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The Big Society is “natural territory for the Church of England”

From the National Secular Society, a report on the Church of England’s opportunism as the Government promotes a “Big Society”:

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “This is the clearest indication that the Church has been in detailed consultation with the Government about implementing the Big Society idea. Very sensibly, the Church is wary of being used as a means of shoring up the social catastrophe that is coming through the cutting of welfare spending. At the same time, it cannot resist the opportunity to force itself into the lives of those who otherwise are utterly indifferent if not hostile to it.”

Swords, ploughshares, guns & shovels

GunsWhenever there’s any mention of turning weapons into something useful, like tools, or beautiful, like art, someone will quote Isaiah II: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” It’s a great idea, whether or not you believe it was God’s. There’ve been two recent examples.

The first is from Mexico. You can read about it on the Inhabitat website:

The city of Culiacán, in western Mexico has the highest rate of gun deaths in the country. After speaking with family members of victims of drug crimes in the city, artist Pedro Reyes decided to use its prolific amount of firearms to help the local botanical garden. In the ultimate act of recycling, Reyes and the garden started a campaign for residents to hand over their guns to the artist in exchange for a coupon that they could use to buy electronics or household appliances. He collected 1,527 guns for the project — Palas por Pistolas — had them melted down and transformed into 1,527 shovel heads that are now being used to plant trees in the community.

The second is from the recent BBC series, A History of the World in a 100 Objects, the Throne of Weapons:

November newsletter for you to download now

SH&S News November 2010Our November newsletter is here for you to download and print. Why not make several copies and hand them on to your friends?

In this month’s issue:

  • Suffolk Humanist Sue Hewlett on her involvement with a scheme to link the village school in Stutton, where she taught, with one in Yendi in Ghana.
  • Details of this month’s meeting, when we’ll be electing a new chairperon and member Colleen Nunn will tell us about the geology of Suffolk.
  • A list of books recommended by last month’s speaker, Dr John Mellis, after his talk on theoretical physics.
  • Details of our activities through the East of England Faiths Agency and Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource.

Click here or on the image for your copy.

Click here for help with pdf files.

Monthly meeting – The Geology of Suffolk

Member Colleen Nunn will be talking about geology. She says:

How much do you know about the ground beneath your feet and what it can tell us about about the geological history of Suffolk? Did you know, for example, that our county once had a climate like the present day Caribbean or that the River Thames once flowed through Suffolk? I will be exploring the rocks found here and demonstrating how they can reveal all sorts of clues as to how the landscape and climate have evolved through time.

There will be pictures and samples to see.

Faith in the Public Sphere – A Humanist Perspective

From a lunchtime seminar organised by the East of England Faiths Agency for Suffolk County Council Staff in Ipswich on 14 October 2010. The previous seminar was led by a local vicar and more seminars would be led by various faith representatives. My introduction was followed by a Q & A session.

I’m a Humanist. Humanism is a descriptive word applied retrospectively (from about the late 19th century) to a certain set of beliefs and values, free from religion. These beliefs and values are at least as old as recorded history.

Humanists accept naturalism (rather than supernaturalism) and we value scientific method as a means to gain knowledge. We accept that this life is the only one we have, and we think that morality arises out of human nature and culture. These ideas are a ‘permanent alternative’ that recur throughout time and place. They’ve been evident in Europe from the 6th century BCE to about 6th century CE, in China from the 6th century BCE onwards (the followers of Confucius were humanists), in India from the 6th century onwards, in the Arab world from about the 12th century, and in the Western world  from about the 17th century onwards.

Humanism isn’t a religion for atheists. It’s not equivalent to religion. It’s not a ‘faith’ – the word ‘faith’ means believing in something without evidence, which is anathema to a humanist. Humanists use reason to try to make sense of life and the world we live in, and if there’s something we don’t know or understand we’re content to admit that we don’t know.

Bye bye Claire

Claire RaynerClaire Rayner has died. A few Suffolk Humanists (including me) went to hear her speak at an Essex Humanists meeting in Chelmsford a few years ago, when her humour and warmth made a strong impression. I have good reason to identify with some of the things that Claire said, especially when she got cross about lazy journalists who wrote about people with cancer “losing their fight” – stuff and nonsense!

Anyhow, there are tributes aplenty on the web. Here are just three of them:

From the British Humanist Association

From the National Secular Society

From Baroness Helena Kennedy

And here’s Claire in her own words:

Her Humanist Hero, Miss Peach

How she coped with cancer

Will the 2011 census mislead on religion?

The BHA and the NSS have both campaigned to have the next census, due in March 2011, changed to reflect a more accurate picture of religion in Britain, though their approach has differed.

The NSS says,

The information gained from the religion question — widely thought to have been inaccurate and misleading — is used by government departments when deciding about allocation of resources. Religious groups have used it to justify privileges.

A majority ticked ‘Christian’ in the last census, yet we know that hardly any nominal Christians go to church, belong to any organised religious group, or understand much about the theology of the religion they claim. Many mistakenly think that being Christian is synonymous with being good.

The 2011 census will be the first that we can complete online. Between now and then, secularists like us will be trying to persuade people to think about how they fill in their forms. If you don’t want the church to continue to enjoy all the privileges it currently enjoys at public expense, don’t give them the ammunition. You might begin by adding the link below to your email signature.

Click here for more about the Census Campaign.