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Suffolk Humanist astronomer on BBC Look East

Tom BolesSuffolk Humanists & Secularists newest committee member Tom Boles was on BBC Look East yesterday, filmed at his Coddenham observatory with BBC presenter Richard Daniel. They were there to talk about the partial eclipse of the sun but there was too much cloud cover to see it, so they talked about Tom’s achievements instead. Tom set a world record last year for spotting more supernova than anyone else.

You have a few hours left to see the interview, about 22 minutes into the programme, if you click here.

A Humanist’s view of Christmas celebrations

Suffolk Humanists & Secularists member Penny Binsted wrote the following article for the Lawshall (Suffolk) village newsletter. She says, “It has been very well received and I have had many positive comments! Maybe there are more closet Humanists than people like to admit.”

As Christmas is meant to be a celebration for Jesus’s birthday it is obvious to me that I have nothing to celebrate as I am a humanist. Humanism is the conviction that we can make sense of the world using reason, experience and shared human values and that we can all lead good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs. Humanists make the best of the one life we have by creating meaning and purpose for ourselves. We choose to take responsibility for our actions and work with others for the common good.

The number of people in the UK choosing non-religious humanist ceremonies for births, marriages and deaths is growing rapidly, as is the membership of the British Humanist Association, from Professor Richard Dawkins (Vice President of the British Humanists), Professor Susan Blackmore, the late Claire Rayner, Ricky Gervais, Rowan Atkinson, Woody Allen, the authors Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett, to politicians Roy Hattersley and Ken Livingstone. The journalist Polly Toynbee is the current President of the British Humanist Association and all three main parties in the House of Commons have Humanist groups.

The history of Christmas celebrations is eclectic – for thousands of years in Europe, in Scandinavia communities celebrated life in midwinter, with eating and drinking, around the time of the shortest day on December 21st. It is highly unlikely that Jesus Christ was born on 25th December, and there were no  Church celebrations for Christmas until the 4th century as there was disapproval of the Pagan festivities. Then Christians adopted the old Pagan festival of Midwinter, making it a joint secular and religious event – it is now a jumble of ancient customs and more recent inventions: many of our ‘traditions’ like Santa Claus, Christmas trees, cards, gifts and turkeys are all fairly recent, mostly Victorian inventions from Prince Albert.

Winner of the Bad Faith Award

Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed, head of the UK Islamic Sharia Council, has won the 2010 Bad Faith Award for asserting that there’s no such thing as marital rape. “Clearly there cannot be any ‘rape’ within the marriage,” he’s reported as saying. “Maybe ‘aggression’, maybe ‘indecent activity’.”

The Winterval myth

You may have read that the Pope, Eric Pickles MP, the Daily Mail, and many others are blaming atheists, Muslims, councils and various other killjoys for “banning Christmas” in the interests of not offending anyone – “PC gone mad!” – and are calling the festive season “Winterval” instead. Calm down. It’s not true. Kevin Arscott, who writes the Angry Mob blog, explains that the story is all due to bad journalism (and there’s a lot of it about) in an essay you can download as a pdf file.

Celebration of Human Rights

UN logoA Humanist contribution to an inter-faith Celebration of Human Rights hosted by the Ipswich & District Bahá’í­ community at Ipswich Central Library, 10 December 2010. The theme was Article 26:2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Spiritual Education”: Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

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The Article we’re celebrating today refers to “Spiritual Education”. I have a problem with this, because I don’t know what “spiritual” means. I know what other people say it means, but there are several definitions, some of them religious, and I find them mostly too vague to agree with them. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll ignore that part of the Article and talk about the rest: about education, and about understanding and tolerance. These are things without which no civil society can function properly, and without which there is endless scope for disharmony and conflict.

Christmas with children, without hassle

This was an article in a newsletter from 2008 by Sophie Lovejoy, who has two young children. It provides ideas for parents with limited budgets who’d like to keep their spending under control, yet still have a good time.

Xmas cookingChristmas is invariably a challenge with small children, particularly if you aren’t Christian. For the past few years, my halcyon days of totally ignoring Christmas have been entirely forgotten. I got away with not celebrating when Tess was one, but as she turned two, I couldn’t hold out any longer. Once Toby came along, I had no choice but to rethink how I’d manage over the festive season. I work very hard in the run up to Christmas to keep the kids focused on the people they love, and who love them. Part of this is making almost all our gifts and cards, and I try to make something for each of the children too. I occasionally let the kids buy something very small, but usually my response when they ask is “Do you have any money? No? Well we’ll have to make something then.”

Persecuted Christians? In Britain?

Christians are saying that they’re ‘Not Ashamed‘, apparently, and Eric Pickles has declared war on the war on Christmas. I didn’t know anything about the Not Ashamed campaign when I came out of the shower this morning and answered the phone from BBC Radio Suffolk. Due to some crossed wires, I was expected to comment on air. Had to ask what I was supposed to be commenting about. So if it makes no sense, that’s why.

Anyhow, for a few days you can listen again. I’m on about 40 minutes into James Hazell’s programme.

Our “Good Life Without Religion” website attracts 1000s of visitors

A good life without religion websiteOur new single-page website, A Good Life Without Religion, went live at the beginning of September to coincide with the distribution of our car stickers to members and others. So far, it’s been viewed 29,928 times. Many of the visitors may have come through search engines, some through our online publicity. The site is designed as an introduction to humanism for anyone who’s disillusioned with religion, or simply looking for like-minded people. It should appeal to anyone, anywhere. The language is simple, designed to be accessible to people of all ages, from early teens upwards. There’s a set of frequently asked questions, such as “What’s the purpose of life, if you don’t believe in an afterlife?”. It was a Suffolk Humanists & Secularists’ initiative, but it may lead to any humanist or secularist group, through the links.

We suggest that you add the URL to your email signature and any other humanist and/or secularist publicity.