One marvels at the apt timing of writer Ted Cox, who on Friday the 16th will talk about his experiences with the Pro-Life movement at the Surrey City Centre Library. Family planning really is the talk of the town these days, and by town, I suppose I mean the entire continent. Those reading about the Republican race might think, perhaps, of Rick Santorum’s campaign and its deflection of discourse toward social conservatism (at the expense of pressing economic concerns). Others might be reminded of far-right polemicist and radio-ranter Rush Limbaugh’s “slut” comment, directed at law student Sandra Fluke for suggesting that contraception is woefully underavailable despite its strong role in quality of life in the United States (which his dinosaurian mind took to be an endorsement of casual sex; The HuffPo responds).

You needn’t, however, go south of the border for news if this is your sort of drama; it’s becoming increasingly apparent that Canada has more in common with our southern neighbours that we admit. Despite Harper’s early promises not to bring the abortion issue forward despite his personal beliefs (one might cynically suggest this was before the Conservatives had a majority), plans are under way for the House of Commons to discuss the Criminal Code definition of “human being” relative to birth and conception, beginning in April. Adding to this the recent news of parents being forced to give their babies up for adoption, we must acknowledge that we as a nation are not immune to grave issues with family planning.

To what extent is family planning important? Perhaps it’s more answerable to ask to what extent family planning is not important. If our kids have their essential educational and life needs met, then already we have the foundation for a happy and healthy society. What countries can truly meet the needs of all their children, whose women cannot even say “no” to their husbands, let alone access contraception? What happens to the children who fall through the cracks as a consequence of this egregious and destructive lack of liberty?

It would be an understatement to say that women’s lib is an integral and central aspect to humanism, but to say its central to civilization as a whole? No, that would be an understatement as well.

Without any universally agreed-upon holy writ or central dogma, the humanist approach to associating with other organized worldviews has been understandably variable, ranging from feigned religiosity to disinterest to outright hostility. Historically, you’ll probably agree it’s mostly been the latter two. You may be further aware, however, that the former is making a massive push for greater representation of late, largely in reaction to frankly-stated and immensely sellable books by rationalists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. To what degree will this movement succeed in “winning converts”? Is it even desirable for Humanists to “win converts” if there is no Hell from which we are saving them?

One obvious response is that life is simply easier when you’re accepted. You’re likely aware that distrust of atheists is still astoundingly high in the United States (ranked below even Muslims where, when Islam is mentioned, many still think immediately of 9/11). What you might not be aware of is this may be largely true even for Canada. This bears a bit of a chicken-egg question: are humanists soured on broader integration by this apparent bigotry, or is this distrust a consequence of our historical aloofness? The easy—and most likely correct—answer is that it’s a combination of both, but I believe it’s more the latter. We are not cats: the cold, only occasionally friendly attitude atheists have taken towards the religious is not endearing, so they can be forgiven a certain wariness. Perhaps, then, atheists should not begrudge the suggestion that we take some initial steps of our own toward reconciliation.

Should we wish to rally more to our cause, there is, to be sure, much we can learn from the world’s churches. Atheistic art, be it visual, architectural or musical, might keep the stuffy, academic stereotype at bay. “Church” services would dispel chilly individuality with the warmth of community. But how far should this be taken? Should Humanism offer that which it cannot provide? There are many for whom a sense of consequence in the grand scheme of things is essential; they cannot abide a universe that is all but blind to us. Unless we fundamentally alter the meaning of Humanism, it provides no consolation in this regard. To others, it is a universal law maker that offers moral stability to an otherwise immoral group of creatures. Such a law maker is absent in atheism and Humanism.

It is, I’ll grant, easier to destroy than create, and what the Alain de Bottons of the world want to create is, in many ways, admirable. There are, however, many essential strengths of Humanism which should not be lost in overzealous attempts to conform. Striking a balance will be key if “Atheism 2.0″ is to flourish.

This post contains a sort of ‘annotated bibliography’ for some of the essays I’ve written on Humanist ethics, both meta and applied. I’m not a particularly well trained philosopher, nor have I in every essay presented the most nuanced or least contentious position. In fact, I can think of a few areas where I’ve changed my mind and would no longer support what I argue here. All this aside, though, I do think these can serve as starting points for further discussion.

Simon

  1. The Moral Neutrality of Killing – in which I argue that Humanists should focus not on some kind of intrinsic right-to-life held by human beings but on the consequences brought on death, when considering whether it’s acceptable or justifiable to kill
  2. Discourse, Insult, and the Doctrine of Double Effect in which I apply a common principle for determining the moral status of the use of force in war to the question of when we can feel justified in using expressions or speech that some find offensive or demeaning
  3. Enlightenment Values, Discourse Ethics, and Oppression – where I argue we should seek conditions for discourse that follow Enlightenment values, because doing so will provide the greatest emancipation from oppression
  4. Two essays on capital punishment, the first arguing that  the notion that anyone deserves to die cannot be valid, and the second continuing that theme by addressing one criticism of my initial position
  5. We are what we believe, but let’s pretend otherwise – in which I suggest that it may be unsustainable to say that we can hate a belief without, at least to some extent, hating those who hold it, but we should nevertheless maintain this distinction even if it is specious
  6. Utilitarianism and Disclosure – in which I discuss the obligation to disclose facts about ourselves which we may want to keep secret, by addressing the VERY difficult and contentious case of transgendered people
  7. Compassion and Violence – in which I talk about the difficulties of waging war while still remaining compassionate, and the conventions of Just War Theory (***Note that I gave a long talk on this subject as well)
  8. Discourse and Legitimate Outrage – in which I talk about the effects, both good and bad, that expressions of outrage can have upon discourse
  9. On getting others to torture for us – in which I talk about the dilemma of using information gained through torture

Finally, I want to provide a link to my article on Islamic norms and democratic accountability, since while it contains no normative arguments, it might be very interesting to those of us interested in how religions might serve as vehicles for good social transformation, or otherwise embody Humanist-seeming ethical arguments. You may also want to read this post summarising some key terms and concepts in Islam, in plain language, and designed for a secularist or Humanist reader.

Naturally my blog contains other sorts of things as well, mostly related to my study of war, strategy, repression and resistance (particularly terrorism).

 

I am always tossing a lot of ideas for projects around in my head. I get some down in writing and solicit opinions on others. Most don’t make it very far but others are actually implemented and affect change.

Almost every idea is sparked by an initial outrage to a story in the media. So before I get to my idea-of-the-day, let’s discuss the spark.

Xtra! is reporting that REAL Women of Canada, a notorious anti-feminist group, is involved in deciding who will be awarded some of the 60,000 Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medals to “outstanding” Canadians. Xtra! notes that pro-LGBT groups like Egale Canada were not asked for their input.

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Some good news from the Vancouver Sun:

Volunteers from a global evangelical group are no longer welcome in Delta public schools.

That message was delivered recently by school superintendent Dianne Turner after The Vancouver Sun published a story about the Pais Project and its success in placing young missionaries in two schools — South Delta secondary and University Hill secondary in Vancouver.

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Here we are

It is easy sometimes to forget to indulge in the beauty of the worldview that humanism offers, though these words do little justice to the image I would like to convey, allow me to present them anyway:

We are what we are, and what is, is.   As we fall from one moment to the next, who we are and how we perceive the universe which supports us changes ever so slightly.  Yet, as we look down into the mists of future time, we see paths so innumerable as to become a writhing ocean of choice, a billion motes of future selves and future universes waiting to be discovered and explored.  Behind us our trajectory reminds us of who we were, yet more astoundingly is criss-crossed by the flights of thousands of other divers through time. Through them we learn of vistas unexplored and the wisdom of millions, as we in return relate our travels through the voices of our future selves in the ocean below.    As we peer down below, notice how those areas of peaceful beauty and  complex splendour are those in which we have held hands and worked together to set ourselves and our world to reach such places:  motivated by compassion, inspired by beauty, and empowered by reason and evidence.

Though our lives may be long or short, none can contest that the view is amazing.  Let’s make it even better.   Together, the world becomes a more beautiful place.

At a recent Sunday morning meeting we showed Alain de Botton’s TED talk where he argues for an Atheism 2.0, which most of our members quickly identified as the Humanist project.

De Botton has a new article up on Huffington Post arguing for “5 Religious Concepts That Atheists Can Use.” The concepts are familiar to anyone who has seen the TED talk and are innocuous enough: education, mind & body, community, art & museums, and pilgrimages. At our meeting we agreed that building a community and taking trips to natural wonders like the Burgess Shale and local museums are quite worthy pursuits.

What gets me about de Botton though is not just his ignorance of the British Humanist Association’s numerous activities in these areas, it’s his passive aggressive assaults on the success of New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers. He refers to the New Atheists as “fanatical” and “fundamentalist” while making no effort to understand their position.

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Hello and welcome to the British Columbia Humanist Association (BCHA)’s discussion board. We are a community centred around, among other things, humanism, secularism, human rights and charity. Furthermore, visitors to our Sunday morning meetings find our members are passionate about (and happy to discuss!) great deal more, from moral philosophy to politics to science. It’s a warm and dialogue-rich environment, and you’re encouraged to join.

To call this a blog may be technically true, however the authors aren’t doing this for our benefit or gratification. We firmly believe here that the most important function of this blog is not, in fact, our “Make a New Post” button, but rather your “Comment” button. It’s discussion we value here. There are no shepherds here; there are no sheep. There are only equals in an exchange of ideas. We’re not here to talk at you (although we love finding things to discuss!) and we’re not here to info-dump (although we aim to be informative!).

Perhaps you are here visiting us because you affirm—or seek to affirm—moral realities that exist regardless of dogma or fiat or holy writ. Perhaps you are here because you are curious about those who do. Perhaps you’ve heard the late Christopher Hitchens’s question—”what moral action can a believer commit than a non-believer cannot?”—and you’re drawing a blank, or perhaps you have an answer you wish to share. Perhaps you are, simply, looking to give back to the community in a meaningful and charitable way. Whoever you are, you are welcome here.

We’re here to build something great, and we’d appreciate your help.

Warm regards,

The BCHA

As a Humanist, I often get trapped between wanting a more secular world while also wanting to promote my worldview. It’s a dilemma over how best to deal with religious privilege.

While it may be intellectually honest to oppose religious privilege at every instance, in many cases the easier and potentially more successful (in terms of gaining widespread acceptance of Humanist values) route is to co-opt some of the privileges afforded to the religious for our own purposes.

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