Science Can Be Your Thing Too

Science Can Be Your Thing Too

For all the talk about reason and science, Humanism is really about a passionate love affair. It is a love affair with life, not a mythical hereafter. Humanism is a love affair with a progressive vision of civilization in which each of us can add to our growing library of wisdom, our evolving knowledge of what there is and what is truly important. None of the great achievements in history would have been possible without a love of the adventure of learning and the adventure of creating a better life. Our great cultural achievements in science, art, music, literature, philosophy, history, psychology, and political thought all inform each other and have been born of that long Humanist tradition.

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Awe, Wonder, and Science

Awe, Wonder, and Science

These are difficult times. This has been a difficult week. 

For those of us keeping a wary eye on what is happening in the world’s most powerful nation, there has been more horror and a sense of constant anxiety. A resurgence of far right-wing movements, of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, fascists, and the KKK exploded into violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. The violence of the so-called alt-right was disgusting. Along with clubs and pepper spray and fists, again, a vehicle was used as a lethal weapon and a young woman died on the scene. Many other lives were severely impacted.

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Your Elephant and You

Your Elephant and You

On Tuesday the 10th of March, Shaun Nichols delivered the 2015 Wellcome & Loebel Lecture in Neuroethics. Nichols presented a range of intriguing empirical data on how our view of the self affects our attitudes. The common view about the self is that it is something that persists through our lives. The self is an essential part of us that remains the same from childhood to adulthood. However some views in philosophy and religion see the self as something much less permanent.

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Modern life - Evolution did not make us for THIS!

Modern life - Evolution did not make us for THIS!

Learning about evolution was - for me - one of those special moments in life where things just clicked. It was like that moment when riding a bike or driving a car becomes natural rather than a shaky set of directions to remember. It was like having the code to understand what had previously seemed mysterious. Suddenly, it all makes sense.

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I don't believe in God, but science is not enough

I don't believe in God, but science is not enough

I have been immersed in science and a scientific outlook for most of my life. That is a part of who I am and how I understand the world. For a long time, I did have the sense that science was enough. It seems amazingly naive to me now - how I could have dismissed the things I now hold so dear - community, compassion, justice, universal love...

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Beyond Fear and Courage

Beyond Fear and Courage

We recognise that all of us have fear in our lives. We are afraid of small things and large. Some of our fears seem irrational to others and some are more universal. Some are sensible and keep us alive. Others are dangerous in themselves.We know that fear can hold us back from being the people we want to be, from doing the things we want to do, and from making the difference in the world that we want to make.

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Fear, Courage and Fathers

Fear, Courage and Fathers

On this day set aside for celebrating fathers, I hope that we can point to and be glad of everything that is or was good and helpful about our own fathers. I hope that we can also know that their failings as fathers were not a reflection on who we are, but on who they became through the influences that surround their own young lives.

And, whoever we are, with the influences we have upon one another and especially on young people, I hope that father’s day can help us remember that human being thrive on love and acceptance. I hope that we can grow to give these in ever-greater amounts to one another, to our parents, and to the young people who will create a more loving future.

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Fear and courage: Choosing Courage

Fear and courage: Choosing Courage

I am twenty-four years old, and for half of my life I have been battling against the horrible demons that are depression and anxiety. If you do the maths you will realise that that means my battle started when I was only twelve. It may even have started earlier than that. I can't say for sure. During my relatively short life I have been in and out of depressive episodes more times than I can count.

But here’s the thing: I’m still here. At twice the age I was when it all started, I’m still here...despite the countless times I thought I wouldn’t make it, I’m still here.

And it’s no magic. It’s no miracle. It’s a choice.

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Fear and courage: Ramadan, Islam, and the inner struggle

Fear and courage: Ramadan, Islam, and the inner struggle

When we see the stranger and look on his ways with fear
When our suspicion grows and hatred comes close to hand
Let us know that these others are not the enemy
The enemy is much closer, much more insidious
Much harder to eradicate
Its name is fear
And knowing this can be its undoing
Let us journey toward understanding
Toward compassion
Toward justice
Toward love
 

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Fear and courage: The greatest power is fear

Fear and courage: The greatest power is fear

"For if we think of this existence of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it appears evident that most people learn to know only a corner of their room, a place by the window, a strip of floor on which they walk up and down...we, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us..." 

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Fear and courage: Courage in the face of power

Fear and courage: Courage in the face of power

And yet - importantly - effective action does not require tremendous courage. It does not require risking life and limb. The vast majority of people who have made change happen walked away from confrontations unscathed. Most student protesters were not killed or wounded. Most civil rights movement activists were unharmed. 

We do not need to be at the front lines facing the guns and the attack dogs. There is a need to fill the ranks that fall in behind. And this is how community is so essential in the struggle for justice. We all play our parts, whatever we have to lose and whichever of ourselves choose to emerge

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Fear and courage: Half Remembered Fears

Fear and courage: Half Remembered Fears

The problem with fears that come from events in your childhood is that, often, we feel the need to limit the impact that those events have on who we’ve become as adults. These events then are simple things: they have a beginning, a middle and an end. They become a story we tell ourselves, and perhaps others, at the end of which we say, ‘But I’m fine now, it’s all in the past.’

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Fear and courage: Who will catch me when I fall?

Fear and courage: Who will catch me when I fall?

If you climb this way, with a partner who is your belay, there’s something a bit funny – in fact, a bit alarming - that I’ve been taught to do at the beginning of a session. When you have climbed up high enough that your feet are above your belay’s head – around two metres - you are supposed to fling yourself from the wall, without warning the belay.

Why would you do that? 

You fling yourself from the wall to prove to you both, the climber and their partner, that they will hold you. And the beautiful symmetry of the partnership means that as soon as you are back on solid ground and have wiped the sweat off your hands onto your trousers, you swap over and belay your partner as they make their way up the route they have chosen...

 

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Fear and courage: Easter Sunday

Fear and courage: Easter Sunday

These are the many miracles of our lives. They are not miracles in the sense that some supernatural power carries them out for us. We accomplish miracles together for one another. Whether or not we believe that ‘he is risen’, we must know and believe that ‘we are risen.’ We have fallen and risen time and time again. We must know that we will fall again and - through our own power and the power of relationship - we will rise.

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Fear + Conviction = Courage

Fear + Conviction = Courage

I used to think that fear and courage were polar opposites. You’re either fearful or you’re brave. In fact, one of the attributes of courage is feeling fear and yet choosing to act. And learning that made me think of all the people who i consider brave and wondered what made them choose to act despite their fears.

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Act Now or Swim Later: Seeing climate & being the change

Act Now or Swim Later: Seeing climate & being the change

What I’m interested in, what I’m writing about, researching, talking about, even dreaming about sometimes, is what we’re going to do right now. Not tomorrow, not in ten years time, not what our children are going to do, but what we’re going to do, right now.

The American feminist Donna Harraway calls this ‘staying with the trouble’ which basically means: it’s too easy to keep leaving the job to someone else to deal with, in fact that’s what got us in this mess in the first place. It’s too easy to think – well yes I know there are droughts in Sub-Saharan Africa and floods in Bangladesh, and earthquakes in Japan and a lot of people are dying over there and I feel really bad about it when the Oxfam adverts come on TV but I have a job to do from 8am to 7pm and a school-run to share, and a mortgage to pay, or a pension to earn, or a community centre to run, or bulbs to plant and I really haven’t got any more in me to do anything else! Even though all of that is true, and all of that is valid, and none of this is a guilt-trip, we don’t have the choice to opt out any more, because this is happening now...

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Values into action: Strange Bedfellows

Values into action: Strange Bedfellows

When we meet on that bridge between our differences, let us not look for what divides us. Let us look for our commonalities. Let us look for the places where our values align and the ways in which we can walk forward together toward the change we want to see. And let us know that the journey will change us for the better. 

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Values into action: Easy Virtue

Values into action: Easy Virtue

Easy Virtue …. sounds appealing doesn’t it? This idea that we can do good, and feel a frisson of virtue with very little effort is appealing. After all so many of us feel horrified by the harshness, injustice, fearsome political manoeuvring taking over our society, and at the same time we feel powerless to change it all. We may find a cause or two and dedicate what time, effort and money we can manage, but for many of us that is very limited and there seem to be so many worthwhile causes.

Which is where the idea of Easy Virtue comes in. It is a very simple concept where, rather than requiring the resources you cannot give, you organise your life so that the many things we all do, routinely, are chosen because as well as being what we want and need, they do good...

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Values into action: The Three 'R's of Action

Values into action: The Three 'R's of Action

Given the mania of the past two weeks, today seems like a reasonable time to pause - to hope that there are no new Trump tantrums this hour - and to try to get our footing again.

Many of us have taken action in various ways already. We have protested. We have donated money to organisations we hope can make a difference. We have spoken out on social media and maybe elsewhere. We have pressed our elected representatives to take action. We have worked at helping refugees.  We have tried to exercise kindness and compassion. There are probably more ways that some of you have already taken action. We all realise that this is just a start to work that will need to go on for a very long time.

And many of us have expressed that we really don’t know what to do. I’ve heard discussions about whether or not protests are helpful - and whether they might, in fact, play into the hands of our opponents.

It’s a complex web of possibilities in the early stages of a crisis that is, in itself, complex and shrouded by uncertainty and dishonesty.

I want to offer a simple way to think about how we respond, which I’ll call the three ‘R’s of action: Resist, Relieve, and Reconcile. I will maintain that all three are necessary, that we probably can’t do all at once, but that we must keep all three in our hearts all the time...

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Values into action: What Matters?

Values into action: What Matters?

We may value justice but find that action there can conflict with the value we place on our safety. We may value charity but need to weigh that value against our valuing of a comfortable home to live in, leisure activities, and other uses of money that make our lives more liveable.

So, we may hold many different values, those values vary in importance, and our values can - and regularly do - come into conflict with one another.

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