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New RE guidance – what’s wrong with it

I’ve responded belatedly to the new guidance on RE, as follows:

Rt Hon Ed Balls MP
Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families
Department for Children, Schools and Families
Sanctuary Buildings
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BT

Dear Mr Balls,

I am writing to express my disappointment at the new draft guidance produced for RE in England, particularly its failure to make it clear that the subject should be the study of both religious and non-religious beliefs and to recognise and recommend the eligibility of Humanists for full membership of SACREs and ASCs.

I am personally particularly affected by this. I am a Humanist and a full member of Suffolk SACRE. I am very concerned that the new guidance will lead to my position as a full member of the SACRE being seriously undermined and to a consequent lack of representation of non-religious people on the SACRE, even though my local area is at least 16% non-religious – which means there are more non-religious people than all the non-Christian religions combined. When my SACRE made me a full member, without dissent, they agreed that since our new RE syllabus (introduced in September 2007) included Humanism “and secular world views”, it would be inconsistent with this inclusion to exclude me from full membership of the SACRE. In my experience, as a frequent visitor to schools, both as a tutor with Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource and as a Humanist speaker, a majority of secondary school students identify themselves as non-believers. It is therefore especially important that the syllabus covers non-belief and its various expressions.

Should Thought for the Day be scrapped?

While the BHA gets excited at the prospect of the BBC including Humanist thoughts in Radio 4 Today’s god-bothering slot, I’m not keen on the idea. Yes, I know I did T4TDs on local radio for years (necessitating early risings that totally messed up my metabolic clock – I don’t do mornings), but I’ve gone off them since then. How many people take them seriously?

Introduction to the Cosmos

Space through the Hubble telescopeOn Tuesday 14th July I offered Suffolk Humanists & Secularists an “Introduction to the Cosmos”.  I’m from Coddenham Astronomical Observatory, and I used images from the Hubble Space Telescope and other space and ground based telescopes to describe the Universe in which we live. The talk began in our local neighbourhood and introduced the sizes and distances of the planets in our own solar system. As the Earth shrunk in relative size the journey took us out from the rocky inner planets to the cold gas giants most distant from the Sun. The planets were contrasted in size to the Sun, our nearest star. At this stage the Earth was quickly becoming smaller and less significant.

The situation was further emphasised as larger and larger stars were discussed. Some were so large that the Sun and its entire family of planets could orbit inside them. The distances here were even larger. If the sun were to be represented as a grain of sugar then the next nearest star would be another grain of sugar just over 4 miles away. From the room where we watched the show the grain of sugar would be typically, at Capel St Mary to the south or, towards the north, the bus station at M&S in Ipswich. Pictures of the Hubble ‘Deep Field’ were shown. These showed the most distant galaxies ever photographed.


US fundamentalists are boring bigots

Fort Lauderdale Christian fundamentalists have been demanding the removal of a billboard message that affirms you can be good without God.

In Fort Lauderdale, the Florida Atheist and Secular Humanist Society has paid for a billboard stating: “Being a good person doesn’t require God. Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone.” Local “community activist” Big Mama said, “Nothing else matters, but that sign needs to come down. In the name of Jesus.”

Free Dawkins DVD for all secondary schools

Brilliant news from the BHA

Every school in England and Wales is to receive a free DVD of ‘Growing Up in the Universe’, Professor Richard Dawkins’ 1991 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for children. The DVD is being distributed by the British Humanist Association with funding from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’, which both fall in 2009.