Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Unitarians and Darwin

On Sunday, having been invited, I went to an Interfaith service held by the Unitarians at 11 am in their Hall in South Terrace, Hastings. The programme I was handed included the well known cartoon of a monkeyfied Darwin holding a mirror up for an ape to look into.

After an Invocation to "The Spirit of Life", came the Serenity Prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr (asking for "Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference"). There was a Litany praising the work of Darwin, with the response "We are thankful that he asked questions", and quotations from Confucius, Buddha, John Donne, Darwin and others, taken from The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, and later an Affirmation about Evolution taken from the work of Teilhard de Chardin.

These were interspersed with hymns, including one in which the verses end with the phrase "Some call it evolution, others call it God" (!) I was unable to join in the singing of these since their theology was unreconstructed, and surprisingly (seeing as it was a Unitarian service) included Jesus as well as God. While I can understand the wish to show goodwill towards all, I felt there was far too much of an "All Things Bright and Beautiful" approach to Darwin's work, lacking in comprehension of the reality that he revealed.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Our Programme

9 April: Discussion on Human Rights. It is 200 years since Tom Paine died, and last December marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Currently there are efforts at the UN by Islamic countries to curtail the right to freedom of expression by passing resolutions to make defamation of religion illegal. Human Rights law is increasingly influential in this country.

14 May: How I Became a Humanist Celebrant. Our member Lesley Arnold-Hopkins is Accredited by the BHA to conduct Humanist funerals. Humanists also conduct weddings and baby-namings. She will tell us something about the courses provided, and entertain us with anecdotes of her experiences.

11 June: Evolution Implies Atheism. Dean Morrison will present the case, to be followed by a Question and Answer session. This presentation returns to the original Darwin Day subject of our first meeting, in February, which got side-tracked by other discussions.

9 July: Discussion on Religious Education. There will be a short report on the 7th July meeting of the East Sussex SACRE, followed by a discussion of issues relating to religious education in general.

13 August: History of Humanism Part 2. George Jelliss, continues the History from 1800, where we left off in March.

10 September: Annual General Meeting. The wording of our Constitution will be decided, and nominations for Secretary, Treasurer and Speaker will be voted on. We can also discuss the aims of the Group, and ideas for our future programme.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Misrepresentations in the Press

The Daily Mail on Saturday had an article claiming "Taxpayers' money intended for faith groups is being used to fund a campaign against Christianity". The BHA has felt the need to publish a line by line response, claiming "we believe most aspects of the article are incorrect".

Similarly Caspar Melville, editor of New Humanist has responded in The American Spectator to a contentious article by Roger Scruton in the same magazine on The New Humanists, where he seems to want Humanism to go back to the more genteel form that it had in his parents' day.

Even Julian Baggini, who is supposed to be on our side (he is in the BHA Humanist Philosophers Group, and is author of "Atheism - a very short introduction") has been griping against The "New Atheists" (i.e. Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens) in a Norwegian magazine (it has a nice illustration of them as the four horsemen of the atheist apocalypse). He even has the gall to say: "I have not read any of their books. That does not, however, disqualify me from having an opinion about them." Cheeky, that! Also, I should have thought, dereliction of duty in a philosopher.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

We're On The Map!

I've just heard from Mike Llewellyn, who is one of the volunteers who looks after the BHA website, that Hastings Humanists is now in the official list of BHA Local Groups. To find us go to the BHA site:


Click on the "Meet up" button then "Groups" and "South East".
We are also flagged on the "Humanist Groups Map".

At the Interfaith Forum

On Tuesday evening, 17 March, I went to the meeting of the "Hastings and District Interfaith Forum" held at the WRVS in South Street, 6:30 - 9:00 pm. This was on the assumption that they are open to "all faiths and none", as was the case with the Interfaith Fellowship that I occasionally attended in Leicester.

There were over 20 people there and they were happy to welcome a Humanist, and I will try to attend further meetings. I have agreed to take part in the 14 July meeting "A Day in the Life of ...". Though I'm not sure that a day in the life of a Humanist differs much from that of any other human.

They are also trying to set up a Youth Interfaith Forum, so if anyone knows a young person (< 25) willing to represent the humanist point of view ...

There were three speakers, Geoffrey Driver on his work as "chaplain and spiritual care leader" at St Michael's Hospice, and Caroline Mayhew on schemes to train Mentors to work one-to-one with people at Lewes Prison, before and after release, to help them adjust back to life in the community. After a break Trevor Webb, Labour Councillor, spoke about his involvement with East Sussex SACRE.

Monday, 16 March 2009

A Draft Constitution

The following is a First Draft of a Constitution for the Hastings Humanists Group. It is based on an example in the "Groupwise" booklet issued by the BHA in 2005. For present purposes anyone who attends any formal meeting of the Hastings Humanists will be considered a Member. It will all be formalised at the AGM, which I've provisionaly set for September. Let me have your views. Volunteers for the posts of Speaker and Treasurer (or to take on the role of Secretary from me) are invited.

Hastings Humanists Constitution

1. NAME AND OBJECTS: The Group shall be called "Hastings Humanists" and shall have the objects of: a) Providing a means for like-minded individuals to meet at least monthly to discuss Humanist values, principles and relevant subjects. b) To educate and interest the wider public in the philosophy of Humanism, and to be open in the expression of their views. c} Through involvement in active campaigns and projects, to seek to promote Humanist values and to make a difference in the world, both locally and globally.

2. MEMBERSHIP: Any person who agrees with the objects of the Group may become a Member on payment of the annual membership fee. The Committee may refuse to admit as a Member or terminate the Membership of any person whose conduct is, in its unanimous opinion, inconsistent with the objects of the Group.

3. COMMITTEE: The Committee shall consist of at least three Members. These will normally include three Postholders: Speaker, Secretary and Treasurer, elected at each Annual General Meeting of the Group. Other Members may be co-opted to the Committee by agreement of the Postholders at any time. Should a Postholder vacancy occur, say due to resignation or illness, a new temporary appointment must be made within two weeks and notified to the Members. The quorum at a Committee Meeting shall be three Members.

4. GENERAL MEETINGS: An Annual General Meeting shall be held in September. It shall receive financial accounts and reports of the Committee for the previous 12 months. The members present shall elect the Postholders of the Group for the next 12 months. A Special General Meeting can be convened at other times by the Secretary on receipt of a request from at least a third of the Members. At least two weeks notice of General Meetings must be given to all Members. Nominations and Notices of resolutions must be received by the Secretary at least a week before the meeting. Only resolutions stated on the notice convening the meeting shall be voted on, although other issues may be discussed. The quorum at a General Meeting shall be six Members. In any dispute concerning the affairs of the group, a General meeting shall be the final arbiter.

5. FINANCE: The income and property of the Group shall be devoted to the promotion of the objects of the Group. Members may not receive payment for their services to the Group. The Group shall maintain an affiliation to the British Humanist Association and in the case of the Group having to be wound up, any funds remaining after payment of liabilities shall go to the British Humanist Association. The annual membership fees shall be set by the Annual General Meeting.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Our Second Meeting

Well, my "History of Humanism" didn't get much beyond 1800. I began with the precepts of Ptah Hotep, followed by some account of Greek and Renaissance Humanism, and began on the Deists and the enlightenment, particularly Voltaire and the Calas and Barre tragedies. Perhaps 19th Century Humanism will be the subject for another day.

I tried out a little projector I bought a few days before; it's little more than a toy but does the job adequately for a small meeting. We welcomed two new members, Lesley and Verra. A date of 9th April was provisionally set for the next meeting. This will be more of an open discussion meeting, although with a short introduction on a definite topic.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Sayed Perwiz Kambaksh

Mr Kambakhsh was sentenced to death a year ago for so-called "blasphemy".
After outside pressure this has now been reduced to a mere 20 years!

There is a new petition for his release:
RSF petition

A journalism student at Balkh university and a reporter for the newspaper Jahan-e-Naw (“The New World”), Kambakhsh was arrested after downloading an article that analyses what the Koran says about women.

Robert Ingersoll on blasphemy: "What is real blasphemy? To enslave the minds of men, to put manacles on the mind; that is blasphemy. To deny what you believe to be true, to admit to be true what you believe to be a lie; that is blasphemy. To strike the weak and unprotected, in order that you may gain the applause of the ignorant and superstitious mob; that is blasphemy. To persecute the intelligent few at the command of the ignorant many; that is blasphemy. To forge chains, to build dungeons, for your honest fellow-men; that is blasphemy. The jury that gives an unjust verdict, and the judge who pronounces an unjust sentence, are blasphemers. The man who bows to public opinion against his honest conviction, is a blasphemer."

Friday, 6 March 2009

A Bit More Publicity

A panel advertising our 12th March meeting has appeared in today's Hastings and St Leonards Observer on page 33, although it shows signs of hasty editing. There is no page of "News from the Clubs" this week so I suppose we are lucky to get a mention. On page 3 there is a notice about a meeting on Saturday (WRVS South Street 1 to 3 pm) to set up a "Forum to unite all faiths". Will this include those of no faith? I'm thinking of going to see if Humanists are included.

Edit: It proved to be a Labour Party attempt to consult with ethnic minorities for purposes of social coherence. The main emphasis was on culture rather than faith. I was able to put a word in, warning against depending solely on faith leaders for the views of their community, and the need to consult more widely. I met Dominic and Mike there, who came to our first meeting.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

A Visit to Brighton & Hove Humanists

I went to the Brighton & Hove Humanists meeting held on 4th March, to see how they do things there. The meeting room is an extension at the back of the Lord Nelson pub in Trafalgar Street (the entrance to which I had some difficulty in finding since it runs underneath the station and is not signposted).

The speaker was a Sussex University student, Peter Brietbart, and although the title of his talk was "The Future of Belief" in fact this was just an excuse for him to reuse some articles he had written, presumably for a student group, on varied topics ranging from the way christians envisage Heaven and Hell, via Sharia Law, to the Israel-Palestine problem. The attendance as indicated by the photograph was high (nearly 40 although a few left before the question and answer session). So the room was full, and there was also a lot of noise from the pub. I didn't get to speak to any of the organisers, though I did recognise Bill McIlroy and Barry Duke among them. At least the pub had a nice line in cider.

HH Newsletter

I put together a one-page newsletter on Wednesday and posted it out to members (i.e. those who came to the first meeting) by second-class post. It is based on half a dozen items that have appeared in the news recently. I did think of delivering them by hand but didn't have the time. I'll try to put a copy on the web shortly.

On the back is an advert for the next Hastings Humanists meeting (Thursday 12 March at White Rock Hotel 6:30 for 7:00 - 8:30 pm). I'm proposing to give a presentation on "History of Humanism". I think we should have a definite theme for each meeting, making it more attractive to potential members.