Rock on, Corrie!

April 16, 2009

I went home over Easter (sorry for not posting but I didn’t take my laptop with me), and spent a while (which I’ll never get back) watching Coronation Street with my mum, who watches it regularly. One of the storylines was about an Easter service at the local church with a pet blessing afterwards. Here’s more or less how it goes…

A kid and his dad are putting the rabbit away in the garden. The nice old bag from next door compliments the rabbit and the hutch which the dad built, and after a conversation tells them about the pet blessing which they could take the rabbit to if they wanted. She thinks it’s a good harmless way of getting more people to go to church, even if it is just a novelty. Later the kid, his dad, his turkey-necked grandmother and narky (but surprisingly funny) old bag great grandmother, as well as the rabbit, are getting ready to go to church, when this scene happened, and my new hero Ken Barlow spoke out about the kid being indoctrinated, and after the service tried to teach him about humanism, albeit somewhat badly.

I didn’t think about it that much at the time, but apparently a load of fuddy duddies have complained! Seemingly, they called what he said “anti-Christian”, and said it was a disgrace to air such a thing on the holiest day of the year. (As I’m sure I’ve blogged before, theologically it may be the most significant day of the year, but in practice it takes second place to Christmas in terms of observance). 23 people complained to OfCom, the broadcasting watchdog, and 100 complained directly to ITV!

I fail to see how this is greatly offensive, as one viewer put it. When else are they going to run a religious storyline like this, just at any time of the year? It’s entirely appropriate to screen this storyline (alongside another one about the girl over the road becoming a Born Again, I might add) on one of the few days when attendance at church spikes. That’s when a non-Christian would be likely to go to church! At this time of year religion is also fresh in some people’s minds. I think some people need better things to do with their lives.

So if you want to speak up in favour of these comments, feel free to contact ITV with your views.

Death and beyond

March 21, 2008

Today’s humanist society meeting was very interesting. We had a man with us who’d never been before, and he soon told us that he’d had a pretty bad time and that he’d been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and he’d been going to all different religious organisations, and now he was looking at humanism for answers. He asked some really good questions and brought up some issues that I want to discuss here a little. It’s going to be a brief one because I’m due in work fairly soon.

Anywho this man (let’s call him John for anonymity’s sake) was scared, quite frankly, by the humanist viewpoint that there’s nothing after death, it’s just oblivion. David, our rather blunt philosopher-in-residence, replied that there’s nothing you will experience that is oblivion because you won’t be there, so it’s not that bad.

Personally I gave my own slant on the issue, which I’ve probably mentioned somewhere on here before. For me, although there is nothing physical or “spiritual” after death (Tim at the Friendly Humanist would probably not like me using the word ‘spiritual’ in this way, contributing to religion’s monopoly on it), you live on in people’s memories of you and the
legacy that you leave on the world and on people around you. You would hope that these memories and your influence would be a positive one, but maybe not.

The conversation took many twists and turns (including a hell of a lot about brain surgery, can’t imagine why), but somewhere along the way we got onto the topic of the meaning of life, or to quote exactly from John, “why am I here?” Again, humanists don’t agree on everything, but I’m sure a lot of them would agree with me that since there’s no creator, noone has sat down and made a purpose for each one of us to live, or given a reason for life more generally. So your reason for living can be whatever you think is important, and we agreed that “making people’s lives better”, as we put it, was a very good start. John was a healthcare worker so I’m sure he’s done this in many ways.

John asked if we thought it was necessary to have children in order to leave a positive legacy on the world, and each one of us replied with an emphatic ‘no’. Although in purely scientific circles the reason each one of us lives is because of a long line of predecessors, and so it could be argued that our purpose in life is to continue the species and to “live on” through them, personally I think it has less to do with the continuation of your DNA, and more to do with how you’ve influenced people, regardless of whether they’re of your bloodline or not (or to put it in Dennettite language, “less to do with genes and more with memes”).

I’m glad we had this discussion. It showed us that although the humanist worldview is perfectly capable of providing comfort and guidance to someone in quite a difficult position, so far organised humanism has found it difficult to replace the community feeling that religion benefits from. It’s my vision that in the future this will change.

To finish this off, I’d like to quote Richard Dawkins from the opening lines of his book Unweaving The Rainbow, which are very meaningful for me, and I’m sure a good number of other humanists feel the same way.

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could be here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, who are here.”

I think I’ll leave it at that for today.


January 27, 2008

I’m reading ‘Farewell to God’ by Charles Templeton (don’t buy it, it’s rubbish), and one of the first things he does is point out that he is an agnostic, and then describes his position, that he’s not sitting on the fence, it’s just that he cannot prove there is no god, so he cannot be absolutely sure there is no god, therefore he cannot be an atheist.

This got me thinking. His is very similar to my own perspective (and I think the majority of non-religious people would put themselves there too), but when people ask, I call myself an atheist, not an agnostic. It’s not that I’m absolutely certain there is no god, but I have no reason whatsoever to believe there is a god, so I live my life assuming that there isn’t.

The reason I don’t call myself an agnostic is because to many people it implies that I’m 50/50, sitting on the fence, with no idea whether there is a god or not. This is not the case. In my own mind I’m fairly sure that there’s no god, I just can’t prove it.

Of course, as widely pointed out, ‘atheist’ is a term that should not exist. All it means is that you don’t believe in a god. We don’t have terms like ‘non-socialist’ or ‘non-racist’, or ‘non-postman’. It’s a negative term that doesn’t really mean very much at all.

When people ask me to define humanism, one thing that I invariably bring up is that, in a way, it is ‘positive atheism’, in that saying you’re an atheist is saying what you don’t believe, whereas saying you’re a humanist is saying what you do believe (skeptical inquiry, rationalism, objective morality etc). I think this illustrates that humanism is not just another word for atheism to escape the stereotyping often associated with the term. In fact in the strictest sense you don’t even have to be an atheist to be a humanist. I’ve yet to meet a single religious humanist, but I imagine there are some.