Wednesday, 16 January 2013

This Blog has moved...

Dear reader, our blog has moved to a new address.

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As part of our web development project, this blog has now moved, and you'll find it in its new and improved incarnation as the RA Blog.

If you head over there you'll find the same rationalist blogging from the New Humanist/Rationalist Association team, plus content from our exciting new team of guest bloggers.

For RSS subscribers, the feed for this blog will now update with content from the new site. This blog will remain live as an archive, covering all our blogging from 2007-2012.

The launch of the new blog is the second stage in the rollout of our revamped website, designed by the talented duo Mr & Mrs OK (aka John Oxton and Rachel King and developed by the equally talented Julian Halliwell of Simplicity Web.

To read more about the "mobile first" and "responsive design" principles behind the new site, see this blog post. And if you'd like to know even more about the design and development side, see this post by John Oxton.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Help give kids a choice about belief

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This is a guest post by by Ian Horsewell 

I didn’t need to read The Young Atheist’s Handbook to become an atheist. And I’m sadly no longer young. I’d never believed in gods, presumably because my parents never tried very hard to take me to church, and this was only confirmed when I started learning about science and history.

But I had the option to choose. Not everyone can "drift" into agnosticism or atheism. For many people religious belief is instilled at a young age by parents, often seen as inseparable from cultural identity. It’s interesting that the Church of England is now explicit about their intention to use their position as an education provider to indoctrinate, an approach used by many academies and free schools.

So it’s a very good time to read Alom Shaha’s book. He admits early on that it’s not a traditional "handbook", no twelve steps to recovery or detailed philosophical arguments against the existence of god(s). It’s better than that. The book is easy to read, evocative of an upbringing I never experienced. Like many others, I think I may have taken my freedom to choose my own beliefs for granted.

Alom tells how his own childhood, when he was taught to recite words in Arabic that he did not understand, led to teenage years when doubts became more established. His journey is fascinating; from imposed beliefs, through persistent questions, to accepting that he did not believe in what he had been told – and the consequences for him saying that publicly. As I told people at the time, I wouldn’t want to write or say too much because I couldn’t do justice to Alom’s words.

And while I was recommending the book to a friend, I had an idea.

At the time there were campaigns running to provide a copy of Mark Henderson’s The Geek Manifesto to politicians. I liked the idea very much, although horrified that it might be necessary. My thought was that many children are exposed to religious instruction – as distinct from education – either at home or in school. There is no easy or politically acceptable solution to this; many of us are horrified by the state intervening in our home life, a ‘solution’ arguably worse than the problem. Instead, could we provide another viewpoint? Not against any specific religion, but for personal freedom of choice. Could we help to make a copy of this book available to every young person?

Just before Christmas we launched the campaign to get a copy of The Young Atheist’s Handbook into every secondary school library in England and Wales. We’re about a quarter of the way to the target of £32,000, which is a wonderful start. This isn’t about politics, making a profit, or making children read the book. It’s about giving a choice to young people who might otherwise miss out. Like Alom, I’m a teacher who really believes that one of the most important jobs in the world is to help a young person start to think for themselves. If you’d like to get involved, then you get to help them too.

Read Alom Shaha's piece for New Humanist 


Follow Ian Horsewell on Twitter Hashtag: #yah4schools

Martin Rowson responds to airline crucifix ruling

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Nuff said

Monday, 14 January 2013

Atheists with soles

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Well you've had the atheist bus campaign, the atheist T-shirt and the atheist church, now finally what we've all been wanting, atheist shoes. These painfully hipsterish creations come courtesy of those wacky folks at You can get 'em in electric blue (Tim Minchin seems to have a pair), grey or pink, and they all have 'Ich Bin Atheist' on the souls soles. Just in case you are not entirely clear on the concept of shoes, they've made this handy video.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Pope slams the dogma of agnosticism

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Here's one for irony fans – at a ceremony consecrating several new Catholic bishops on 6 January, Pope Benedict XVI hailed his bishops as the great contemporary opponents of prevailing wisdom, and challenged the close-minded dogmatism of today's dominant mindset: agnosticism:
"Anyone who lives and proclaims the faith of the Church is on many points out of step with the prevalent way of thinking, even in our own day. Today’s regnant agnosticism has its own dogmas and is extremely intolerant regarding anything that would question it and the criteria it employs. Therefore the courage to contradict the prevailing mindset is particularly urgent for a Bishop today".
(Via Ship of Fools)

Friday, 4 January 2013

Is spirituality bad for your mental health?

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It's our first day back in the NH office today, so Happy New Year, welcome back and all the rest. To ease us in to 2013, we thought we'd start with a story that appeared in the press this week, concerning a new academic study which looks at the relationship between beliefs and mental health.

Researchers led by Professor Michael King at University College London have found that people who profess to hold "spiritual" rather than conventionally religious, atheist or agnostic beliefs are more likely to suffer from mental health problems.

Nineteen per cent of the 7,403 randomly selected men and women in England surveyed by the researchers stated that they had spiritual beliefs without belonging to a particular religion, and members of that group were found to be more likely to suffer from mental health issues, including drug dependency, phobias, anxiety disorders and neurotic disorder.

The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, concluded:
"... there is increasing evidence that people who profess spiritual beliefs in the absence of a religious framework are more vulnerable to mental disorder.

The nature of this association needs greater examination in qualitative and in prospective quantitative research."
Of course, that last sentence is key, but it is nevertheless interesting to consider the possibility that there is a link between spirituality and mental illness, particularly in light of the fact that those who are "spiritual" are one of the fastest growing belief groups in the UK.

While the 2011 census results, published last month, revealed a fall in the percentage of Christians alongside a rise in the numbers selecting "No religion" (which is now up to 25 per cent of the population in England and Wales), some observers countered atheist triumphalism by pointing out that "No religion" does not necessarily equal atheism or even agnosticism.

Many profess a belief in something unknown or unknowable, beyond scientific understanding, without identifying with a particular religion, and this kind of belief is often expressed as "spirituality". As the sociologist Linda Woodhead pointed out in her interview with us in our November issue, belief in the UK is not necessarily declining, but rather transforming and becoming more difficult to identify using traditional religious labels.

So what does this mean for atheism? Well, while taking into account the limits of the UCL study, if you are an atheist you could perhaps take it as evidence that your beliefs are good for you. But should those who are "spiritual" be thinking about ditching the transcendental stuff and joining the godless? Maybe, but there is another view – as this blog post at the Spectator points out, conventional religion comes out of the study looking pretty healthy too.