Blog Latest news and views

Lunacy in Jerusalem

The whole religious complexion of the modern world is due to the absence from Jerusalem of a lunatic asylum.

Religious TV in America – please not here!

UK comedian Jake Yapp spent some time in the US watching religious TV, so we don’t have to. I’ve heard you can see stuff like this in the UK, but it’s not on Freeview so who cares?

A book that sets out to demonstrate that atheists aren’t miserable

New York photographer Chris Johnson has found subscribers to publish a book of portraits of happy atheists, to dispel the myth “that our lives are devoid of joy and happiness because we are not religious.” It looks interesting, but the sample list of subjects gives the impression that the book could be male-dominated. Maybe the gender balance will be 50/50?

Click here to read more.

Which version of Easter do you prefer?

Easter eggsFor a majority of people in the UK, Easter is mainly about a long weekend, chocolate eggs, and spring. The origins of the spring holiday are disputed but they go back to pre-Christian times, when Pagans celebrated the spring equinox, which was on March 20th this year, and the end of winter.

The word Easter is derived from the name of a Germanic Pagan goddess of Spring, variously known as Ēostre, Ēastre or Ostara. The Easter bunny, accordng to some, was actually a hare, but either way it was a symbol of fertility, and likewise the egg. Chocolate manufacturers, including Cadbury’s, saw the opportunity to increase their profits by creating chocolate eggs as a substitite for the painted eggs that were previously given as gifts.

No one knows if or when the Christian’s Jesus was crucified (a common form of execution by the Romans between 6BCE and 4AD), but it probably wasn’t at Easter. Just as the early church adopted the pagan midwinter solstice festival and renamed it Christmas, they almost certainly did the same with the spring festival.

A new science of religion?

New ScientistAs reported by our secretary in the AGM newsletter (pdf), the 19th March issue of New Scientist was The God Issue. An editorial ends:

This is not an apologia for god. Religious claims still wither under rational scrutiny and deserve no special place in public life. But it is a call for those who aspire to a secular society to approach it rationally – which means making more effort to understand what they are dealing with. Religion is deeply etched in human nature and cannot be dismissed as a product of ignorance, indoctrination or stupidity. Until secularists recognise that, they are fighting a losing battle.

It’s a pity that the words “secularists” is used, as so often these days, as synonymous with atheists or anti-theists, which isn’t what it means. See the BBC site for a definition of secularism, which notes, correctly, 

You may be surprised to know that while most secularists are atheists, some secularists are actually believers in a faith. While they believe, they don’t think that belief is a reason for special treatment.

However, it is true that many anti-religionists, like many religionists, make no effort to understand “what they are dealing with”. Whether the contributors to this issue of New Scientist can enlighten us is debatable.

One is Justin L Barrett, author of Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Beliefs, which makes the controversial claim that children “arrive in the world with a strong, cognitively driven propensity for religious belief ‘preinstalled’.”

Discussion about assisted dying on BBC Radio Suffolk

Margaret Nelson from Suffolk Humanists & Secularists and someone from the local hospice will be on Mark Murphy’s programme to talk about assisted dying. Listen on air, online or listen again via the BBC website.

Ipswich Science in the Pub

From John Benton:

“Andy Miles has offered to update us on the goings-on at QED con. If you have any scientific curiosities, feel free to bring them along, and no doubt there will be talk of the current and upcoming solar activity.”