawkins is in the news because his new book – An Appetite for Wonder – has just been published. And naturally there have been various interviews giving him an opportunity to promote it.
As always, what he says is stimulating and thought-provoking. But it's also occasionally infuriating! On the one hand we see his undoubted mastery of science. But on the other, there is – as we have come to expect – some disappointing ignorance about matters of religion, and still a tendency to take sideswipes at people of faith.
At one point, in an interview with The Guardian, Dawkins asserts: "My science books are forced to take a stance, not against posh theologians who accept evolution but surely the absolute majority of religious people in the world who literally believe that every species was separately created and even, in the case of the Abrahamic religions, believe that Adam and Eve were created 6,000 years ago." Even in that short paragraph, there is such a mix of sweeping assumption, misconception, truth and half-truth that it is hard to know where to begin!
From Huffington Post
Richard Dawkins, one of the world's best-known and outspoken atheists, has provoked outrage among child protection agencies and experts after suggesting that recent child abuse scandals have been overblown.
In an interview in The Times magazine on Saturday (Sept. 7), Dawkins, 72, he said he was unable to condemn what he called "the mild pedophilia" he experienced at an English school when he was a child in the 1950s.
Referring to his early days at a boarding school in Salisbury, he recalled how one of the (unnamed) masters "pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts."
He said other children in his school peer group had been molested by the same teacher but concluded: "I don't think he did any of us lasting harm."
"I am very conscious that you can't condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don't look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can't find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today," he said.
September 3rd, 2013 Jill Posted in Atheism Comments Off
By Margaret Somerville, MercatorNet
[...] Many Quebecers, including politicians, even those not overtly hostile to traditional religion, believe religion has no place in the public square. They espouse the idea of a strictly secular society — laicization. As I proposed in MercatorNet last week, such secularism can be a form of religion, a “secular religion.”
To elaborate further on that idea, like a religion, it has an ideology and beliefs, but ones that reject the supernatural and divine. Adherents of this secular religion might even be fundamentalists, in that, like all fundamentalists, they seek to impose their beliefs on others. They proselytize on behalf of their “religion,” and they adopt a divisive “us” and “them” approach, not an inclusive one. They seek to handle difference through the exclusion of those they see as “not one of us,” not by reasonable accommodation of the differences.
Now let’s assume that the Parti Québécois has a dream of creating a secular utopia — a perfect society — and the charter of Quebec values reflects that dream and is part of an effort to realize it. (Another part is Bill 101, the Quebec language law that imposes the use of French, to which Premier Pauline Marois compared the charter of Quebec values in a speech to the youth wing of the Parti Québécois last weekend.) Bland asked Atwood “what can go wrong when perfection is sought in an extreme way?”
Atwood responded that this raises the question of “What do you do with the people who don’t fit in…? In order to achieve this wonderful future in which everything’s going to be terrific, who are you going to shove into a hole in the ground?”
Those are frightening words. Indeed, chilling. I am not in any way suggesting that Quebec would literally act in this way. But could the proposed charter of Quebec values’ banning of religious symbols be seen as a symbolic “shoving into a hole in the ground” the freedoms of expression, speech, belief, association and religion of the people affected, and a literal burying of their symbols?
By Melanie Phillips, Mailonline
Like a poorly knotted woggle, the attempt by the Girl Guides to rope in the new generation is now steadily unravelling.
In June, the Guides announced they were changing the historic promise made by all Guides and Brownies from ‘to love my God’ to ‘be true to myself and develop my beliefs’.
They would also drop the pledge to serve ‘my country’, which was to be replaced by ‘my community’.
According to the Chief Guide, Gill Slocombe, the old promise put some girls off because they found it ‘confusing’. The new formula, she said, would be easier for Guides to make and keep.
The change — which comes into force in six days’ time — was received with horror and outrage by Christians, and left many others bemused and uneasy. It seemed to be just a crude and shallow attempt by the Guiding establishment to rebrand itself as modern, by dumping timeless values.
Much worse was to follow, though. Guide groups in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, rightly dismayed by the proposed change, announced last week that they would encourage their girls and leaders to continue to use the old promise.
In a letter written jointly with a local vicar, they insisted the movement had to keep ‘God at its core’. Impeccably fair-minded and inclusive, they also proposed to offer the new promise to anyone who might prefer that form of words.
Yet in response, Ms Slocombe said such rebels ‘need to accept this change’, and even suggested they could be forced out of the movement altogether if they did not.
So much for diversity!
For with this not-so-veiled threat, the true intention of the movement’s leaders has been laid bare. A move they claimed to be more inclusive has turned out to be entirely the opposite.
By Julia Shaw, Public Discourse
In her new book, Mary Eberstadt argues that the West started losing God when it started losing the natural family. If she is right, then churches need to encourage and promote family formation, and religious believers need to form families.
The West is less Christian than it used to be. “A growing number of Western individuals greet the milestones of life with no religious framework at all,” Mary Eberstadt writes in her new book, How the West Really Lost God. They are born without being baptized or dedicated to a Christian community; they attend Sunday brunch rather than Sunday service; “and upon dying their bodies are incinerated and scattered to the winds, rather than prayed over whole in the ground as Christian ritual and dogma had hitherto commanded.”
In her thoughtful and engaging book, Eberstadt offers a new explanation for the religious downturn. Nietzsche’s madman predicted that religion would inevitably fade away. The traditional narratives about secularization see world-historical events or broad intellectual movements as silver bullets killing God. But Eberstadt encourages us to take another look at home and hearth—especially broken ones.
By looking at the decline of the natural family, she argues, we can understand how the West really lost God. While the religious and irreligious alike will find this book enlightening, the key audience includes the small “o” orthodox believers eager to spread the gospel. Once this audience understands the relationship between faith and family, perhaps Western society can find God again.
By John Bingham, Telegraph
Christian leaders have accused the Girl Guides of practising “secular totalitarianism” amid signals that those who refuse to stop pledging allegiance to God could be forced to leave.
A prominent bishop has called on Christian Guide and Brownie volunteers across the country to follow the example of a group of leaders who are defying official policy over the issue.
The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, said that he hoped “many others” would adopt the stance taken by the women in Harrogate, North Yorks, who have vowed to continue using the traditional membership promise, with its references to “God” and “country”, after it is abolished next month.
He warned the organisation could even face a split if it refuses to compromise and allow two pledges.
Meanwhile supporters of the women insist they are simply giving members a choice over the matter – in stark contrast, they claim, to the leadership.
But Gill Slocombe, the Chief Guide, underlined the crisis facing the organisation insisting that the rebel leaders “need to accept this change” adding pointedly that she “sincerely hopes” they will not have to leave.
By Alexander Boot
University of Rochester psychologists have just completed a review of 63 scientific studies about religion and intelligence dating between 1928 and now.
In 53 of these there was a “reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity”. In other words, atheists are brighter than believers.
They have a higher “ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience”.
Now it’s an established fact that IQ, the higher the better, is the single most reliable predictor of practical success in today’s world.
And success in today’s world is measured mostly by money, of which people with higher IQ scores tend to have more. Thus if a child has a high IQ, he’s more likely to make a lot of money at an early age.
Here’s an example of one such child, or rather a bright young man of 21. His IQ is undoubtedly 130-plus, which is higher than in 95 percent of the population.
His hunger for success is commensurately high, for success is something he knows he deserves – his IQ is high. The young German, Moritz Erhardt, is richly endowed with all the fine qualities that add up to intelligence. So he puts them to work.
By John Bingham, Telegraph
A prominent bishop has called on other Christian Guide and Brownies volunteers to mirror the decision by the leaders of one troop who have pledged to retain the traditional promise which contains references to God and country.
The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, said that he hoped “many others” would follow the stance taken by the women in Harrogate, North Yorks.
But Jem Henderson, 28, who volunteers at the group, based at St Paul’s United Reformed Church in Harrogate, who is an atheist, said the local leaders were effectively excluding people who do not believe.
She accused them of discriminating against people like herself and trying to trap the movement in the past by pledging allegiance to a “beard in the sky”.
The organisation announced earlier this year that it is to replace its traditional pledge with a new wording, removing references to “God” and “country”.