Archive for the ‘consciousness raising’ Category

Christians against sectarianism


I wrote just the other day about the new humanist ad campaign – this time directed at combating sectarianism.

I’m delighted to report that the campaign is drawing support not only from other humanists, but also from religious people. The Evangelical Alliance has put out a press release in support of the ads’ message:

Justin Thacker, Head of Theology at the Evangelical Alliance said: “It is great to see that the Humanists are now agreeing that children have to make their own decisions about faith. 

“Evangelicals do not believe that God has any grandchildren, only children. You are not a Christian simply because your parents are. Every child or adult has to make up their own minds about the reality of God.

Thanks to Dale for pointing out this welcome source of agreement with the humanist campaign. Like him, I was unable to find any mainstream media noting this support – only religious publications like Christianity Today and Ekklesia. Not to demean those publications – I simply mean to point out that, in the interest of controversy, the mainstream media has once again missed an important part of the story: they seem to have latched onto the frothing and uninformed reaction of a fundamentalist Irish minister, who doesn’t seem to have read the ads, and certainly hasn’t read the background information.

Why don’t we all help spread the word? Let’s make it clear that this is an issue that can and does resonate with many segments of society, not just with the nonreligious.

Campaign against sectarianism


I recently shared some brief thoughts about sectarian education (“faith schools”) in the UK. I’ve now learned of a follow-up to the hugely popular atheist bus campaign.

The British Humanist Association is launching the “Atheist Billboard Campaign“. An interesting twist is that (contrary to what many kneejerk commentators are likely to declare), the billboards do not promote atheism at all.

Accompanying a picture of two unbearably cute kids jumping joyfully (left) is the text:

“Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself.”

Another version (right) says:

“No faith schools. Yes you can donate today.”

Yes, I suppose “No faith schools” may sound, to some ears, like a promotion of atheism, or at least an attack on religion. It’s not – and the campaign is clear in that it’s against sectarianism, not against religion in general. However you feel about it, the idea appears to enjoy popular support. A poll by Accord reports that 57% of people in the UK feel that faith schools undermine community cohesion. A four-year-old poll reported in the Guardian reports ‘64% agreeing that “the government should not be funding faith schools of any kind”.’

Now look at the text in the background of the ad (it’s clearest in the big version, which I’ve included at the bottom of this post). Clearly among the labels that we should avoid (according to the ad) are “agnostic child”, “atheist child”, and “humanist child”.

If you agree with this message – that children should not be labelled according to the beliefs of their parents, and that faith schools should not be publicly funded, go donate to the campaign here or here. If you disagree, or aren’t sure, go learn more.

And, as always, please let me know what you think.

Language rant by proxy


There is a rant that I used to share with any willing audience when I was an undergraduate student in Calgary, inspired by my burgeoning knowledge of how language works, and how different that is from the opinions spouted by language mavens.

I learned, through the brave confidence of a few close friends, that it was becoming a bit tedious to hear this rant over and over again – despite the inherent and unquestionable validity of its content, of course.

So I am delighted to point you to Gareth’s blog*, where he has essentially channelled my rant from past years and a continent away. (Though, I confess, I never did come up with as clever and apt an analogy as he does with the clothing thing.)

The basic thesis: issues of right and wrong in language use are, pretty much always, relative.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that most linguists would accept Gareth’s position as pretty obvious. But there are vast swathes of people (even intelligent people who think about language a lot) who think very differently. Let’s hope his lucid prose will sway some of them.

[Update 2012: Gareth's blog sadly no longer exists. I won't delete this post, but I'm afraid without Gareth's content it loses much of its point.]

Atheist Pride Day


I am an atheist, and I am proud of it.

It’s true, that I prefer to style myself a humanist than an atheist, because I feel it better reflects the positive outlook that lies at the centre of my life. I’ve even resisted simply using the scarlet A of the Out Campaign.  Also check out the video here.

Hemant, the Friendly Atheist, blogged the other day pointing out that tomorrow (20 March) is Atheist Pride Day. It’s being organized around the theme of the Out Campaign, and atheists are encouraged to change their Facebook or other online profile pictures to the scarlet A for the day to show solidarity and encourage other atheists to come out.

Of course, I am already out. But sometimes it pays to remind people. I am an atheist – I do not have a belief in a god. This position, as part of a wider humanist outlook, guides my daily choices, both profound and casual.

I am proud of it, because it is a worldview I have come to through a great deal of questioning and thinking.

I am proud of it because this vein of human thought has a long and noble history, from Socrates through the Enlightenment to modern secular societies.

I am proud of it because my atheism, and the humanism which it is a part of, represent my best self – the best things I do, and the things I strive for but sometimes (often) fail to do, are informed, motivated, and inspired by atheism and humanism.

This is not about sticking it to all those people out there – many of them friends of mine – who are not atheists. It is not about building a wall to divide us from them. It is about asserting that these beliefs of ours are okay. It is about showing everyone – ourselves, theists, and everyone else – that there are many of us out here. It is about showing people that, whatever else it means to be an atheist, it doesn’t mean that you are alone, or foolish, or bad.

If you are an out atheist, please participate in Atheist Pride Day tomorrow. If you think you might be an atheist, or know you are but feel alone, have a look around at the various Out Campaign participants (a Google search for Atheist Out Campaign should give you plenty). How many scarlet As are there in your Facebook friends list?

Even if you are a firm theist, perhaps you could spend some time tomorrow trying to think how the world looks from an atheist’s standpoint? How do you, or your religious leaders, talk about atheists? How do the culture of your area or the laws of your nation treat atheists? How have they treated them in the past? Do your scriptures mention atheists? If so, how are they portrayed? Is it consistent with the atheists you know personally?

I am an atheist, and I am proud of it. And I would be delighted to talk more about it with you in the comments. Do you want to discuss the merits (and possible drawbacks) of an Atheist Pride Day? Come on in!

"Thank goodness"


A couple of years ago, Daniel Dennett had emergency heart surgery. People asked him how this close call with death had affected his non-religious outlook. His response was an excellent consciousness-raiser. Here’s an excerpt:

Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say “Thank goodness!” this is not merely a euphemism for “Thank God!” (We atheists don’t believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.

Saying “Thank God!” as an expression of genuine relief is not always backed by an actual religious sentiment, any more than a reflexive “bless you” after someone sneezes is an attempt to prevent demons from entering through your open mouth. So many people may be thinking, “So what? Does it really matter which word I use?”

But Dennett’s reflections made me think. What we say – even if we only mean it in the most formulaic, casual sense – can convey ideas that we do not intend. And it can fail to point our gratitude in the right direction.

In the weeks after I read Dennett’s article, I made a conscious effort to use “thank goodness”, an expression which reflects my actual beliefs better. It wasn’t long before it became completely natural to use that rather than the less appropriate “thank God”. It’s still a little less natural than the other version, but I kind of like that. It means that, every time I say “thank goodness”, I am made every-so-slightly conscious of what term I’m using, and why.

What do you think? Do you try, like me, to keep your speech representative of your beliefs? Are you a non-theist but happy to use phrases like “thank God” and “bless you”, since they’ve basically been leached of their original meanings anyway?

Or, if you are a believer in a god, what do you think of this whole matter?


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