23 September 2006

Lying for the Cause

A common theme can be detected in a number of recent headline stories. The willingness of people to lie to protect or promote the causes with which they are identified, disregarding the over-riding categorical imperative of the objective truth. There is also a welcome trend, exemplified by the Office of National Statistics, the Royal Society, and Richard Dawkins, for the guardians of truth to begin biting back at the purveyors of untruth and unreason. Let us hope that this is not just a few isolated instances but the start of a sustained campaign.

We are familiar with the spin put on things by politicians. Tony Blair (known to many as Bliar for his far worse
past porkies) jumped the gun on the employment statistics. He forecast that the figures would show a 'very welcome' fall in the number of people claiming unemployment benefit. The figures, showed that unemployment rose to 1.7 million in three months. He was properly slapped down by his own statisticians. His counterpart in Hungary actually admitted to outright lying to win his last election, and sparked outraged riots.

We are also familiar with the way that spokespersons for large companies are willing to bend the truth for the sake of retaining their well-paid jobs. Even that quiet corner of the establishment, The Royal Society, has been sufficiently outraged to issue a complaint to Exxon-Mobil to stop its funding of climate change denial.

The Iranian President Ahmadinejad has again denied the Holocaust. Representatives of the Vatican have been propagating lies about Aids. Of course the religions are past-masters of lying for God, and lying for Allah.

The creationists are especially accomplished at lying for Jesus. They even have the effrontery to set up a site with the title Truth in Science!

Richard Dawkins in his interview with the Paxman on Newsnight last night (22nd September) about his new book The God Delusion, spoke of his devotion to truth, by which of course he meant not his personal views but objective scientific truth obtained by examining the evidence and applying unbiased logical reasoning and scientific method.

He has now set up the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. In his introductory video he says: "The enlightenment is under threat. So is reason. So is truth. So is science, especially in the schools of America. I am one of those scientists who feels that it is no longer enough just to get on and do science. We have to devote a significant proportion of our time and resources to defending it from deliberate attack from organized ignorance. We even have to go out on the attack ourselves, for the sake of reason and sanity."

Secularism and Science are fortuunately causes in which no lying is called for, in fact quite the opposite, devotion to the truth.

15 September 2006

Cricket & Religion

The day after our Open Day, 11th September, was of course the fifth anniversary of the hijacking of the planes that were flown into the World Trade Center 'twin towers'. This anniversary was marked in Leicester, rather oddly, by a cricket match played between the local Clergy and Imams.

As reported in the Leicester Mercury, the Imams won.

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, who was seventh into
bat for the clergy said: "The great thing is that this game of cricket is building
friendships. It's so important to understanding between the faiths." From which it would seem that the secular pursuit of cricket has a unifying ability that helps to counter the divisiveness of religions.

There are some indeed, like Mohammad Ali Syed who see cricket as a form of religion. Another writer who has faith in cricket says: "To my mind, the beauty of cricket was that it was its own religion." Another commentator, in troutmag sagely observes: "It is safe to assume that without the improving influence of cricket, the Church of England would long ago have ceased to exist."

On a less frivolous note it occurred to me to wonder, as others have before, how far the decision to invade Afghanistan was affected by the spectacular nature of the collapse of the buildings, and consequent loss of life. What if they had been strong enough to withstand the impacts? Of course there were other terrorist attacks around the world, but it is natural to wonder how far our human decision making is dependent on reaction to emotive symbolism, rather than on considered reasoning.

Very often we have to wait for disasters to occur before any action is taken, even though experts warn long in advance that something needs to be done. The current under-reported situation in Darfur is a case of this kind. It seems that continued reports of inhumanity, attrition and claims of genocide are not sufficently spectacular to motivate the international community to action. It must also be said that the history behind it all is, as usual, complicated.

06 September 2006

Secular Hall Open Day

Allan Hayes has had the following article about Secular Hall published in the Leicester Mercury on 5th September.

This year is the 155th anniversary of a Leicester organisation that has done perhaps more than any other in the city to create a society in which all can live together as full members without discrimination by race, belief or social status. Without its work and that of similar groups across the country, we would today be a less tolerant society, less welcoming of newcomers and less able to live together as equals.

When Leicester Secular Society was founded in 1851, few men - and no women - had the vote.

Those who did not belong to the established church suffered serious discrimination, people were sent to prison for criticising Christianity, elected MPs could not take their seats without swearing a religious oath, tithes still had to be paid to the church and contraception was not openly available.

The society fought to address these inequities, and, on the whole, succeeded.

People are now much more accepted, and participate more as fellow human beings whatever their social status or beliefs, and the open debate essential to a democratic society is less impaired.

In 1881, the society completed its present home, the Secular Hall, in Humberstone Gate. This is now a recognised national heritage asset, a grade II listed building and home of the oldest secular society in the world (a Leicester first).

It is a lively community asset, providing for a dance school, martial arts academy and bookshop, and is a central meeting place for numerous organisations.

The principles of the society are as important now as in 1851. It promotes them with debates and lectures by leading local and national figures on a wide range of topics, by the work of individual members in youth activities, religious education, conflict resolution and other areas, and by providing non-religious ceremonies for weddings, births and funerals. A recent first in the country has been the appointment of one of our members to the Hospital Chaplaincy team.

Social responsibility, dialogue and robust argument have always characterised the society's activities. Currently, we are engaged in opposing faith schools and creationism at the same time as organising a series of meetings with a Christian group, and developing contacts with other faiths.

The society is working hard to bring the hall's facilities up to modern standards. A study has estimated that this will cost about £2 million. We are seeking financial support and have been greatly encouraged by the appreciation shown of the importance of the building and the society.

You can see for yourself by coming to our open day at 75 Humberstone Gate, Leicester, LE1 1WB this Sunday, from 10am to 6pm, followed at 6.30pm by a talk about the building's architect.