Category Archives: Uncategorized

God vs. Superman

I came across this passage today from my interview with one of my humanist, atheist and agnostic oral-history respondents, Julia Stuart from Dundee:

“What I wonder about now is how children, really me, how can you believe this indoctrination god thing, and yet at the same time, one of uncles was a great Marvel Comics fan, and I loved all that. The Superman, the heroes, loved it all. But how do we decide that the god thing is ‘real’, but we know that Superman ain’t? So I wondered how you decided that as a child – why you kept on believing in the dogma but you knew that Superman was play?”

I found this very striking – on two levels.

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Anders Breivik and the Culture of Islamophobia

I have just been reading an excellent  study of the Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik. In this, a social anthropologist, Sindre Bangstad, argues that the scary thing about this man’s murder of 77 people on 22 July 2011 was not the capacity for a single human being to turn hatred of a religion and immigrants into a perverted action of murdering those who fell into neither category, but that it emerged from a society where Islamophobia was becoming normalised.

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Christian Country – yes or no? Ten seconds to make up your mind…

A lot of air, and sometimes a bit of light, have been shone on the issue that David Cameron triggered two weeks’ ago. Demands for definitive statements on whether UK (or a part of it, usually England) is a “Christian country” have been rather insistent from media callers. Statistics are being bandied about from all sorts of unlikely sources (as well as the usual ones). The scholar must resort to a twofold approach. (Note to my numerate friends in the academy: the figures below are rounded on the side of generosity to the case for the religious, so as not to be too deflected from some crude argument.)

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Selling Humanism

I have recently joined a small group developing teaching materials on Humanism for Religious and Moral Education (RME) teachers in Scottish schools. I had my first meeting with the group of fellow Humanists from the Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS) last Sunday as we discussed how to go about this. An immediate sensation is that we are, of course, re-inventing a wheel that has been developed over many decades by Humanist around the world. But perhaps we have something distinctive to “sell”.

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Re-ritualisation?

Is this the capital of the cairn? If you set off north from Fort William in the West Highlands of Scotland, steering for the bridge over the sea to Skye, you will come across a layby on the left hand side where there are hundreds, very possibly thousands, of stone cairns. Most of them are small, admittedly but they have really covered the landscape for several hundred yards along the road. How it started I know not, but passers-by quickly get the hang of this. Just find some small stones and stick them on a pile. Or start a new one. Hey presto, we have a booming ritual, a new invented tradition.

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Getting angry with BBC’s ‘Thought for the day’

Nothing exercises the ire of British humanists and atheists more than religionists’ monopoly of the “Thought for the Day” slot on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme.  Less than 4 minutes’ long, I have found on visiting Humanist groups around the UK that this irritates British secularists in the same way as Americans get hot under the collar about God on the dollar bill.  So, complaints ensued when, on Boxing Day (26th December), a guest editor on the programme was prevented from allowing an atheist to broadcast in that slot (though a Unitarian was recruited instead, and the atheist spoke an hour earlier). But developing a Humanist strategy to deal with this longstanding ban requires some understanding of how the BBC bureaucracy has worked since it was founded in the 1920s.

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Kathleen Nott and the ‘problem’ of the female atheist

A noteworthy absentee from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is Kathleen Nott (1905-1999), who I came across recently. Nott was a poet, novelist, humanist and philosopher, and I think she deserves more attention.[1]

I came across Nott because she wrote the introduction to a rare species of book – the autobiography of a female British humanist and atheist, Yvonne Stevenson, The Hot-House Plant: An autobiography of a young girl (London, Elek/Pemberton, 1976), that I bought (but failed to read until recently) in a second hand bookshop.  Nott seems not to have written her own autobiography, but has left a considerable body of work of interest to the historian of humanism.

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‘Noneship’ is about non-believing and non-belonging: 84 per cent of British “nones” don’t believe in God, according to new YouGov poll

British adults “nones” (with no religion) are now clearly both non-believers as well as not belonging to a church or religious tradition. The results of a YouGov of 8,455 people, published today, indicate that British secularisation has a comprehensive non-religious character to it.[1]

Whilst 41 per cent of Britons identify as Christian, 38 per cent respond as being of “no religion”. In age groups terms, “nones” are in the majority amongst 18-19 year olds, with 47 per cent amongst those in their 20s, and 44 per cent of those in their 30s. This evidence supports the 2001 and 2011 censuses, and the British Household Survey data since 1983, which show dramatic growth in the proportion of the people not identifying with any religion.

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