Humanist Society Update

March 5, 2008

A plug first . Today and tomorrow are the EUSA election days. If you’re a student at the University of Edinburgh, I don’t care who you vote for but it’s very important that you vote. Don’t leave the decision in the hands of the politically-minded cronies in the various party headquarters, pull your finger out and go and vote. It’s a shame that, yet again, the elections are so male-dominated and that there isn’t such a diversity of choice, but there’s bound to be someone who says something you agree with.

I haven’t got a lot to say today seeing as I’ve mostly been writing essays or working for the past few weeks, so I’m just going to try and update the outside world on what we at the Edinburgh University Humanist Society are up to. I should be doing another essay so I really am just procrastinating.

This coming Friday is the last in our series of “God’s Warriors” video showings in Appleton Tower. Starting at 6 sharp, this week will concentrate on ‘God’s Christian Warriors’, perhaps tacking the sticky issue of Christian fundamentalism in the US. I urge you to come and see for yourself. It’ll be followed by a discussion, and in the past 2 showings these have proven to be refreshingly open-minded.

Talk at the moment is about the upcoming AGM (date TBC but at the moment we’re thinking late March/early April) and nominations for officer positions next year. It’s a little awkward because out of our active membership, several people are leaving the university, and so won’t be able to take positions. I think one of the main aims next year will be to attract some new blood, as I know we’re going to have similar problems this time next year. I for one will be going on my year abroad and other people will be either graduating or finishing off post-grad courses.

Recently we’ve been trying to get an honorary humanist chaplain at the Chaplaincy, with our preferred candidate being Tim Maguire from the HSS. This would be someone that any person at the university with humanist tendencies could go to for advice or counselling, rather than the Advice Place or any of the religious chaplains that exist already. In particular, we were keen to get more of a voice on issues relating to inter-belief events at the university and in the wider community, and although not in an evangelical sense, we thought Tim would be particularly useful when someone is considering leaving their faith, as some of us have found it quite distressing in the past.

Nevertheless, Di at the Chaplaincy has suggested that Tim take the slightly different role of humanist contact, which half-suits us at the moment because we don’t know how well used a humanist chaplain would be, and until we know we can’t really demand a chaplain, but at the same time we’re out of the loop just slightly on Chaplaincy issues. We’ll see if Tim gets much use as a humanist contact and try and raise his profile a little if possible.

The next thing on the agenda to consider is what we’re going to do during Fresher’s Week. Gordon Aikman, the current EUSA Vice President Societies and Activities, has given us until Monday to decide on what we’re going to do and give him some details. Suggestions today involved some kind of debate or discussion about what to do if your friend is a nutcase, something else which would involve going out and informing people about humanism (something similar to the prayer contest was mentioned, during which we tried to use scientific experimentation to find out which deity was best to pray for for divine intervention – IIRC it turned out to be Emmeline Pankhurst, the women’s rights campaigner who famously threw herself in front of a horse), and my own suggestion was a walk up Arthur’s Seat, not an awful lot to do with humanism except for an appreciation of nature, but it’s a good way to get people together.

So that’s what we’re up to at the moment.

Humanist Society Spring Program

January 11, 2008

Yesterday was the Refresher’s Fair, where each society sets up a stall, tells people what they do, and hope to attract new members. Thursdays are my stupid timetable days where I have classes at 9am, 11am, 1pm and 3pm, with one hour gaps between each of them, so I was darting in and out all day really. It was great to see so many societies in action; the tango soc gave a few demonstrations throughout the day, and there were quite a lot of societies there that I didn’t really know very much about, like Capoeira (a type of Brazilian martial art), and the Revelation Rock Gospel Choir, which we were sitting right opposite. The PhilSoc stall was also quite interesting, being made up of a woman knitting, a man drinking cans of Strongbow at midday, and a very scary teddy bear with a strange affinity for a bottle of Bitter and Twisted. They did have some flyers at some point as well, or so I’m told.

The fair was held in the Chaplaincy and Potterow, and all the societies were just placed in alphabetical order, rather than in categories like when it was at the Pleasance in September. This meant we weren’t very close to any of the religious societies, which is a shame because we didn’t have nearly as many ‘inter-faith’ (I use inverted commas there because Humanism really isn’t a faith, but a better term has yet to be coined) discussions as we did in September’s Fresher’s Fair and Chaplaincy Fair, which were very interesting.

I’m also quite disappointed at the lack of inter-faith events at the university. Although we only fairly recently had the Edinburgh Inter-Faith Week, very few of the events then were particularly suitable for a humanist audience, so most of us largely steered clear, and the Edinburgh University Student Festival has a grand total of zero religious events. The Jewish and Islamic Societies don’t seem to be doing anything anymore (indeed
the Islamic Society didn’t even have a stall at the Fair – they didn’t at the Chaplaincy Fair either but that was during Ramadan), and the Catholic Union’s events and meetings are separated away from everyone else in their own little Chaplaincy in George Square, which isn’t exactly very social, in my opinion.

Anyway I think I should probably get to the point. We had a decent number of ‘religious apologists’ as Dawkins would probably call them, who didn’t necessarily believe in any particular deity, but thought our society was just god bashing all the time. It’s simply not true. Although a lot of our own events do have religion as their focus, we’ve also been attempting to host talks on other topics of interest to humanists such as language separating us from other animals (we have a large number of linguists among us), with limited success, and we have our regular Humanist Blood Drive coming up on the 1st February (to which anyone is welcome), as well as a panel discussion on Humanist Ethics in the 21st Century. We’re also collaborating much more closely with the Humanist Society of Scotland and the Humanist Academy, as well as the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

But that aside, it should be noted that if any local religious church, association or society, inside or outside the university, attempts to spread their illogical and irrational doctrines to others, then we’ll be there to challenge it. We wouldn’t be very good humanists if we weren’t, and we encourage those same religious societies to do the same. We have a series of 3 documentaries coming up later in the semester entitled “God’s Warriors”, by CNN, each focusing on Christianity, Judaism and Islam, respectively. We intend to invite moderates from each of these three religions along for our discussion afterwards, to tell us where the documentaries have gone wrong, but seeing as the societies are so inactive, we may be forced to go outside the university and seek experts there.