Posts Tagged 'humanism'

Humanist Symposium 47

Welcome to this almost solstice edition of the Humanist Symposium blog carnival! (Dec 21st is the Southern Solstice)

As this is the last symposium of this year, I thought I might take a brief look back. And what a year it has been! In January, the first buses took to the streets of London, UK, bearing the adverts that launched a worldwide movement. Atheist advertising campaigns sprang up all over the globe: the USA, Australia, Italy, Spain, Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland and New Zealand. In February, people across the world celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work On the Origin of Species which presented his arguments for the theory of evolution by natural selection. In May, the world was introduced to Darwinius masillae, a.k.a. Ida, amidst a whirlwind of publicity. This 47 million year old fossil is thought to be a transitional form between the prosimian and simian primates, although this is still being debated. Finally, a recent NASA mission has found significant amounts of water on the moon. This raises the likelihood that bases could be built on the moon, facilitating future exploration of the solar system.

If all this isn’t enough excitement for you, then we have a bumper edition of the Humanist Symposium to keep entertained and informed over the holiday season.

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A life based on reason and compassion

One of my favourite ways to define Humanism is to say that it’s the belief that we can live good lives based on reason and compassion. The British Humanist Association also refers to ‘shared human values’ which adds another dimension to the discussion. While that’s a nice succinct description of the philosophy I use to live my life, it begs the question of how one lives a life based on reason and compassion. We’d all like to think that we’re perfectly rational and reasonable individuals with a clear idea of where to draw the lines but how should I hone my reasoning skills and open my mind to the perspectives and experiences of others?

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A rational response to racism

Today I would like to make one thing clear: there is no such thing as race. Join in with me this time. There is no such thing as race. ‘Race’ as we commonly refer to it in our current language usage only describes superficial differences in skin colour and other superficial physical features and not even consistently at that. In this post, I’m going to discuss points raised in a talk given by the science writer Kenan Malik this year as part of the British Humanist Association’s Voltaire lecture series. Finally, I will discuss the responsibility that a rational humanist community has to reject and fight racism.

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What can humanists learn from religion?

A little over a year ago, I attended a talk by the humanist philosopher Julian Baggini. He was talking about religion: what it offered people and how Humanism measured up to that. I’m not sure I agreed with everything he said that evening but it was a topic that I found myself drawn to periodically because it says so much to me about what I want from Humanism. It is far too easy for sceptics to reduce religious belief to a set of metaphysical ideas and forget the individuals and communities behind the ideas. Beyond the personal belief in a deity or deities, belief leads to a lifestyle, identity and a community. These are very real needs and benefits. Humans cannot live on food, water and shelter alone, we need friends, family, love, art, music, games and meaning. This is a challenge that Humanism needs to embrace.

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What music do humanists listen to?

Contrary to the view often expressed in the media, humanists, atheists and agnostics are as fond of music and the arts as the next person. I’m not sure quite when or how we ended up being equated with Cromwellian puritan killjoys, but it is assuredly not so. Having an appreciation of rationalism and scientific method does not necessarily preclude an appreciation of art, music and culture. Inspiration is as plentiful and the awe is as great from the natural world and human imagination as it is from religious wonder. Maybe it’s because atheists and pagans are supposedly busy indulging in immoral sexual acts and drugs, that embracing the totality of the arts as well would be unacceptably greedy. Anyway, I digress.

If you’ve ever wondered what it is that Humanists listen to, I invite you to take a look at the Humanist group over at is a social networking and music appreciation website. Members are invited to download a software application which tracks the music they listen to and provides charts and information for an online profile. You can also listen to customised radio stations based around artists and users. Users can create groups which are based on appreciation of artists or varied interests. These groups display charts of what the group members play and members can make recommendations and write messages. There’s even an option to look at the demographics. So far it seems the most popular artist for the Humanist group is the Beatles and the average age is 25. If you want to take a look at the group and listen to the Humanist radio station (open to non-members!) then take a look here.