Humanists in Education

April 23, 2008

One thing that a lot of humanists like to get worked up about is education. I don’t know if it’s the terrifying thought of all those little kiddies being brainwashed in faith schools or what, but something about it makes our blood boil. But as one of the key functions of the state, the education system is something secularists of all types like to concentrate on.

This year education has become a big feature of Scottish humanism. The Humanist Academy has been slogging at the issue for a while under the enthusiastic June Maxwell, and has a humanism course available for the national curriculum for 16 year olds in the Scottish education system.

Seeing her getting things done, the HSS have doubled their efforts to outdo her (for some reason I don’t fully understand the HSS and the HA don’t get along too well) and are making education their prime target, launching their education programme this weekend at Our Dynamic Earth (what a venue) which, as an officer of the Student Humanist Society, I’ve been invited to.

And whilst these two heavyweights battle it out, the rest of the humanists in Scotland sit back and reap the benefits. Magic!

Hopefully the BHA will get moving on it so these benefits can be nationwide. What they need is an arch-rival counter organisation right on their patch to motivate them. Maybe we should start a fake one just to annoy them. We’ll call it… the People’s Front of Judea! Even better, the Judean People’s Front! Maybe not.

Back to the ECG!

January 30, 2008

Last night saw my return to the Edinburgh Creation Group meetings. They started last Tuesday but I was unfortunately at work so I couldn’t go. In any case this week’s talk was by Phil Holden, the group’s secretary, entitled “A Letter to a Pagan City”. At first I thought it would be a response to Sam Harris’ book “Letter to a Christian Nation”, but in fact it was quite unrelated.

The whole talk was based around Romans: 1, particularly verse 18 onwards. Basically St. Paul writes that when people reject God, they become pagans, which leads them to sexual immorality, homosexuality in particular, and the total moral collapse of society. Now Phil went looking for examples of paganism in Edinburgh, and examples of what’s written in Romans in our society. So there were videos of Beltane and the festival, of big parades down the streets with people dressed up as spirits and taking part in a pagan ceremony.

Now I have to say that this was taken right out of context, which was brought up in the Q&A section at the end. This isn’t an example of Paganism rife in Edinburgh, this is a cultural event. Now I’m not saying that there are no pagans around, but the vast majority of people go along to such events just because it’s entertaining, it’s out of the ordinary, and it’s fun.

Next Phil showed us some pictures of “Our Dynamic Earth“, an Edinburgh exhibition which I regret to say I’ve still not visited, and pointed out the “pagan symbolism” such as a circle of stones, and a “pagan female fertility symbol”, as well as the words “Mother Earth” on the outside (also taken out of context. In full it is “the Mother Earth of all adventures”, a play on the term “the mother of all adventures”, so that’s why it’s there, not some sinister paganistic symbolism).

Next there were lots of pictures of various witchcraft shops and occult suppliers around the city, and a supernatural event organised by the Freemasons, as if this proves that Edinburgh’s become a pagan city. But it’s all irrelevant. Paganism is a cultural and tourist thing rather than religious. Celtic paganism is a big part of Scottish history, and of course that is reflected in what we see around us, and the tourism board is going to promote it actively. So even if it is quite widespread, it’s not genuine.

In any case the point was that this rise in atheism/paganism (I still don’t understand how atheism leads to paganism) is leading to a breakdown of society, with higher levels of paedophilia and divorce rates through the roof, leading to unstable family life and the “total moral collapse” of society, as well as the usual stuff about homosexuality and abortion which I’ve seen in some talks before.

Stuart, a fellow member of the Humanist Society, made a good point, saying that anecdotal evidence is no way to make a hypothesis, and if there was a correlation in a rise in paganism in more atheistic countries like the Czech Republic or Sweden, that would at least be a good start, and meanwhile on the other hand there are studies that suggest that atheists are less likely to get divorced than Christians, particularly fundamentalists, which would throw a spanner in the works for anyone suggesting that atheism is linked to the breakdown in society.

Throughout all of this, there was a suggestion that noone has any excuse for not knowing that God exists, just as it’s written in Romans 1: 19, “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.”, and everyone should just know intuitively somehow that God exists. But a big point was also made that God often punished on a societal level rather than personal, and where in Romans it says “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts”, this is also typical of God’s kind of punishment on earth, that he lets the consequences of people’s actions be their own punishment. I can’t believe people still think divine punishment exists when they freely admit that who gets punished isn’t necessarily who does the evil deed, and that the punishment takes the form of something that would have happened anyway! What kind of judicial procedure is that? Once again, this is an example of God doing absolutely nothing, and yet we’re still supposed to ‘just know’ that he exists! It just doesn’t make sense.

I like Phil. I think he’s a good man, but if he truly believes what he was saying, then he’s also very naive and deluded. He doesn’t appear to have any idea about what paganism really is. I’ve mentioned the talk to a few people and they immediately threw up the objection that generally speaking, pagans are the nicest people in the world, and that in reality they don’t go around having drunken orgies all the time, so they can’t be held responsible for the downfall of society.  I also think it’s slightly ironic that he’ll happily dismiss paganism out of hand as being a load of rubbish, but doesn’t see that the same logic can be applied to Christianity.

Not only am I unconvinced that atheism is linked to paganism at all, but I don’t think if it were, then that would be linked to the downfall of society, which may or may not be happening anyway. It’s all very dubious and circumstantial.