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Showing posts from January, 2015

COMMENT: How does an atheist parent teach children to be moral?

Given that primary schools across Britain are religious, there is widespread support for using religion as a framework to instil notions of good and evil. To many parents, religious education is the norm, and if it is not provided at school they will seek out a church which provides Sunday school or catechism. So why don't I go along with this? And how can an atheist, whose moral beliefs are presumably based on individual experience, provide an equivalent framework?

I would answer both questions the same way: a believer is faced with the exact same questions.
To illustrate this, I take the example of a relative who recently gave my children as a gift a small wooden cross depicting the annals from Noah's Ark. By giving this to us, I presume the idea is to use this parable from Exodus to teach my children that God saved the righteous Noah and all his menagerie from drowning because he was a good man and had heeded the revealed messages. So far so good.
But what about everyone else?…

POLITICS: Why are UK media not reporting French anti-terror crackdown abuses?

In the weeks following the 4 million-strong "Je Suis Charlie" protests defending free speech, nearly 50 sentences have been recorded for 'Apologie du terrorisme' (incitement to terrorism). Today's new low is the arrest of an 8 year-old boy who cried out his opposition to the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, in his primary school in Nice.  Although local police deny having arrested him, his lawyer has tweeted that his arrest warrant clearly states he was arrested on charges of inciting terrorism.

So far, no comment from UK media on this. Why?
French authorities seem to have no trouble squaring this circle. In the name of freedom of speech, dozens of people have been arrested, several convicted to harsh jail sentences for claiming to support the shooters or making comments in public places supporting radical Islam.
The Nouvel Observateur records several …

CAMPAIGN: Letter to Phillip Pullman - Save Barnet Libraries

Dear Mr. Pullman,

I have lived in Barnet for only a few years, but find myself campaigning for its libraries and am hoping to enlist your support with this letter. I am very attached to this borough, and feel very strongly that Barnet council's 'consultation' which is due to end in mid-February could be catastrophic for education and many other threads of our social fabric.

I have read your writing for many years, teaching and reading the His Dark Materials series and the Sally Lockhart Trilogy among other works. I am also aware of your campaign work, as an active Humanist myself. Your interest in libraries stems, I imagine, not only from your livelihood, but from your awareness of the dangers of its loss. Libraries are vital to instil and spread the joy of reading in the children of our borough, but more importantly, to make sure learning, self-improvement and unfettered enquiry are available to all our residents free of charge. None of this is news to you. 
To understand…

POLITICS: Charlie Hebdo and the Illusion of French Secularism

From a UK perspective, it is hard to imagine a country more deeply committed to secularism than France.

France is a secular Republic, and has been so since 1905. A law was passed forbidding the use of public money for religious purposes, and banning outward signs of religious affiliation in public buildings. Since then, Nicolas Sarkozy passed a law banning the burka and even the hijab in public. In the past fortnight, French authorities have given police and local courts new powers to clamp down on terrorism with a particularly anti-Islamist bent.

I have supported secularism in this blog and elsewhere and actively campaign against faith schools. But are these measures truly secular?

French secularism always struck me as absurd, from the moment I knew of it in my own school. The idea that religion should be effectively banned from the education system almost completely, so that few of my French friends were aware of any religions outside of the three major monotheisms, and almost none h…

CULTURE: Inari the Rice-God and Why Atheists are begrudged Christmas

The Christmas season has drawn to a close, concluding my first calendar year as a stated, outspoken atheist. So this has been my first experience of the build-up to a supposedly religious holiday. 
Here are some of the questions I had:

Do atheists celebrate Christmas? If so, why? What is the reason for the season if you don't believe there was a Jesus or that worshipping him makes us better people?
My answer to all this is somewhat roundabout, and can be found in a recent Huffpost article on a Japanese religious holiday.
If I didn't have to return to work on Monday, and had unlimited funds, this is where I'd be. Visiting the stunning red halls of the Shinto shrine of Fushimi Inari-Taisha, steeping myself in the history of the place. Absorbing the architectural wonders and collective culture behind the worship of the rice-messenger God Inari. 
This is where I cut back to the atheist-meets-Christmas question. Why assume that only those who believe in a faith…