Monday, 29 November 2010

What is Religion For?

The Thought for the Day today on BBC Radio 4 was a quite extraordinarily frank admission about the nature of religion. In commenting on the debate held in Canada between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens on the motion: "Be it resolved, that religion is a force for good in the world". Clifford Longley stated:

Christianity doesn't exist to make the world a better place. It exists to make men and women righteous in the sight of God.

Taking up a reference from Christopher Hitchens he also quoted from the recently beatified Cardinal Newman:

I suspect ... John Henry Newman, would have voted with Mr Hitchens in Toronto. He held that it would be better, and I quote, "for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions who are upon it to die of starvation in extreme agony, than that one soul should tell one wilful untruth, or steal one poor farthing without excuse."

The point Cardinal Newman was making with maximum poetic overkill was that the mere possibility that one person might be damned to hell for all eternity is worse than the worst thing we can possibly imagine here on earth. If you take hell and damnation out of the equation, as New Atheists would of course, then what Newman is saying is utter insanity.

So Religion is Insanity. He admits it!

On Saturday I went to the AGM of the National Secular Society. The NSS President Terry Sanderson is asking for a debate on what he calls "a sharper focus" for the Society, that is a focus on the separation of State and Religion rather than arguing against Religion. He proposes a new "Secular Charter". As a speake from the floor noted this mentions "Religion" a lot but doesn't actually define what the term means. A members motion that the NSS should actively promote Atheism was defeated. Personally I think there is a lot more to religion than mere belief in gods; as Longley makes clear it is about denial of reality, and indeed is opposed to doing good in the world.

Incidentally I am loking forward to the new series by Ian Hislop on BBC 2 Television starting tonight on the "Age of the Do-Gooders". He is apparently starting with William Wilberforce. I'm wondering if he will mention Richard Carlile who was a victim of Wilberforce's Society for the Supression of Vice. Later episodes will apparently include Robert Owen. I'm wondering whether he will also include Owenites like Henry Hetherington and G. J. Holyoake.

I'm proposing that the meaning of Religion, and the attitudes we should take towards it, be the subject for our December meeting.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Report of Our AGM

The attendance at tonight's AGM was just about quorate, made up of 5 existing members, 1 new member, and 2 prospective members. There were two apologies for absence.

The Minutes of the 2009 AGM were summarised as far as recalled by the Secretary and those who were present at the time. The Secretary's report then summarised the activities of the Group from its start in February 2009. The Treasurer then presented her report, which showed that the income from donations, entrance fees and membership subscriptions just exceeded the costs of hiring venues.

A discussion on membership agreed that the fee should remain at £5 for the coming year, and that we should continue to charge for attendance at lectures by outside speakers, at the rate of £2 for members and £2.50 for non-members. Only those who are paid-up members can vote at the AGM or become officers of the Group.

Helene White indicated her wish to step down as Treasurer, but agreed to stay on as Deputy Treasurer, while Lesley Arnold-Hopkins agreed to take on the Treasurer role. George Jelliss agreed to stay on as Secretary. These appointments were proposed and seconded, in the absence of other names being put forward. No other Committee members were appointed.

A simple formal Constitution was put forward by the Secretary and accepted by those present. A copy will be made available to all members.

Future plans for the Group were discussed. It is proposed to hold less lectures in the next year, say three from outside speakers, interspersed with discussion meetings on specific subjects. The venues will remain the Arts Forum and the Dripping Well pub for the present.

If anyone present has different recollections of the meeting and its decisions please let me know. A fuller report, including names, will be sent to paid-up members. We hope that more of our regular attendees will want to become members and support the work of the Group. Offers of talks for next year are invited. These can be formal lectures or just short introductions to stimulate discussion.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

SACRE Meeting in Lewes

On Monday I went to Lewes for the East Sussex SACRE Meeting at County Hall. I was there as a Humanist observer. Any member of the public who has a sufficiently high threshhold of boredom can attend as an observer! I've made a formal request to be appointed as a Humanist Representative on Group A of the SACRE. This will now be considered at the next SACRE meeting in February, it may require revising the constitution.

Unlike the meeting last February in Uckfield this meeting was well attended, with 16 people in all round the table, although the Council personnel running it have now changed. A draft version of the East Sussex Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education (86 pages) was distributed, although it contains a lot of extra material, in blue, added by the new Local Authority Adviser to SACRE, Lilian Weatherley. The Foreword by Councillor Matthew Lock, does mention the need for "considering other secular beliefs such as humanism and atheism" though I have not yet examined the text in detail for its references to Humanism.

There is a meeting in London at Conway Hall on Saturday for SACRE Representatives which I propose to attend, to get further experience in this field.

There is a BHA Group Representatives Annual Meeting on 27th November, but this year it is being held in Birmingham. I attended the GRAM last year in London but will not be able to get to Birmingham. If any member (or two members) of our Hastings Group would like to attend please let me know and I will give you the necessary details. It runs from about 10 am to 4 pm. It would probably be best to travel the day before and stay overnight. We may be able to cover the cost of the rail fare (if booked in advance), but not the overnight accommodation. You might be able to fit in a visit to the CBSO at Symphony Hall, or other attractions.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Making Up Religion

Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet, one of the five Bishops who are leaving the Church of England to become Catholics spoke on BBC Radio this morning, saying:
"It's about whether the Church of England, as it's always claimed to be, is faithful to the undivided Church of the first thousand years and faithful to its faith and orders - or whether it feels it can make things up and change things as it goes.
"And, increasingly, over the last few years, it has acted as though it is autonomous in these matters and can make things up as it goes and women bishops is simply the latest example of that."

He doesn't seem to register any irony in his failure to realise that Christianity was all "Made Up" in the first place, mainly by Paul of Tarsus and his friends in the first century. The fact that he wants to go back to the teachings of the mediaeval church as they were in the first millennium is even more baffling. Back to the Dark Ages! Back to a geocentric universe surrounded by spheres of angels. Back to feudalism and divine right of Kings. Back to serfdom and slavery. Can he really mean that?

Monday, 1 November 2010

Our Annual General Meeting

Since we have no formal constitution our AGM will basically be a discussion about the Hastings Humanists Group and how the members and supporters wish it to proceed into the next year, our third. This will be held on Thursday 18th November, 6:30 pm at the Arts Forum.

If I continue as Secretary my plan for next year is for far less formal lectures and instead to have mainly discussion meetings where we can get to know one another and exchange views. I think each meeting should have a leading topic which the proposer will introduce with a short introduction, of say ten minutes, and then discussion of the topic, followed by any other subjects that may come up.

Suggestions for topics we should discuss will be welcomed. Some that I have listed as possible are: Humanism and Science Fiction, The Rewriting of History by Religious Historians, Is Cosmology Relevant to Humanism, Is there any Truth in Conspiracy Theories, The Census (due on 27 March 2011), and several others. Any offers? Any serious omissions, or events coming up we should cover?

I understand Helene is willing to continue as our Treasurer, though she may not be at all meetings. Instead of making an entry charge we propose that there be a £5 annual membership fee (which about ten people have already paid for 2010) other donations being optional. (This is similar to the Brighton and Hove Group.) Lesley will I hope continue as Deputy Treasurer.

These roles are open to other members to put their names forward for selection. This includes the Secretary role. It may be that we should also create some other formal positions, and perhaps a formal Committee. If members have specific proposals they would like discussed at the AGM it would be helpful to have them notified in advance, but this is not essential.

Another problem may be to find a new venue. Personally I am not keen on meeting in a public house since I prefer to avoid alcohol, but on the other hand there is no room fee to be paid. Does anyone know of a better meeting place, perhaps a Cafe? Graham thinks we should start raising funds for our own building, but that seems a bit ambitious at this stage.