Something for the weekend
Friday news and web links…
An Alexandrian court has sentenced Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman to four years imprisonment for “inciting hatred of Islam” and insulting President Hosni Mubarak in his blog, using the pseudonym “Kareem Amer.” Visit the Free Kareem! website to call for his freedom. As Amnesty International reports, the sentence means that bloggers are under threat from the Egyptian authorities.
All copies of Egyptian feminist writer, activist and medical doctor Nawal Al Saadawi’s latest book, God Resigns in the Summit Meeting, were removed from circulation and destroyed last week by her publisher Mahmoud Madbouli, according to German news service Deutsche Press Agenter. Madbouli said he withdrew the book once he learned it “offended readers’ religious sensitivities.”
Perhaps because of the The British Humanist Association’s attempts to appeal to ‘cultural Christians’ as prospective members, some have demonstrated rather woolly thinking about atheism or Humanism in its members’ forum. This is part of a topic posted recently:
Most reasonable people accept evolution and much that RD [Richard Dawkins] says in The God Delusion. On the basis of God defined in RD’s theistic terms, many people such as myself are atheists, but that does lump together a wide spectrum of belief some of which may prefer not to be called atheist.
Know what he means? Answers on a postcard please. Meanwhile, please would intelligent, sensible Humanists join the BHA? If you’re a bit woolly about what it all means, read ‘Humanism: an Introduction’ by Jim Herrick, normally available from the Rationalist Press Association but their website’s having a make over and doesn’t appear to be fully functional today, so try later. Also recommended: a subscription to New Humanist magazine.
I spent Thursday morning at a local High School talking to 14–year-olds (Year 10) during a Marriage Conference. Other contributors included religious representatives, someone from the police domestic violence unit, and a superintendent registrar. Towards the end of the last session we veered off topic, steered by a very religious young man. After defining atheism, agnosticism, and secularism, and talking about religion in public life, specifically the House of Lords, one boy said, “Why should we believe in anything? Why can’t we just believe in nothing?” Several others agreed that most high school students aren’t religious, but they’re not anything else either – that most believe in nothing. Whether or not this is true, several students from this school contributed to the ‘Why Atheism?’ DVD, at my suggestion. Thursday’s group were feeling ‘got at’ by a bunch of religious people who’d spend most of the morning promoting their different approaches to marriage, which appeared to have been received with scepticism – I’m pleased to say!
In view of the new equality legislation, Suffolk County Council has organised a Stonewall Masterclass on faiths and sexuality for faith representatives on March 1st, which will be followed by a seminar organised by Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource. There have been other seminars around the county attended by a variety of faith representatives. I was invited to attend as a ‘critical friend’ but can’t make it. SIFRE’s summary of the work so far includes:
- it is important to have a historical perspective on the subject and to understand the social and cultural contexts in which traditions have developed.
- if we get behind the various translations and official or idiosyncratic interpretations of sacred texts, they may open up to alternative readings and have quite a different impact when not taken at face value.
- the authority of texts may be need to challenged by the authority of conscience and experience.
- the issues around sexuality and sexual orientation need to be tackled sensitively using everybody’s insights.
- some faiths have very strong teachings against same-sex relationships, but internal pressure groups as well as external forces are now challenging them.
We felt that the next stage might be to have a regional conference so that others could be drawn into the discussion as we seek more ways of supporting people, particularly the young, who are experiencing difficulties in the current situation and work out how best to move forward together in the light of the new equality legislation.
Sex and religion, eh? Gay sex really gets ‘em going.
“If Michelangelo had been straight, the Sistine Chapel would have been wallpapered.” Robin Tyler, US comedienne, speech to gay rights rally, 1988.
While promoting his ‘God Delusion’ book in the US, Richard Dawkins was asked how the people of Liberty University (an ‘an independent, fundamentalist Baptist university’) could convince him that dinosaur fossils are only 3000 years old and that life began only 6000 years ago. See YouTube for his reply – broadband needed.
The weekly Humanist Network News email from the Institute for Humanist Studies features the ‘Agnostic Mom’ blog, written by Noell Hyman, who was raised a Mormon. This week she writes about a Humanist wedding:
My favorite part of this story is that my sister-in-law asked one of her brothers to marry them. That brother (one of the nonbelievers) spent fifteen minutes on a humanist website, filled out a form, paid a small fee, and is now an “authorized clergy member.”
It seems to be much easier to become a Humanist Celebrant (if that’s how you choose to describe yourself) in some US states than it is here, simply by paying to become an ‘authorised clergy member’. So far, you can have legally recognised Humanist weddings in Scotland but not in England or Wales.
Mike Lake from Derby has started a UK Secularists website through the National Secular Society (we’re affiliated). We’re listed under ‘humanist groups’ on his site but if you click ‘Suffolk’ under the heading ‘local secular groups’ we’re not there! Mike doesn’t seem to think that we can be secularists and humanists at the same time. He tried to explain why we’re not listed under ‘secular groups’, but I dozed off while reading his explanation. If you have an opinion, please email him.
Molly Beanland, daughter of Suffolk Humanists Stan Beanland and Marion Edwards, is a talented singer/songwriter whose first single is due for release this spring. You can hear Molly’s beautiful voice on her My Space website.
Saturday TV – 2.05 pm on BB2, Inherit the Wind –
This courtroom drama was inspired by the real-life trial in 1925 of a young Tennessee teacher who was charged with giving lessons on the Darwinian theory of evolution in a state school. (Radio Times)
And finally, a 19-year-old ‘man’ (I use the term loosely) had a full English breakfast tattooed on his head. Dayne Gilbey was inked with bacon, eggs, sausages, beans and cutlery during a six-hour session. Don’t tell Britney.