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Opinions expressed on the BC Humanist Association's blog do not necessarily reflect those of the BCHA or the Board of Directors.


March 20, 2017 Newsletter

Today is the first day of Spring. And while Humanists don't attach supernatural significance to the position of the Earth relative to the sun, it is a good chance to look forward at the coming year.

So I want to ask you: What are you optimistic about? Email me (or answer by tagging us on social media).

This last year gave us a lot of reasons to be pessimistic but a big part of Humanism is the belief that the arrow will always swing back to progress (even if we have to continually nudge it along).

If we receive enough answers I'll consolidate them into a blog for you for next week.

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Recognize implicit bias or it will undermine egalitarianism

Editor's note: This article relates to our latest Vancouver Sunday meeting topic on implicit bias. Look for a version of that talk to appear on our podcast soon. For more, here's another article from The Conversation on race and implicit bias.

Think you're all for gender equality? Your unconscious may have other ideas

By Magdalena Zawisza, Anglia Ruskin University

The words of my doctor from earlier that morning were still ringing in my ears when I found myself slamming the brakes of my car to avoid a nasty collision. An incompetent driver was cutting across two lanes at a roundabout just in front of me. Still perspiring somewhat I carried on to drop off my screaming child with the nanny. It was a hectic morning. 

Now let’s stop to take a breath and ponder on this story. Was the doctor you imagined male? Was the bad driver female? And what of the nanny and the narrator? Females too? If so, you have just experienced unconscious gender bias. You are not alone. Even the almighty Google image search “thinks” 75% of doctors are male but in reality women make up just over half of GPs in the UK. In fact Google has been accused of unconscious bias in its own operations as over 79% of its managers and engineers are male. Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo are not far behind.

What exactly is unconscious gender bias and why do we have it? Unconscious, or implicit, bias happens outside of our control and awareness. It’s automatic and reflects the associations we acquire as we socialise into the culture we grow up in. You can test your own implicit biases more scientifically by taking this Implicit Association Test. The test was designed to capture the brain’s learnt automatic associations. Since it is based on time reactions it can bypass our social desirability concerns and tap into unconscious biases. As such it is reportedly superior to self-report measures of prejudice in predicting behaviours.

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Mar 13, 2017 Newsletter

Four years ago, the Government of BC denied our request to register representatives that can perform legal marriages.

Last week, we learned through a Freedom of Information request that while Humanism isn't considered a valid "religion" for the purposes of the Marriage Act, Scientology, Zen Buddhists and a group called the Canadian International Metaphysical Ministry are. The latter group appears online to exist for primary purpose of registering celebrants who then offer their services in secular and commercial, rather than religious language.

We detail these findings, plus how Humanists are able to perform marriages in Scotland, Norway, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Ontario in a report we published on Wednesday.

In that report, we make the case for the legislative or judicial changes to the Marriage Act.

It's time to end religious privilege in marriage. As we move toward the upcoming provincial election, I hope you'll ask your candidates whether they'll support such an amendment.

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Mar 6, 2017 Newsletter

Last year, we presented before the BC Legislature's Select Standing Committee on Health. We spoke about how some British Columbians suffering from substance use issues are being forced to participate in religious recovery programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

We asked the government to ensure people have a choice and that public funding for addictions recovery goes to the growing number of secular and evidence-based programs.

Last week, the Committee released its report and there's a lot to like in it.

Unfortunately, the Committee chose to equate "secular and non-secular" treatment programs. While this differentiation would likely have been ignored had we not spoken up, it still puts inclusive programs based on the best science on equal footing with ones based on hundred year old dogma.

Guaranteeing the right to secular recovery programs is vitally important for people like Byron Wood or "A" who have filed human rights complaints against provincial health regions for forcing them into religious treatment programs.

We hope the government will adopt the Committee's focus on evidence and harm reduction and over time reduce the influence of religion in publicly-funded treatment programs.

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Lessons in resistance from MLK, the 'conservative militant'

By Christopher BeemPennsylvania State University

Just days after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, activists from Greenpeace climbed up a large construction crane near the White House and unfurled a large banner with the single word: Resist. The Conversation

On Feb. 11, thousands of protesters used their bodies to spell the word “resist” on a San Francisco beach. The next day, at the Grammys, rapper Q-Tip yelled “resist” no less than four times from the stage.

And on Feb. 26, at a rally outside Washington, Maryland Congressman John Delaney said to the audience,

“What do we have to do? We have to resist. This is a defining moment. It’s stirring our hearts and stirring our emotions and we’re committed to resisting with you.”

All of these examples speak to a widespread and resolute discontent with the election of President Trump. They express a rejection of his agenda and of what they see as his degradation of our democracy. “Resist” reflects their desire, insofar as they can, to stop this from happening.

But what exactly does it mean to resist? And most importantly, how can Americans make sure that their resistance is most likely to effect change?

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Feb 27, 2017 Newsletter

Like Canada, Danish authorities have not invoked their country's blasphemy law in decades. To the average Dane, there has effectively been no punishment for mocking or offending religious ideas.

That changed last week when a man was charged with blasphemy after he filmed himself burning a Quran for an anti-Islam group.

Whether the charge will stand up against the Danish Constitution is an open question but this case has shown that it only takes the right political circumstances for archaic laws to be used to censor free expression.

A dormant law is not a dead law. This case demonstrates why it's so important for Canada's law to be repealed.

The Justice Minister made a commitment last month to review the law as part of a broad review of the justice system and we're planning to keep the pressure up.

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Feb 20, 2017 Newsletter

We had one of our best-attended meetings on Sunday as American Atheists President David Silverman challenged those in attendance to be firebrand atheists.

Later that evening, Silverman debated Christian Alex McFarland on the topic of "Can Christianity cause immoral behaviour?"

Interestingly, both speakers agreed that yes, any idea can lead to immorality, although McFarland argued that only the Bible provided an objective morality.

As the preacher spent parts of the debate belittling Muslims, feminists and the LGBTQ community, it highlighted how important it is that we stand up as atheists and continue to defend Humanist values.

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Feb 14, 2017 Newsletter

Today is Valentine's Day and Atheists in Kenya (AIK) are asking Kenyans to consider dating an atheist this year.

Atheists face particular discrimination in many African nations and even AIK faced difficulty getting the government to recognize their non-profit.

So while their request is tongue-in-cheek, it's done with an aim to normalize non-belief.

Today is also the day in 1989 when Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Rushdie also announced his engagement on Valentine's Day five years later.

So take today to celebrate love or to keep challenging norms and authority (or both).

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Can more religion in schools be a path to secularism?

In a blog post and coverage in the Edmonton Journal, Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) Chair Michael Janz is asking whether his schools should be able to open a Catholic Faith program.

I knew Janz when we were at the University of Alberta. Since being elected to the EPSB, he’s spoken out vociferously about ending public funding to private schools.

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Surrey Interfaith Pilgrimage 2017

The Surrey Interfaith Pilgrimage this year went something other than planned.

The snow came and stayed, so our walking route became somewhat impassable with snow covering many of the sidewalks and trails. Driving was treacherous, so many who would otherwise have driven wisely chose to stay home. I arrived at our starting point at about 9:30 and knew the day was probably a write-off.

David Dalley, the person who organized the event, was there when I got to the Thien Ton Buddhist Temple. We agreed that it was not a safe situation and decided to call the Pilgrimage off. However, a family of three (Robert, Andrea and their eight year old daughter Sofi) had already shown up to take part and wanted to continue. They had heard about the pilgrimage on the Early Edition on CBC. None of us really wanted to drop out, so we decided we could do as much of the pilgrimage as possible.

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