2023 – Topics covered at our monthly discussions
|Inside the White Rose: an anti-vaxx, Covid conspiracy theory ecosystem|
With guest Speaker, Michael Marshall (President, Merseyside Skeptics Society and Editor, The Skeptic)
While most people accepted the realities of the virus, little white stickers began to appear in public around the world claiming COVID-19 was a hoax concocted by the governments of the world to instil fear into their people, as a pretext for introducing new, permanent totalitarian laws.
The graffiti was part of a co-ordinated grassroots campaign by a group calling itself The White Rose, urging members of the public to join their encrypted messaging channels to learn more about what was really going on.
So that’s what Michael Marshall, full-time skeptical investigator and activist, did. After spending months undercover in the messaging app Telegram, he has reported on the various conspiracy theories spread by the White Rose, and how groups used the Covid crisis to radicalise vaccine hesitant members of the public into a dangerous ecosystem of misinformation and extremism.
|Time to separate church and state?|
With guest presenter, Stephen Evans, CEO, National Secular Society.
As King Charles assumes the title of Defender of the Faith, Stephen Evans explores the role of religion in the monarchy and the UK’s political affairs, and asks whether the time has come to disestablish the Church of England.
Our guest, Judith Hayman from the NHEG (Northern Holocaust Education Group), gave us a wide ranging talk on some of the impacts of the Holocaust and how it affected her family.
Judith’s mother Charlotte Amdurer, née Kohn, was born in Berndorf, Austria, in 1921. The family were patriotic Austrians who could be traced in Austria back to 1650. Her grandfather and his brothers all fought for Austria in WWI.
Anti-Jewish laws implemented by Hitler in Germany over five years were introduced in a few months in Austria after the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria). Imagine her family’s disbelief when the Ten Commandments were turned upside down and it became normal brutally to attack rather than to love your neighbour.
The story uses anecdotes from her mother and testimonies supplied by her Aunt Frieda to Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation and to the Leo Baeck Institute.
This is not the story of the death camps but of the role of the bystander who stood by and let evil things happen, paving the way for the Final Solution.
The miracle of Charlotte and Frieda’s escape is revealed but so too are the stories of those who were trapped in Austria and perished in the Łódź ghetto.
After the war Austria claimed to have been amongst Hitler’s victims. This presentation exposed this lie and warned people what can happen when you hate ‘the other’ so much that you want them dead.
|To start our year off, we had a wide ranging discussion that looked at our thoughts about living as humanists and our thoughts about end of life matters. We showed an interview with Christopher Hitchens (from when he realised that his cancer would likely end his life) to start the ball rolling and then let this inspire us about where to take the conversation.|
Our topic of conversation was about the approaching coronation of King Charles. We viewed a short video, that showed how the suggestion of the coronation being a more inclusive has been a topic of discussion for several years and is not just one that started after the death of Queen Elizabeth. With over 60% of the UK population being non-Christian and almost 90% of the UK population identifying as non-Anglican, then how can a 100% Anglican Religious Service to crown the monarch be justified? What actions can we take to pursue a campaign to see a change to a more relevant Ceremony? Logically, this also applies to the “overly Anglican” approach of the British Legion to Remembrance Day – whilst they consistently ignore the multi-cultural (and belief) nature of those now serving in the armed forces.
“Christianity versus Curiosity.” A talk by Brian Gane
Brian covered the massive loss of Greek and Roman knowledge and literature around the year 400, largely as a result of Christian anti-reason, anti-curiosity attitudes as encouraged by Tertullian, Augustine etc. This led to the Dark Ages, but by about 1600 science had recovered to the level of 400, had clarified the scientific method, and in the following century took off in a big way, for instance with the founding of the Royal Society in 1660, despite continuing resistance from religions bodies.
He then looked at the scientific revolution in the light of different attitudes to knowledge and education among Jews, Moslems and American Christian Fundamentalists in the Bible Belt. He will assess the worrying damage that anti-curiosity attitudes in the US are causing, particularly in relation to global warming.
Amongst his conclusions he suggested that a strong case can be made that without Christianity we would have walked on the moon and cured cancer many centuries ago, or certainly that science may have advanced at a different rate over the centuries.
Flat Earthers – an analysis of what they believe and perhaps why.
War & Peace – virtually all modern warfare involves weaponry and tactics that lead to the death of innocent civilians. Are all wars today therefore unjustifiable?
The recent invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, has raised questions in the minds of many about whether the “West” (NATO and/or EU) should intervene or would this simply lead to an unacceptable escalation of the fighting. What would be a Humanist view on the matter of War?
How can we find a path to peace? Ghandi said, “Peace will not come out of a clash of arms but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the face of the odds.” War to him was only a by-product of our economic and political systems, a symptom of wrong relationships among human communities. He said “There is no point in resisting war if we do not remove the causes of war.”
We were invited by Whalley Abbey to partake in a one on one debate.
About 30 people were in attendance and the feedback was very positive from all concerned. We hope that other events of this nature can follow and look forward to being able to contribute.
Who We Are and How We Got Here – David Reich lecture, followed by discussion on the topics raised and the recent findings about our ancestors.
- It was an interesting update on the genetic mixing and the spread of humanity around the planet. Reaffirming that we are all the same species and efforts to describe someone as of “pure race” are a nonsense. A link to the You Tube video used is available if you want to watch the talk.
|December Meeting – Christmas social.|
|November Meeting – A debate was held on the potential issues between “Atheism” and “Humanism” ; are there really differences and what are the issues of disagreement.|
| AGM Meeting – Wednesday 20th October, 7.30pm|
In addition to our AGM, we held a short meeting about the new campaign from the National Secular Society:
As part of a campaign by NSS we have been asked to contact our local MP about the impact of faith schools in our district of Lancashire?
In our local authority of Lancashire:
60% of families have little choice but a faith-based primary school. That’s far above the national average of 30%
33% of families have little choice but a faith-based secondary school. That’s far above the national average of 10%
465 pupils were assigned faith schools against their families’’ preferences. In terms of percentage of applicants, that’s far above the national average.
58% of schools are faith based. That’s far above the national average of 34%.
You can also download the Lancashire local authority scorecard (2021) for more information. Those figures cover the whole of the local authority and there may be more localised areas where the problem is more extreme.
| September Monthly Meeting|
In the 2021 Bradlaugh Lecture, Nazir Afzal touched on several subjects and said that, “Culture shouldn’t be an excuse for inaction on issues such as forced marriage, honour-based violence and child sexual abuse”.
He also talked about “Community leaders who lead nobody”, which raised an interesting point that we have talked briefly about before. Who exactly are these community leaders? Who do they truly represent? How are they “appointed” as community leaders? And do journalists just take an easy option when looking for someone to speak to when a community issue arises. Does anyone really represent our communities?
A free discussion was held on the matters raised above.
Lancashire Humanists Meeting, 18th August 2021.
7.30 at Black Horse Pub, Preston
Lively discussion on ideas for the group going forward and possible activities that may appeal to a wider group.
- Hold meeting on other nights/days. We have seen many comments over the recent years, but it would be impossible to find one option that suited everyone. Initially we will continue with the current arrangement, but additional events will be planned too.
- Family Walks. This may appeal to those with young children who may find it difficult to come along to a meeting. The plan would be to find a moderate length walk in Lancashire, with perhaps a finish at a cafe. Not too long, so as to be open to walkers of all abilities and easy enough to allow socialising/chatting as we walk. Keith will investigate options and plan one before the Summer finishes. Other options mentioned: Townley Park, Brockholes and Darwen Tower.
- Look for other talks ideas and hold follow-up discussions after talks. A survey of those on the mailing list may generate some ideas of talks that appeal to a wider group. Keith will look to create a survey.
- Reach out to other Humanists groups and find out what works for them. Keith will follow up.
- Look to see if we could offer an introduction to humanism course.
- Survey of NW Humanists (HUK members) via Humanists UK – what would get them more involved?
- Video Interviews for website.
- Lancashire Humanists Christmas Cards. Keith is talking to printer about costs.
- Lancashire Humanists specific leaflets. Completed, February 2022.
- See if we can develop something on the lines of “How Humanist Are You?” but perhaps in a printed form for handing out.
- Look for us to be involved in a community project once per year. Currently involved in a local refugee placement project in Longridge. Could consider something like a litter pick in an area to raise awareness of the group.
- Once local community events (Field Days, etc) resume after COVID then we can look to book a space. We did this once in 2019 and it went very well. So other events would be welcome.
- Cafe Meeting. As an addition to the monthly meeting, we can have a cafe social meeting – perhaps bimonthly or quarterly. Shirley is looking at Gatty Park in Accrington. This will give us another venue that is away from using Preston for everything. If this goes well, then a further venue could be looked at in West Lancashire (near to Blackpool) and they could be alternated if numbers justify it.
UCLAN Oasis – we are looking to be able to use this venue in the near future. It offers better facilities for presentations and video showings. Plus quiet and easy to talk (compared to pub, which can be noisy at times). We would need to bring along tea/coffee, etc. but then are near a pub for a drink afterwards for those who want to socialise. Additionally, this venue might be more appealing for those who do not want to go into a pub on their own and we hope will result in higher numbers (possibly attract students too).
|Online Meeting, Wednesday – 28th of July.|
Open chat about what we’ve been up to and what has caught our attention recently. An opportunity for a social chat and discuss any thoughts on the future of the group that would be useful too as we approach our AGM in October (yes, sadly it will be here before we know it).
|April – Free speech and cancel culture – Where to draw the line? by Peter Tatchell (in association with Chester Humanists, who arranged the meeting).|
|People are being cancelled for being offensive. But some of the most important ideas in history caused great offence in their time. Being spared offence is not a human right.|
Increasingly, one misjudged comment can get you cancelled. Apologies are dismissed. The possibility of redemption excluded. This has echoes of McCarthyism and the Salem witch trials.
While the threat to free speech is sometimes exaggerated, there is a worrying trend to ban and censor. It must be resisted. The best way to tackle bigoted ideas is rarely by no-platforming speakers – apart from people like violent extremists. It is far better to defeat them in open debate, to show why their views are wrong by marshalling better ethics, reason and evidence. This is the way to change hearts and minds and build a consensus for a kinder, more compassionate society.
“Morality – a Tale of Three Evolutions” – Brian Gane
March online meeting
|This talk looked at how best we can get on with one another. After a short introduction to cosmic and biological evolution, Brian looked at the evolutionary origin of human morality in Africa and identified two sets of attitudes that result.|
Darwin Day Double Header Event – 12th and 13th February
|In conjunction with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), Lancashire Humanists presented two events:|
|Is there room for meaning in nature? By Professor Tim Thornton (School of Nursing)|
Religion and Belief: where are we going? By Jeremy Rodell (Humanists UK)
January: Online Meeting on the subject of Violence
Given the recent events in the USA, it seems opportune to ask the question, is violence rising? Is it inevitable? Does it actually benefit anybody?
We started the evening with a short Ted Talk on Violence from Steven Pinker and then we discussed the points raised and other related issues on the subject of violence in human society.
|Discussed possible speakers to invite to meetings through the year, along with the upcoming Darwin day on 12th of February.|
|Also, there have been some developments in the area of school assemblies – one of Humanists UK’s campaign areas – and we discussed that too. https://humanism.org.uk/education/parents/collective-worship-and-school-assemblies-your-rights/|
|12th February 2020.|
|UCLan, Preston. At the Oasis Faith & Spirituality Centre.|
Kirkham Street (next to the Media Factory)
From 10am to noon.
|In addition to the presentation, there was a display and opportunity for Q&A.|
|27th February: Annual Darwin Day Lecture at UCLan|
|Are Human Brains Wired Up To Do Science? |
How Cognitive Constraints Can Lead Us Astray In Research.
By Prof Dorothy Bishop FRS University of Oxford
|June: Online Meeting – Black Lives Matter|
|Following on from our video meeting on 24th June, I thought I would summarise some of our discussion. I have put it under the banner of “Black Lives Matter” since that was a significant part of the discussion and it is worth us contributing to this important discussion.|
|We suggested that prior to the meeting it would be worth members reading or listening to the Sam Harris podcast where, whilst making some potentially controversial comments, his central point was that we should be able to have conversations about challenging subjects without someone feeling offended. And we have discussed this issue of people feeling “offended” many times before.|
Around the time of our meeting and subsequent to that we have seen various comments about films, TV programmes and statues/memorials being under attack. Old films and TV programmes which were a product of their time and reflected views of that time, have either been edited or suspended or now down to be broadcast without certain episodes or with a warning label beforehand to damn the attitudes of that time.
Right wing groups have been up in arms about their revered heroes being attacked, and we faced the irony of a group “protecting” Churchill’s statue giving a Nazi salute. We then followed up with a group of supposedly “Burnley supporters” having a banner flown over a football game proclaiming “White lives matter”, as if white lives in the UK are under any kind of threat. Most of Burnley’s population were rightly upset at this action.
We need to raise our children to question in an open way and not simply accept what they are told. Maybe then we will achieve a society that does not need to proclaim that “Black Lives Matter”, because then we will have a society where all lives do genuinely matter and we respect each other in a world where the amount of pigment in your skin is not an important factor.
We are all humans and need to learn to respect each other. Let’s build a better society and learn from the mistakes of the past. Do not hide the mistakes, but discuss them and learn to understand what led to them.
We should resist the bullies and campaign for safe spaces to have reasoned discussions. This may be the only way to build the kind of society that we want for the future. One that will accept the rights of people to hold different views but encourages greater peaceful discussion.
|September – School Talks and Dialogue|
|For part 1 of the meeting the Chair gave a presentation about Humanist School Talks. This outlined what we do, how it has been received and covered some of the questions that arise. |
School Talks is just one arm of our approach as Humanists to the idea of spreading knowledge about what Humanism is. An extension of this, and in line with recent proposals from Humanists UK, is to promote more involvement with Dialogue with people from various beliefs.
We therefore moved the discussion from Part 1 into the area of Dialogue. We are attempting to move forward with some Dialogue locally in the future, and if anyone would be keen to be involved then contact the Chair.
|November – Is Humanism merely mirroring religious organisations?|
|Is Humanism merely mirroring religious organisations or does it offer a positive atheist approach to life that challenges established organisations? A recent Facebook post on our group page, challenged that Humanism was just mirroring religious organisations; that celebrants were just priests in disguise. This created a lot of comment on Facebook and we had an excellent discussion on the evening of this meeting.|
|2019 – topics covered at our monthly discussions|
|Impact of Humanism and Secularism on religion in the UK.|
|Future of separation of State and Religion.|
|National Ceremonies – the campaign to reduce religious influence to reflect the UK beliefs|
|Assisted Dying Campaign.|
|MPs need to listen to the people – over 80% support this.|
|Schools, Religion and LGBT.|
|Why is the UK one of the very few places in the world that still advocates for schools to be linked so much to religious belief?|
|Why are religious bodies so concerned about hanging on to this influence over young minds? State education should be about education and religious studies are for time at home.|
|Why are so many religious groups objecting to children learning about care and respect for others that are different?|
|What plans have you put in place to ensure that your funeral is what you would want?|
|What legal options and barriers are there?|
|Humanist MPs? Who in the NW of England?|
|Will we ever get a balance of influence in politics?|
|Which parties are most open to discuss non-religious views.|
|Brains & Artificial Intelligence (AI)|
|With recent work in the USA showing that brains dead for several hours can still be shown to function, what does this mean for our understanding of death?|
|What recent developments have there been in AI and what ethical issues are there?|
|Free for all – research a personal topic of interest and let us all discuss it.|
|On10th Sept at 4pm on Radio 4 was a programme called – A Believer’s Guide to Atheism. This brought up some interesting questions about differences between atheists and I wondered if those attending would like to talk about their particular feelings on the subject. Do they see themselves as Atheist, Agnostic, Humanist or a mixture?|
|What books, authors, videos of speakers have strongly influenced you?|
|With the AGM in October in mind, what would you like to see from the group? What suggestions would you have for us going forward?|
|AGM – Election of new Secretary (David Fleming) and re-election of Treasurer.|
|Thank you to Richard Spedding, who has stood down after serving 2 years as Secretary.|
|In view of the impending December Election, we held a discussion based on the 11 potential Humanist/Secular policies that might be promoted to the various parties and candidates standing.|
|We ran through most of the points and how some may be grouped. Since it would be more effective to encourage discussion we also discussed which may be viewed as the most important to some of us. This discussion has been extended to our Facebook site, to allow a wider contribution.|