Friday, 5 October 2012

Event Report - Three Approaches to Activism

The first lecture event of the term presented not one but three speakers, chosen to represent the three themes of our society. Alex Gabriel, journalist and blogger for The Heresy Club, represented the viewpoint of atheism. Elizabeth O'Casey, a vice-president of the NSS represented secularism and Richard Norman, vice-president of the BHA spoke for humanism.

Each speaker began by introducing their ideas on the definition and purpose of their stance. Richard Norman began by asking the question, if someone is an atheist, where do they go from there? He explained that humanism can be seen as a belief in the possibility of a good life without religion. The values of humanism are grounded in fundamental human values rather than being an imitation of religion. Norman described humans as empathic beings with a shared faculty for reason. From these bases come about respect, justice and the framework for a positive society. Humanists recognise the common ground between non-believers and the religious, as well as challenging the prejudice and oppression which can stem from religious baggage.

Elizabeth O'Casey sought to differentiate secularism as a political aim rather than a philosophical system. Secularism aims to promote equality between citizens through the separation of religion and state. England is not a secular state - however France's model of a disinterest from the state in religion (viewing it as a private matter) is one that the NSS is more eager to follow. Secularism can also get rid of interference from the state in religious matters, as these individuals have a right to freedom of belief. Some of the political system seen as a problem by the NSS include the fact that the queen and church are intertwined, bishops have a moral priority in the house of lords and faith schools constitute one third of schools which are publicly funded.

Representing atheism, Alex Gabriel proposed that problems focused upon by secular activists are the tip of the iceberg in terms of how religion can negatively affect society. He stated that less than half of people in the UK believe in evolution, religion perpetuates a stereotypical view of gender which causes repression, people rely upon prayer for healing and go to the clergy for advice on mental health. In addition, children brought up in religious homes are taught to believe lies and are threatened with divine punishment. Gabriel believes that a secular state is not enough - there should be less religious belief among the population. This means that his activism includes educating the religious and provoking them to defend their position with reason. The fact that non-belief is increasing is proof of the fact that people can change their minds.

After these three speeches, the speakers took questions from the audience and discussed the ways in which their positions were compatible as well as different.

Thanks to everyone who came, we hope you learned something and had a chance to express your opinion!

No comments:

Post a Comment