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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.”

Delia’s jumped on the outraged Christians’ bandwagon

Delia's Lent Appeal

Had an email today (Sunday) from an East Anglian Daily Times journalist, wanting comment on Delia Smith’s claim that “we are somewhat under the cosh” on her website – does she mean Christians in general, or just Catholics? Devout secularists? What are they? Didn’t read the email until after 10pm, probably too late for the paper, but replied anyway. It gets sillier by the day.

It’s interesting that Delia, a CAFOD ambassador, should think it appropriate to use her cookery website to air her persecution complex. Perhaps she imagines that cooks don’t include atheists or secularists? And what has any of this to do with Lent? Atheists happily donate to charity all the year round; we don’t need to be reminded.

Update: 12/3/12

New Humanist magazine reports on Delia’s fighting talk too, with a reference to the story in the Daily Mail.

Julian Baggini’s Heathen’s Progress

Julian BagginiJulian Baggini is co-founder of The Philosophers’ Magazine and author of ‘Atheisn: A Very Short Introduction’ (OUP). His series ‘Heathen’s Progress‘ that began last year in The Guardian’s Comment is Free section is worth reading. The latest part, ‘Yes, life without God can be bleak. Atheism is about facing up to that‘ firmly removes any comfort blanket you might be clinging to, and is bracingly honest. It ends:

I think it’s time we atheists ‘fessed up and admitted that life without God can sometimes be pretty grim. Appropriating the label “heathen” is part of this. Heathens are unredeemed outcasts from heaven who roam the planet without hope of surviving the deaths of their bodies. They may have values but they are not secured by any divine source. Yet we embrace this because we think it represents the truth. And so we don’t just get on and enjoy life, we embark on our own intellectual pilgrimages, trying to make some progress in a universe on which no meaning has been writ. The journey can be wonderful but it can also be arduous and it may end horribly. But there is no other way, and anyone who urges you to follow a path that they promise leads to a bright future is either gravely mistaken or a charlatan.

8th May meeting – guest speaker Rhea Williams from the Queen’s English Society

The Society campaigns to encourage high standards of written and spoken English, which have been found to be lamentably low among school-leavers and even university graduates. One of its principal campaigns is for better and explicit English language education and regular constructive correction of errors in English language in schools.