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

Blasphemy isn't just a problem in the Muslim world

Ireland’s state police recently concluded their investigation of comedian Stephen Fry, who stood accused of criminal blasphemyThe Conversation

In an interview that aired on Irish public television, Fry had described God as “capricious, mean-minded, stupid,” and “an utter maniac.” And Ireland’s Defamation Act of 2009 clearly prohibits the “publication or utterance of blasphemous matter.” Yet on May 8 the police closed the case, explaining they’d been “unable to find a substantial number of outraged people.”

The mild resolution to this incident stands in stark contrast to recent news out of Pakistan – which has seen a spike in blasphemy-related violence – and Indonesia, where the outgoing governor of Jakarta was just sentenced to two years in prison for speaking irreverently against Islam.

The Irish case is also a timely reminder, though, that anti-blasphemy laws are hardly unique to the Muslim world. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one-fifth of European countries and a third of countries in the Americas, notably Canada, have laws against blasphemy.

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May 8, 2017 Newsletter

Yesterday we held our 2017 Annual General Meeting and I hope you'll join me in welcoming your new Directors:

  • Donna Barker
  • J B Bell
  • Helio Da Costa
  • Nigel Fish
  • Gail Miller

These five join Colin Crabbe, Anna D'Archangelo and Dan Hanna who are into the second year of their two-year term.

Please also say a thank-you to Joann Robertson and Gord Leslie, who stepped down this year, for their support and to everyone who's served the BCHA in the past.

We also adopted our new Constitution and Bylaws yesterday and I'll be following up with everyone holding a household membership about our plans to transition to individual memberships soon.

It's always exciting when new faces join the board and I'm sure you can look forward to a number of new ideas and initiatives over the coming months.

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May 1, 2017 Newsletter

On Sunday, Vancouver Aquarium CEO Dr John Nightingale spoke to our Vancouver group about the Aquarium's educational and scientific work with the whales and dolphins in their care (as well as those in nearby waterways).

You can listen to Dr Nightingale's presentation on our podcast. In it, he discusses the Vancouver Parks Board's recent decision to move toward a bylaw banning the keeping of cetaceans in Stanley Park. That draft of that bylaw is expected on May 15.

Despite the terminology, Humanists are concerned not only with the health and well-being of human beings but of all life and the environment as well. So the debate over the welfare of cetaceans in captivity is one on which reasonable Humanists have disagreed.

By hosting Dr Nightingale, I hope we were able to spark a dialogue on these issues. For those who feel motivated to write in support of the Aquarium, you can do so at For those looking to read the other side, you can read the Vancouver Humane Society's December 2016 report on the Aquarium here.

This talk, like most of our events, was not an endorsement but an effort to promote reasoned dialogue about current ethical issues.

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April 24, 2017 Newsletter

On Saturday, around 2000 people in Vancouver joined over 100,000 people worldwide in the first ever March for Science.

This solidarity follows ideological and politically-motivated attacks on evidence based policy, which have been documented from different levels of government around the world. Evidence for Democracy has even identified the threats facing publicly-funded science here in BC.

Those who spoke after the march, including our Executive Director, highlighted the importance of science, curiosity and evidence, while also challenging science and science-enthusiasts to do more to promote diversity and inclusivity within the scientific community.

If you missed those talks, you can find them on YouTube here.

Keep standing up for science!

Ian Bushfield speaks at March for Science Vancouver

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Bible classes in schools can lead to strife among neighbours

By Frank S. Ravitch, Professor of Law & Walter H. Stowers Chair of Law and Religion, Michigan State University

federal lawsuit was filed recently against the Mercer County, West Virginia Board of Education, challenging a Bible program in the elementary schools. The plaintiffs are the Freedom From Religion Foundation and two parents and their children. One parent and both children have kept their names anonymous due to fear of reprisal. The Conversation

The Bible class was listed as an elective, but almost all students enrolled. The complaint alleges that the few who opted out were harassed and discriminated against. One of the plaintiffs in the case had already suffered harassment.

In my research for the book I wrote in 1999, “School Prayer and Discrimination,” I explored what happens to religious minorities and dissenters when public schools engage in sectarian prayer and Bible reading.

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Apr 17, 2017 Newsletter

Douglas Todd reports in this weekend's Province about a new Mainstreet Research poll about the religious makeup of each party's support in the lead up to the BC election.

While there is some interesting data in that poll, another poll that he reports on suggests support for school prayers and the National Post suggests data from the Angus Reid Institute proves Canadians are still religious.

Both of these could be taken apart in detail (and we criticized the National Post on Facebook) but in short, the supposed support for school prayer conflates the freedom every student has to pray with the coercive practices as happened in the past, and the data in the Angus Reid poll directly contradicts the narrative the National Post tries to spin.

By treating religion with kids gloves, it's of little surprise that on Friday, Christy Clark tweeted:

Following that, people were quick to question whether Clark took the right lessons from the story of Jesus' crucifixion.

We've also previously criticized the Premier for excluding the majority of British Columbians that don't identify as Christian by pandering to evangelical Christians.

Nevertheless, the BC Humanist Association is a non-partisan association, and we're not lobbying on any issues during the election period. My point today is just that politicians and the media will fail to grow their constituencies or audiences without recognizing the growing non-religious demographic in this province.

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What's the evidence for the resurrection?

By Brent Landau, Lecturer in Religious Studies, University of Texas at Austin

In 1998, Lee Strobel, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and a graduate of Yale Law School, published “The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus.” Strobel had formerly been an atheist and was compelled by his wife’s conversion to evangelical Christianity to refute the key Christian claims about Jesus. The Conversation

Paramount among these was the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, but other claims included the belief in Jesus as the literal Son of God and the accuracy of the New Testament writings. Strobel, however, was unable to refute these claims to his satisfaction, and he then converted to Christianity as well. His book became one of the bestselling works of Christian apologetic (that is, a defense of the reasonableness and accuracy of Christianity) of all time.

On Friday, April 7, a motion picture adaptation of “The Case for Christ” was released. The movie attempts to make a compelling case for historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. As one character says to Strobel early in the movie, “If the resurrection of Jesus didn’t happen, it’s [i.e., the Christian faith] a house of cards.”

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April 10, 2017 Newsletter

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge.

While the battle has become a core part of the Canadian "myth", the event still troubles my consciousness as a Humanist.

Humanism has a long strain of pacificism and anti-war activism, including thinkers and activists like Bertrand Russell and Carl Sagan. The justifications for and jingoism of the First World War go against many of our deepest values.

Today those same nationalistic tendencies, as well as the dehumanizing of people deemed "our enemy" are at play once again.

We must continue to stand for reason, compassion, tolerance and peace. Lest we let another generation be sent to their deaths.

Ian Bushfield's photo of Vimy Ridge, Feb 2015.

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Christianity and the First World War

Editor's note: On Sunday, Canada marked the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge. While written from an American point of view, this article reflects on a similar line of thinking that was prevalent in Canada 100 years ago.

By Jonathan Ebel, Associate Professor of Religion, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Thursday, April 6, 2017, marks 100 years since the United States entered World War I. World War I does not occupy the same space in America’s cultural memory as the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War II or the Vietnam War. The Conversation

The men and women who fought “the Great War” would likely be shocked at this relegation. For them, “the war to end all wars” was the most consequential war ever fought: a struggle between good and evil.

As an author of two books, “Faith in the Fight” and “G.I. Messiahs,” I have spent a good part of the last 15 years thinking about the place of religion in America’s experience of the Great War.

From the beginning of American involvement in the war to the construction of cemeteries in Europe for America’s war dead, Christian imagery framed and simplified a complex, violent world and encouraged soldiers and their loved ones to think of the war as a sacred endeavour.

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April 3, 2017 Newsletter

The subway of St Petersburg was rocked today by a bomb blast, killing 11 and injuring another 40.

Two weeks ago the world watched in suspense as news came out about an attack at the Parliament building in London. That attack could have turned out equally bad had it not been for the quick actions of police.

Our allies at the International Humanist and Ethical Union took to Twitter today to highlight five stories from the past 24 hours showing the dangers of superstition around the world.

Their conclusion ties a thread between each of these stories and the urgency of Humanism.

Stories like this occur every day, usually affecting the most vulnerable people in societies across the world. We need less superstition, less nodding along to irrational beliefs, and more critical thinking, more reason, more humanism. That doesn't mean failing to empathize, or refusing to understand why people believe such. On the contrary, we must empathize, must learn.

When darkness strikes, we must rally to those candles of reason and compassion.

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