18 September 2018
I don't think our disagreement is as profound as I thought it was when you asserted the the UDHR is "racist". As with all discussions words and differences in interpretations as to what they mean can result in people talking at cross purposes. This is a problem I encounter when discussing the existence of god(s). You need to define what you mean by god(s) before you can discuss. For example when Einstein refers to god, he means a Universe, which has no intelligence and is totally indifferent to humanity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_and_philosophical_views_of_Albert_Einstein
To me racism is discrimination based a persons genetic make up that they cannot change - "Racism is the belief in the superiority of one race over another, which often results in discrimination and prejudice towards people based on their race or ethnicity." to quote wikipedia - although many (possibly yourself included) have in recent years begun to use the term to describe many other forms of discrimination.
As with equating secularism with atheism, in my opinion we devalue the language and make it more difficult to discuss the issues because of this conflation of meaning. If we mean cultural imperialism, or tribalism or xenophobia or religious discrimination then I'd suggest that these are the descriptions we should use.
I'd be the first to accept that "the modern doctrine of Human Rights is Eurocentric and often inconsiderate of different perspectives". But that does not make it racist (at least by my definition).
It is not even accepted by all European political philosophies. It is after all based on asserting the rights of the individual and limiting the powers of the group or state over the individual. Since Humanism is based on on the notion of the rational, autonomous human being, it finds the UDHR an attractive idea, although as with all human constructs it can no doubt be improved upon. Communism (which is also an atheist philosophy) does not accept the idea that the individual should have any protection from the collective will of the people and emphasises group/class solidarity. Human rights are also unacceptable to absolute monarchists, fascists and some people of religion who wish to see their beliefs imposed across the entire population of the world.
I'd be the first to admit that if we introduce modern medicines and technology to tribes that have managed to survive in remote areas, we will undoubtedly destroy their culture, which saddens me. However do we have a right to say that certain populations should not have the benefits of modern medicines/technology because this would change their way of life and culture? If we did this surely we would be treating them like animals in a zoo. Intervention may be a form of imperialism/colonialism, but I'd have difficulty in not advocating for it.
All cultures evolve over time and change is inevitable. Unfortunately many people have a "golden conception" of a certain period in their culture and want to maintain it regardless of other changes in the world. I think Brexit is very much a symptom of this.
I watched most of the YouTube video and would agree with much of the article about Human Rights being Eurocentric, since most of its history stems from the evolution of thought in Europe and in particular the English speaking world. As with all human constructs its history is an amalgam of many things. Some of the ideas can be traced back to the Magna Carter and the Bill of Rights. Others to religious ideas evolving from the Enlightenment. Indeed I would maintain that a Leicestershire man, George Fox https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Fox , who founded the Society of Friends (the Quakers) can claim some credit (or blame :-) ). As with many other religious figures he had a revelation on Pendle Hill http://www.strecorsoc.org/gfox/ch06.html . His idea that god dwells in everyone led to Quakers being amongst the earliest advocates of equality and founders of the anti-slavery movement. http://abolition.e2bn.org/people_21.html .
He also inspired William Penn https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Penn who founded Pennsylvania and established a constitution much of which was a foundation for the US constitution after the declaration of independence. That document was also contributed to by Tom Pain https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Paine (whose father was a Quaker) of whom it has been said " His ideas reflected Enlightenment-era ideals of transnational human rights."
To quote from /The_modern_doctrine_of_Human_Rights_is_Eurocentric_in_character_and_has_limited_application_in_the_developing_world.
"All four regional documents have some similarities but they also have their differences. It is interesting to note that the Draft Arab Charter and the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights are not all that radically different from the UDHR. If one was to convincingly argue that the modern documents of human rights were Eurocentric in character then I suspect one would have expected a greater difference between the doctrines!"
Out of interest would you be happy for the UDHR to be declared void and all the associated equality/anti discrimination legislation in this country revoked?
Also, looking at the UDHR http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/ (which represents an aspiration rather than a guarantee) which right would you wish to surrender? And what would be the implications?
If we take Article 18 by way of example
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.You might object to the right to freedom to change religion or belief. However if you abolish this you also end up abolishing the right to teach and practice your religion. So the right to attempt to convert someone to your religion would also be lost.
You may find this article of interest - http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/religionglobalsociety/2018/06/islam-and-human-rights-clash-or-compatibility/ .
24 December 2017
Statement from Mo Abbas, President of Leicester Secular Society in response to the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent assertion.
18 August 2016
Safe Space v Freedom of Expression
11 July 2016
Kinky Sex, Education & Human Rights
John is a gay comedian and an advocate for sexual liberty. He grew up in a religious family that was part of a strict Baptist Church which could not accept that homosexuality was anything more than a life choice. When he declared that he was gay, but intended to remain celibate, he was still expelled from the Church.
He gradually moved into the Gay community and found he had a propensity for leather, becoming involved in that scene. He won the Mr Hoist title in 2003, the prize being that he was sponsored to enter the 25th annual International Mr Leather contest in Chicago in May 2003, which he also won. It turns out that the contest is about finding the person most able to act as an ambassador for those who like to indulge in leather. John took the year off work travelling to events full time from July 2003 to June 2004, covering 100,000 miles and visiting 28 cities in the US, Europe and Canada, while raising money for charities.
John emphasised that the sado/masochistic (S/M) scene was very much based on consent and he felt that this was an area that was not sufficiently covered in what most schools teach within sex education. He put great emphasis on the need for everyone to understand that consent is always provisional, can be revoked at any time and must always be respected. Many people (including just about all who produce pornography) seem to regard initial consent as sufficient. This is something we need to change.
The point was made that S/M sex is just a part of the spectrum of what, in the final analysis, is rather weird human behaviour. He pointed out that much of this behaviour either produces an endorphins rush (such as that experienced from strong physical exercise such as running, cycling or swimming) or an adrenalin rush caused by undertaking what are perceived as high risk behaviours, such as riding on a roller coaster or bungee jumping. Why do we regard slightly weird sex as being unacceptable while accepting running or bungee jumping as being perfectly normal? Why can indulging in sex outside the normal range of behaviours be considered a mental illness when other equally strange hobbies are not?
John also highlighted how the law discriminates against those who wish to indulge in unorthodox sex. In the early 1990's sixteen gay men were prosecuted for private, consensual S/M play under the "Offences Against the Person Act 1861" (R v. Brown). None had required medical treatment and all believed that they were innocent as they had consented throughout. However, the judge decided that "sexual pleasure" was not a good enough reason for people to be able to consent to an assault, and so he wouldn't allow consent as a defence. Consequently the men pleaded guilty and were sentenced to up to four and a half years in prison.
The police investigation was called "Operation Spanner" and a defence fund was set up and trustees appointed to what became the Spanner Trust. An appeal resulted in reduced sentences but the convictions were not overturned. The convictions were upheld by both the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights. The trust now has the task of trying to change the law.
Currently it is illegal in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to engage in any activities for sexual pleasure which result in an injury other than "transient or trifling". Even a love-bite is technically illegal. This means that S/M players are still at risk of arrest and prosecution. It restricts S/M education (increasing the danger that people will injure themselves during play) while making it difficult for S/M players to get medical attention if there is a problem. It also enhances the prejudices against those in the S/M community, driving the scene underground and making it harder for essential safety information (such as the difference between S/M and abuse) to be disseminated widely. S/M activities can also be used against people in custody court cases, or lead to blackmail or the loss of jobs.
In addition, bad laws spread from country to country. The Spanner verdict has been quoted in trials in at least three other countries as an example of where a government can over-rule your right to consent. In America it was quoted during the Texas sodomy trial as evidence that it was acceptable for a government to stop people having the kind of sex they wanted - even if the sex was private, consensual and caused no harm.
Currently the law appears to be anomalous. In the court cases seen to date there have been three different types of verdicts:
- For S/M play within a heterosexual married couple, only the male (active) partner was prosecuted and he was acquitted. The judge said that a man branding a woman with a knife was "acceptable behaviour within marriage".
- For S/M play between an unmarried heterosexual couple, only the male (active) partner was prosecuted and he was found guilty.
- For S/M play between gay men both the active and passive participants were prosecuted and ALL were found guilty. The passive players were prosecuted for "aiding and abetting an assault against themselves"!
John hopes that the Spanner Trust will be able to use the 1998 Human Rights Act to pursue a claim in the High Court that the Spanner decision (R v Brown) is contrary to the Human Rights Act, thereby forcing a change in the law. To do that they will need claimants (people willing to come forward and say they are at risk of prosecution) and money.
15 December 2015
Christianity under attack - Mercury Mailbox
20 November 2015
Open Letter to Keith Vaz regarding blasphemy law for the UK
Dear Mr Vaz,
I write to express deep disappointment at your support for blasphemy laws to be re-introduced to the UK.
I write this as an open letter to encourage clarity on the matter.
It is outrageous that someone, as senior within the Labour party as yourself, would put forward the outdated, regressive, and oppressive concept that faith and belief need legal protection. They do not. These ideas must be subject to as rigorous questioning, criticism, ridicule and offensive comment, as any other idea.
Just because someone sincerely believes an idea does not give the person nor the idea any special privilege in being immune from normal human interaction, even if offensive criticism is offered. The line we draw, and it is a reasonable one, is that we do not permit the incitement of hatred nor violence. Everything else must remain within the law.
It is the duty of everyone to be prepared to take offence on the chin rather than demand special privilege to avoid facing unpleasant truths about their cherished beliefs. To give religious ideas special protection would be to give succour to the despicable regimes around the world who are happy to murder blasphemers. Take a look at Pakistan where even to allege that someone has blasphemed is enough to bring out the vigilante death squads. Why would you want to take our legal system in that direction or in the direction of Saudi Arabia where it is a terrorist offence to not believe in Allah?
I sincerely hope that you will reconsider your position and make it clear that a blasphemy law is not appropriate for this liberal democracy of ours.
Leicester Secular Society
75 Humberstone Gate
03 April 2015
Secular schism and dogma
Our strapline demonstrates the problem - “for an inclusive and plural society free from religious privilege, prejudice and discrimination”. Some Secularists prefer to concentrate on promoting “an inclusive and plural society”, leading to accusation of appeasing the religions by those who prefer to concentrate on campaigning for freedom from “religious privilege, prejudice and discrimination”.
Going back in our history this dichotomy was the cause of a split in the secular movement in the 1860s when many of the secular groups formed in the 1850s disappeared. To quote from “A Chronology of British Secularism” (G.H. Taylor 1957):
“Is the theoretical attack necessary or advisable? That was the problem which did more than any other single factor to split the ranks. Roughly speaking Holyoake said No, Bradlaugh Yes. The former, in his earlier career, often broke his own rule and attacked theology, but as time went on he became more concerned with the fruits of secular philosophy than with its theoretical basis. In his (unpublished) reminiscences Sidney Gimson, son of Josiah Gimson of Leicester, has referred to Holyoake's readiness to placate liberal clergymen for the sake of advancing on common ground.”
N.B. George Holyoake defined “Secularism” in 1851 and Charles Bradlaugh was the founder of the National Secular Society (NSS) in 1866. Both spoke at the opening of Secular Hall in 1881.
Today, at the national level, this difference is demonstrated in the differing priorities of the NSS and the British Humanist Association (BHA) – Leicester Secular Society being affiliated to both. The BHA is overtly atheist and secular, yet includes in its objectives “The promotion of understanding between people holding religious and non-religious beliefs so as to advance harmonious cooperation in society”.
The NSS by contrast is indifferent as to religious belief but campaigns energetically for a secular state, concentrating on opposing religious privilege, prejudice and discrimination.
Currently there has been some controversy over whether or not members should have been involved with the King Richard III re-internment (which can be seen as a community event) or support the reform of the hospital chaplaincy service to make it fully inclusive. My personal preference was to ignore the Richard III hullabaloo and I think that the NHS chaplaincy service should be replaced by properly qualified pastoral support workers. If organisations (including the religions) want to encourage volunteers to act as hospital visitors (subject to proper guidelines) I would not have a problem. However I accept that other secularists can have a perfectly valid differing view.
Some members advocate setting out the “doctrines” of secularism in motions to special meetings and accepting the decision of the majority. Democracy (the worst form of governance apart from all the others, to paraphrase Churchill) means that the majority dictate to the minority. Within a country this works as it is very difficult to leave. In a voluntary society, if you set down narrow requirements that your expect all members to adhere to, many will simply not renew their membership and others will decline to join. Consensus is a much better way to move forward.
Many members take pride in our opposition to fascism. The word derives from the ancient Roman “fasces”, which consisted of is a bound bundle of wooden rods, sometimes including an axe with its blade emerging. This represented the authority of the civic magistrate and was used for the corporal and capital punishment of those who failed to conform with the rules of those in authority. The point being that whilst an individual rod was weak, a tightly bound bundle or rods is strong. In its modern political incarnation it represents enforced control and conformity of a population (and in some cases, such as the Nazis, racial conformity) which is deemed to give such a society strength.
It would be ironic if Leicester Secular Society were ever to adopt such an approach. I'd suggest that we should welcome diversity and debate within the Society, uniting around our core principals, but not being too prescriptive as to the way in which we expect members to behave or the ideas they espouse.