Archive for April, 2013

Food parcel

lmhg food parcelAt the last Committee meeting it was decided that a sum of £75 would be donated to those in need in Ludlow. In December Peony and Pamela went to a local supermarket to make the purchases which proved to be more difficult than you might think. Which items would be most useful? Should we go for quality or quantity? And finally ‘Is that all we can get for £75?’ In case anyone is wondering, we didn’t buy a case of sherry – we only used the box, honest!
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Dignity in dying

By Malcolm Rochefort

My Mother died just before Christmas. She was 93, so it wasn’t exactly unexpected. The tragedy of it was rather that she had been very ill with cancer for the last 6 months, and had been suffering whilst at the same time, very aware of what was happening. Visits to the care home were depressing, as she had become practically deaf, so conversation was almost impossible, but she would often say that she wanted to die in the night.

Why do I raise this rather depressing thought? Everyone I spoke to about it, my sisters, friends, relatives, acquaintances all agreed that you wouldn’t let an animal suffer as she did – and yet we did, we had no choice under the law of this country, and she was far too ill to travel. Eventually the doctor put her on a diamorphine drip for pain-relief, and the end, mercifully, came within a few days of that. We’ve had talks about dignity in dying, and this brought it home – she really had none, and suffered greatly.

Why do we continue in this country to accept these archaic laws around death, not tackling what everyone recognises is a very complex subject because it’s so difficult? We must find a way to give people choice at the end of their lives, and this experience has at least renewed my determination to help those campaigning for a change in the law, and reassured me that we are right to fight against religious privilege and dominance of how we run our last days.

She wanted a cremation and, unfortunately, a religious service, even though I can never remember her voluntarily going to church, apart from for weddings and funerals. I think she was only religious in the old, superstitious way – ‘just in case’. The C of E vicar had at least met her a few times, and knows my sister quite well, so gave a fairly sympathetic homily. He knew we were secular Humanists, which I helpfully reminded him just before the service, and he at least dropped the proposed bible readings. Whether this was deliberate, or the result of nerves at reading to an audience including the chair of a Humanist group and a Humanist celebrant, I’m not sure. In the end it was a bright crisp winter’s day, with snow on the ground, and it was good to meet old friends and relations – but this doesn’t make up for the lack of choice she had about how and when she died.

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The struggle against religious privilege

Charles Bradlaugh 1833-91

Charles Bradlaugh 1833-91

Report of a meeting led by Dan Bye of the National Secular Society.

Dan Bye was a founder member of Sheffield’s Humanist Group in 1993. He has been active in the National Secular Society (NSS) for 25 years, being the longest serving member on its Council of Management.

Dan gave us some background to the founding, in 1866, by Charles Bradlaugh of the NSS. Various Socialist movements were collapsing in mid-Victorian times. One point at issue was the fact that atheists like Bradlaugh could not pursue any action in Court as they would not be able to take the Oath. Robert Owen’s group proposed a nonconformist Oath, but George Holyoake refused the idea of any Oath, and split from Owen. Holyoake coined the term ‘Secularism’ in 1851, as an ethical movement to unite all people for Social Reform.

Bradlaugh however felt that the group should be campaigning against the privilege of Church and Religion, and split to form the National Secular Society. He was very litigious, battling for 12 years to get elected as an atheist MP, a further 6 years before he was able to take his seat. Eventually, in 1888, a change in the law allowed Universal Affirmation.

The NSS is seen as a more militant organisation than the British Humanist Association. NSS has been instrumental in work towards abolishing the Blasphemy law (2008), and it has been successful in lobbying for the imminent removal of the weak ‘insulting’ term from s5 of the Public Order Act.

Dan explained that ‘secular’ in meaning is the opposite of ‘sacred’, ie not connected with religion. More recently, NSS is concentrating on a narrower definition of its work within secularism, that is on progress towards the separation of Church and State.

NSS takes a ‘strong’ principled line on such matters as religious schools (against), and against any exceptions for minority religious activities such as council money for transport to schools for some, Chaplains in hospitals, ritual slaughter of animals, prayers in Council meetings.

Early on, Dan showed a graph which confirmed that ‘religious affiliation’ has reduced with each generation – a process called secularisation.

An excellent talk and lively discussion.

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‘The tangled web’ – An account of the interwoven lives of Shelley, Byron, William Godwin, Mary Shelley et al.

Report on the meeting led by Gareth Owen.

Gareth was introduced as a poet and a former presenter of ‘Poetry Please’ on Radio 4. There was a good turn-out for the meeting and many new faces were seen. The talk he gave was fascinating and delivered in an engaging manner. The ‘web’ he described was, indeed, ‘tangled’ and the writer of this piece will not attempt to unravel it as she will fail to do it justice. Some interesting ‘markers’ in the talk are, however, highlighted below:

Gareth began by stating that Shelley was an atheist, vegetarian, for ‘free love’, and a republican. At the age of 18 he was sent down from Oxford for writing a pamphlet on ‘The Necessity of Atheism’. Gareth read out an extract from the pamphlet, and I was struck by how succinctly and eloquently Shelley put the arguments for atheism, writing in 1811.

‘If he [God] is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him? If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future? If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers? If he is everywhere, why erect temples to him? If he is just, why fear that he will punish the creatures that he has, filled with weaknesses? If grace does everything for them, what reason would he have for recompensing them? If he is all-powerful, how offend him, how resist him? If he is reasonable, how can he be angry at the blind, to whom he has given the liberty of being unreasonable? If he is immovable, by what right do we pretend to make him change his decrees? If he is inconceivable, why occupy ourselves with him? IF HE HAS SPOKEN, WHY IS THE UNIVERSE NOT CONVINCED? If the knowledge of a God is the most necessary, why is it not the most evident and the clearest.’

Shelley wrote ‘one of the first pacifist statements’, entitled ‘The Mask of Anarchy’. Apparently, Shelley also influenced Marx.
Gareth gave us a brief summary of the connections between William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary and Percy Shelley and Byron. Their lives may seem dissolute, by modern day standards, and full of drama -a ménage of adults and children who travelled extensively, two deaths by drowning, intrigues and affairs (Did Byron and Shelley prey on women?), and the death of both children. Byron lived the longest, dying at the age of 36.

Despite what may be thought or suspected of Shelley and the others, they have left a rich literary legacy.

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Should we fund ‘faith’ schools?

Report on the talk by Richy Thompson, BHA Campaigns Officer.

Richy’s talk covered the history of ‘faith’ schools in England to the present day and the rise of Academies and Free Schools. He gave out an overview of different types of ‘faith’ schools, stating that 34% of state schools in England and 14% in Wales have a religious character. Key points of interest were:

  • The number of ‘faith’ schools is increasing and the Church of England may be planning a large expansion of its schools
  • The running costs of Voluntary aided schools are funded by the Local Authority as well as 90% of building costs. The religious group only have to pay the remaining 10%.
  • All schools have to hold a daily act of collective worship, either in line with the faith of the school, or, if the school is not a ‘faith’ school, of a broadly Christian character, (though the majority of ‘non-faith’ schools do not implement the law – 80% according to OFSTED – and it is not enforced). Many schools do, however, hold ‘assemblies.’ Richy receives many complaints from parents concerned about the effects on their children, including evangelising and the telling of stories which give them nightmares.
  • Academies and Free Schools, many of which are controlled by religious groups, are state-funded. Richy stated that ‘evangelical’ and ‘pseudoscientific’ groups had been approved. These schools do not need to teach the wider national curriculum or hire qualified teachers.

Richy identified ‘six myths’ which are used to defend ‘faith’ schools and he put forward arguments as to why they are untrue. He concluded by reiterating that ‘faith’ schools can be divisive and that all children should be educated together.

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