23 May 2006

The Secular Hall Bookshop, now and then

The bookshop that occupies part of the frontage of Secular Hall, now trading as Frontline Books, is one of fifteen Independent bookshops featured in The Guardian (G2 section) on Monday this week (22nd May). The online text is

There has been a bookshop associated with Secular Hall since it was opened in 1881, and even before that the bookseller who operated it at that time, William Henry Holyoak, (born: Sileby Jan 27, 1818, died: 1907) sold radical books at several other addresses in Leicester as far back as 1846.

Ned Newitt, local Labour historian, recently sent me the following poem by WHH that he found in The Leicester Reasoner dated 1876.

Let us lift up our voices in song
And rejoice in the freedom we’ve won
From the maze and the story
Of God and his glory
As taught by the priest to the young

The mists of life’s morning have faded
And we see with a vision more clear
That a man need not wait
For a blessed estate
If he works with a will whilst he’s here

There’s no help in a Heaven above
‘Tis a fable, a guile and a snare
And he who would tell
Of the terrors of Hell
Is a cheat, so let him beware.

Of deceiving his Brothers for gain
For of all crimes this is the worst
And he that is found
Living on this said ground
Ought not to complain if he’s cursed

Then we’ll work and we’ll strive to improve
The lot of each one of our band
For the life of today
Will be children to pay
A reward for the work of our hand

Let us all seek to aid one another
As onward we pass on life’s way
No nobler plan
Can be told you by man
That will lend to make brighter the day

It is reported in The Guardian that six independent bookshops went out of business in one week recently. Let's hope the bookshop can continue and thrive, aided by the regeneration of the area and of Secular Hall.

13 May 2006

Bishop of Leicester opposes Assisted Suicide Bill

Yet another prominent religionist has decided that his god wants to dictate our rights and freedoms. The Bishop of Leicester's letter to the Mercury is available here . This is my response:

Due to his misguided beliefs the Bishop of Leicester has come out against a Bill that would finally grant people the right to die with dignity at a time and in a manner of their choosing. In doing so he has helped condemn large numbers of people to years of avoidable physical and psychological pain. Whilst he is justifiably concerned that some people may be pressured into hastening their own demise, he conveniently ignores the evidence from places such as Oregon and Switzerland, which shows that allowing assisted suicide does not lead to people choosing to die early because they feel they’ve become burdens.

Why is a 27 year old atheist supporting assisted suicide when to atheists this life is the only one we’ve got? Let me explain. In my family we have a history of late onset mental disorders, including Alzheimer’s, which studies suggest is hereditary. I also have an extreme fear of all things medical which has caused numerous panic attacks and two nervous breakdowns – in short, I really don’t like hospitals. I’ve seen Alzheimer’s first hand, my grandfather died of it several years ago. Like other disorders such as dementia it kills its victims over a long period of progressive mental deterioration and sufferers require 24 hour care in their final years, yet they are also obviously conscious of what’s going on around them until near the end. If I ever come down with the disease, or any other terminal illness, then I want the right to be spared what for me would be hell on Earth. A simple Living Will would make this clear, but they need to be made legally binding to ensure they can be enacted, and anyone asked to assist some in their wishes should not have to fear being prosecuted for performing a final and immensely difficult act of love and kindness.

I don’t believe in a god, but I’m not afraid of death. No fictional deity has determined when I’m going to die, or that I have no right to influence when I go. If I’m wrong then she and I can have that debate once I’ve recovered from the shock of waking up in an afterlife! What Lord Joffe, myself, and many others want is the right to choose not to suffer, and that those we may ask to assist us in exercising that right are protected from prosecution.

I thought the alleviation of suffering was a Christian virtue?


12 May 2006

Ann Atkins at it again

Below is an email our member Frank Friedmann sent to the BBC, concerning Ann Atkins' latest "Thought for the Day", and their response.


-- To BBC --

Dear Sir,

Ann Atkins used the programme on 9 May 2006 today to launch an attack on Rationalists.

That she can do so shows up the lack of natural justice in the policy of denying atheists access to the programme - they can be collectively slandered and misrepresented but have no right of reply.

I notice that speakers on the programme do not use it as a platform from which to condemn the adherents of other religions - I don’t know if this is out of respect or because they are constrained by editorial rules, but it does emphasise the injustice in the censorship of atheism.

Were you to change the policy, might I put forward my wife, Eleanor Davidson, as a candidate? She has just become the country’s first Humanist member of a hospital chaplaincy team (See First Person article in Leicester Mercury 29 April 2006). [See also the 2nd of April message on this blog.]

Returning to Ann Atkins’s argument. According to her, the fact that strong men gave up their lives to save weak women on the Titanic violates a ‘rationalist’ principle that the strong are genetically constrained to outdo the weak in the struggle for survival.

I believe she meant this as an argument against Darwin’s concept of Survival of the Fittest or its refinement put forward by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, but she misrepresents the theory -- a common tactic in such attacks. I have never come across a rationalist who would argue that humans are automata rigidly controlled in this way by their genes, but even so it is quite clear that the altruistic behaviour of the men on the Titanic is consistent with these theories. In the millions of years over which almost all of our biological evolution took place, most of the members of a group of people in one place confronted by a disaster would have been closely related members of a family or tribal group in which the paternity of children might have been uncertain. In these circumstances, saving children and women who might be pregnant could well be the best strategy to ensure the survival of ones own genes into the future.

The BBC cannot deserve a reputation as a reliable source until the censorship of atheism is ended.

Yours sincerely,
Frank Friedmann

-- Reply from BBC --

Thank you for your e-mail addressed to 'Thought For The Day'.

I understand you feel there is evidence of censorship of atheism on 'Thought For The Day' and the BBC in general.

I can assure you that the BBC is prevented by the terms of its licence from expressing an opinion of its own on any matter of public policy (other than broadcasting), and it is committed to approaching controversial matters impartially. That does not mean, however that we should merely provide a platform for others to express their views without those views being tested on behalf of our audiences. We seek rather to ensure that, over a period, all sides of any public debate are explored and explained, so that our viewers and listeners may be the better informed in coming to their own judgement of events.

It is a principle of BBC journalism that, whatever personal views you may hold - and everybody is entitled to have personal views in their private lives - you leave them at the door when you come to work. There are well-tried checks in the system.

We do find that viewers' opinions are an invaluable source of feedback. Please be assured that I have fully registered your comments on our daily audience log. This internal document will be made available to the 'Thought For The Day' production team and Senior BBC Management.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact the BBC.


Gary Sullivan
BBC Information

Frank Friedmann

09 May 2006

Religion in Schools Prospectus

A few months ago we published a welcome to the new Derby Secular Society. Mike Lake's latest initiative is to try to get local schools to adopt his wording of a statement for their parents' prospectus as here:


He writes that he wants it to look as reasonable and unobjectionable as possible to any thinking person. "However, it is obvious that it is a major threat to the religious because it spells out very clearly what parents rights are and it clearly divorces moral and civic education from religion."

This proposal will be discussed at the next meeting in Derby at the MultiFaith Centre at 7.00pm on Wednesday 17th May.

Perhaps we at Leicester, and secularists elsewhere, should join in this initiative.