Monday, 31 August 2009

The Obscurer and Obscurantists

On page 39 of last Friday's Hastings Observer, next to the crossword puzzle, there is a large advertisement for "An Evening of Calirvoyance" with
Stephen Holbrook, who is described as "One of Britain's Most Accurate Clairvoyant Mediums". This evening is presented "in association with" the Observer series of local newspapers.

At one of his meetings in 2006 in Blackburn he was arrested after he punched a member of the audience who accused him of being a fake. According to the Yorkshire Evening Post "The Office of Fair Trading has found that psychic mailouts offering spiritualist services in return for payment cost us £40m in 2006-7. Online, telephone and TV psychic services are also big business. As well as scores of mediums up and down the country there are also more than 300 spiritualist churches." What mediums can claim is also now restricted by new Consumer Protection Regulations.

The show is on at the Phoenix Arts Centre, which is on the campus of William Parker Sports College, which is a Church of England voluntary controlled school. How the C of E views this support of spiritualism I don't know. It costs £15 to attend the event, so I don't think I'll be in the audience.

In the same issue on page 29 there is an article advertising an book on UFOs by Malcolm Robinson who is described as a "Paranormal Expert from Hastings". There were stories about him in the paper earlier in the year, and I've a recollection that he at one time worked for the paper. His book wil be available from Healings of Atlantis dot com!

What is it with "The Obscurer"? (so aptly nicknamed by Robert Tressell) that they have to provide so much support to these obscurantists?

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Atheist and Bishop Part 2

In the second episode of this Radio 4 series the Atheist was A. C. Grayling and the arguments were somewhat more pointed. He and the Bishop visited Bacon College (an inner city academy) and Camp Quest. The ethos of the school, which is a Church of England academy, is naturally to achieve social cohesion and for the pupils not to question their differences too closely. A. C. tried to get some of the pupils to think more deeply about these differences.

Towards the end the Bishop insisted on the importance of Christianity recognising the human "capacity for evil", and there was no time to follow this up, but surely it simply begs the question by assuming the prior existence of good and bad out there in the world before we have applied our reasoning powers to decide what is good and what is bad.

Friday, 21 August 2009


Christopher Hitchens on Slate criticises Yale University Press for self-censoring a book about the Danish cartoons of Mohammed by leaving out the illustrations.

On the I commented: Why keep republishing the same old cartoons? What's needed is more cartoons. Has the author of the Jesus and Mo series received death threats yet? I don't think so. The Freethinker republished the cartoons and its editor hasn't been threatened as far as I know. How about an Islamic Comic Annual?

I did have an idea for a cartoon in my Professor Cranium series, but haven't been in a drawing mood lately. This was to show Christopher Hitchens, with a copy of "God is not Great" under his arm, walking past a fast-food outlet called the "Al R Snackbar". (Allah's n'Ackbar - geddit? - Oh well never mind!)

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Alan Turing

There is a campaign to "Pardon" Alan Turing the mathematician, code-breaker and pioneer of computing. Though that is really the wrong word. He did nothing that we would now consider wrong. Really it is a matter of the authorities admitting they were wrong.

There was a programme on
Channel 4
about this campaign, with comments from Richard Dawkins among others.

If there is to be an apology it should be for everyone affected by the laws against homosexuality in that period, in the same way that there have been apologies about the slave trade. This would just be an acknowledgement that the Zeitgeist has moved on, and we have become more enlightened.

There is a petition on the No 10 website.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The Atheist and the Bishop

I've been listening to the start of a new Radio 4 series The Atheist and the Bishop. The participants being atheist philosopher Miranda Fricker from Birkbeck College, University of London, and the former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries.

The first person interviewed, apparently outside the BHA HQ, was someone calling himself an Agnostic Christian! His mother, having attended the assisted dying clinic in Switzerland, and who had requested a humanist funeral, was given instead a mixed humanist and christian funeral. Far from being a betrayal, this was described as admirably open-minded!

The next interview was of the mother of a man kiled in the 7/7 London bombings who said she forgave his killers, and had set up a peace foundation in his name. The atheist philosopher thought forgiveness a necessary part of an ethical life, but nothing was said about what this means in practice other than being an emotional form of words. If the killer still lived would this "forgiveness" extend to letting him go free?

Then they met a couple who had decided to have their child baptised. The philosopher, apparently an unmarried mother, had not felt the need of any ceremony but thought perhaps a secular one should be developed for those who might want them. Baby-naming ceremonies do exist, but apparently no BHA celebrant was consulted.

In short it was all a bit flabby, and I don't expect it to get much better. It goes on for seven episodes. Did I miss the good points?

Monday, 17 August 2009

Decision Day

Since nobody turned up for the last meeting I've decided to cancel the proposed extra meeting on 27th August. The 10th September meeting, which was billed as the "first AGM" and has been in our Programme since the start, will be to decide whether to place the Hastings Humanists BHA Group on a formal basis, by appointing a Committee, or whether to carry on as a purely informal grouping. If necessary the meeting can go on longer than usual to allow everyone to speak. This is assuming enough people can come. I'll be circulating everyone on the email list as usual.

Thursday, 13 August 2009


Well one new member turned up for tonight's meeting, hoping for a lively discussion or argument, but I was the only existing member there, so he left after a short conversation, but provided an email address to keep in touch. Where do we go from here? Suggestions invited. I have plenty of other things to occupy my time.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Shofar So Good

This has my vote for funniest news picture of the month:

Rabbis battle swine flu over Israel!

And silliest news story.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Our August Meetings

Our next meeting will be on Thursday 13 August at the White Rock Hotel as usual. The subject will be History of Humanism (Part 2), which will be mainly about 19th century developments including the Positivism of August Comte, the Rational Religion of Robert Owen, the Secularism of G. J. Holyoake and other topics.

Our August Newsletter is now available in PDF form and can be downloaded from this page on my website. I've also converted all the back issues into PDFs, just for the record. The printed version of the Newsletter will now be sent only to members who are not on email, or to those who request a printed copy.

There will also be a Social Meeting on 27 August. This will enable us to prepare for the AGM in September, at which we need to decide whether to put the Group on a more formal footing by properly electing officers such as Secretary, Treasurer and Chairperson, or just carry on in an informal manner.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

The UN - a worrying move?

The following is a quote from journalist Johanm Hari:

The UN rapporteur who is supposed to be the global guardian of free speech has had his job rewritten – to put him on the side of the religious censors

(Full article here)

If this is true, then it is worrying.

Admittedly, I haven't seen anything else about this subject, to give another side to the story, but it's an interesting and thought-provoking article.

Let's keep 'em peeled.