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The Perfect Marriage?

The parliamentary debate over a future King or Queen being a catholic is an interesting marriage of one archaic institution with another. It may modernise the monarchy but only in the sense of bringing it into the early twentieth century, and only by being more inclusive towards the members of a church whose dogma remains footed in medieval times. Of course it still leaves other religions , atheists, agnostics and humanists out in the cold – that might take another hundred years.

The move to allow women equal access to succession is another positive move and, quite frankly when our current monarch has shown that women can do the job as well as, if not better than, most men it would be bizarre of Parliament to stand in the way of this. Even staunch republicans recognise that HRH has done most to maintain public support for the institution, even though she heads up a family that is so dysfunctional that, were it born into a different class, the social workers would be calling.

But how will one partner, committed to equality and diversity, get one with another for whom women, gays, lesbians, atheists and assorted others remain second class or non-citizens? Though most churchfolk now recognise that all that stuff in the bible about slavery and the murder of children is a bit embarassing, we are going to have to wait a lot, lot longer for a female priest, bishop and pope-ess.

Tip for the day: Don't forget the other G20.

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We humans tend to agree on what tastes sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Nobody suggests that our taste is religiously inspired.

Although famously we have no way to confirm it, we seem to have a more or less common frame of reference for perceiving (or at least talking about) colour. I haven't yet known anyone to say we get our sense of colour directly from the bible or from any other holy book.

We each see, hear, smell, touch and taste the universe in a sufficiently similar way to have an almost infallible common frame of reference. Does anyone suggest that we get this from the bible?

We more or less agree when it is hot or cold, when we are amused or creeped out, even in what angers or sates us. There is never the slightest suggestion that these more-or-less common responses are based on the bible or on any other holy book.

And yet the religious delight in telling us that our equally common sense of morality is biblically inspired. Can anyone explain why this sense is singled out?

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Nothing to Hide?

By all reports, Jacqui Smith has been feeling pretty devastated over the last few days. All the while, she has maintained that she has done nothing wrong, except for inadvertently claiming for movies her husband watched on her expenses. This has been made particularly painful for her as it transpires that two of the movies were “adult” in nature. There is nothing illegal about this and surely if she and her husband have done nothing wrong or illegal, they have nothing to fear from disclosure.

The revelation, however, does seem to have caused her intense pain. The cause of this pain is the affront to her dignity. It is to be hoped that she reflects on the pain that this unwelcome intrusion into her personal life has caused and retreats from her position of undermining the dignity of the rest of the citizens of this country by the unwarranted intrusions she proposes to make into their lives.

The government’s stance is the constant mantra, “If you’ve done nothing wrong then you’ve nothing to fear” might not be ringing quite so true in Jacqui Smith’s household just now.

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Trade Mark Infringement

From: Sue Miles []
Sent: 1 April 2009 07:47
To: ******
Subject: Trade Mark Infringement - Thought for the Day

Dear Mr James
RE: Secular Thought for the Day Website

I am the brand protection manager at BBC Worldwide, the Commercial arm of the BBC. The BBC Corporation is the exclusive owner of various intellectual property rights. These rights include copyright and trade mark rights in the phrase "Thought for the Day" amongst others.

BBC Worldwide licenses these rights internationally and co-ordinates litigation against infringers.

It has been brought to my attention that you are running a website at which relies on our trade marked name "Thought for the Day". This site infringes our intellectual property rights.

You have stated in previous correspondence that by using the name "Secular Thought for the Day" you have managed to avoid infringing our intellectual property rights. This is incorrect. Trade mark law is infringed if first, you have incorporated the phrase "Thought for the Day" (which you admit you have) and secondly the resulting name is considered close enough to the original trade mark name. In my view there is no doubt that you have infringed the BBC's trade mark.

Moreover, there is also the question of international trade mark rights. These trade marks will be infringed in various countries if the mark “Secular Thought for the Day” is considered to be close enough to be confusingly similar. In my view there is no doubt that the court would find these confusingly similar given the very close similarity between our trade mark name and yours. I also think that the nature of your site means it is highly unlikely that a court would have much sympathy for your argument.

Furthermore, we consider it wholly inappropriate that a website of this nature should be on the internet. Although you claim that your site is secular, the majority of our listeners, who have a faith perspective and regularly engage with the comments and ideas expressed by our programme, may encounter your site while searching for the genuine Thought for the Day website and be denied their uninterruped interlude of spiritual reflection.

Given that you are infringing our rights in the manner set out above, we now require you within the next seven days

  1. To remove from your website:
    • any reference to the phrase "Thought for the Day" and any similar phrases thereto;
    • any references to the phrase "Secular Thought for the Day", or any name similar thereto including but not limited to "Secular Thought for the Day";
    • any reference to any contributor to the programme "Thought for the Day" including but not limited to Anne Atkins, Lionel Blue, Rhidian Brook, Tom Butler, Akhandadhi Das, Richard Harries, Rob Marshall, Indarjit Singh, Angela Tilby or any names similar thereto;
    • any reference directly or indirectly to the controller of Radio 4 Mr Mark Damazer.
  2. To provide us with written undertakings concerning any future use of the materials referred to above at 1.

Should you fail to comply with these requirements, I will be recommending that we consider taking legal action against you for your infringement of our intellectual property rights.

If you are in any doubt as to the contents of this letter I suggest that you take professional legal advice.

Yours sincerely

Sue Miles
Brand Protection
BBC Worldwide

Tip for the day: Get a lawyer ;)

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Coming Out

I started to question the existence of a god in my 20's. It began as a nagging and uncomfortable doubt in my mind which I frequently articulated only when fortified with wine at dinner parties, much to the dismay of my wife. However the thoughts were persistent and at times intrusive. Invitations to be a Godfather were however accepted and the ceremonies duly performed at churches in which I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable.

It was only in my 40's, after 3 children and their christenings, that a work colleague lent me "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins. Like many others no doubt, the book put intellectual rigour into the vague and muddled discomfort over religion that I possessed, and allowed me to articulate that which I had already become: an atheist.

However this process for me has been hard. I feel angry with myself for lacking the emotional intelligence to challenge my own earlier doubts over religion more strongly. With devout C of E parents and Catholic in-laws I have not felt able to "come out" and cause them upset by challenging their life-long held beliefs, especially at a time when, with age and infirmity, it could be possible that they derive comfort from these beliefs all the more. My own children are at a "faith" school currently as it is the only state school option in our town, and it is hard to know how to explain to them that the religion they are fed as "truth" at school is not as true as the other subjects they learn from the same teacher. I am finding it difficult to articulate my strongly held and well rehearsed atheist viewpoints outside the immediate family unit.

I suspect however, that this is a journey, and not one unique to me. Since my "Dawkins moment" 3 years ago, I am feeling much more at peace with myself and the place I have in the world. Each day has been made more special by a comprehension of the incredible luck and chance I have had to be a part of this planet, here and now. I have noticed public attitudes towards religion becoming increasingly sceptical, and that people with no faith are standing up in the public eye to be counted. And whilst I have not gone out of my way to tell anyone of my atheism, I am quietly looking forward to the occasion when I am asked to respond to a direct question about my standpoint on the subject of religion. I suspect there is an life-affirming satisfaction to coming out which becomes easier as time goes on.

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Morality without a compass

By Latsot

We’re often told that atheists have no reason to be good. We have no god-given absolute standard of morality and no fear of eternal punishment, so no reason to act morally. Others have dealt with the absurdity of this position: atheists seem to be as moral as anyone else; no particular brand of believer is a clear winner in the naughty-or-nice stakes; and prisons are lousy with the faithful.

I’m not very interested in these old arguments. My concern here is with the word ‘reason’. When people do good, I’m not sure they think of the reason for it. In religious terms, I doubt they decide to do something good in the hope of reward from god. In secular terms, I doubt they weigh the costs and benefits. We all just do what we feel is right.

We might all rationalise our acts after the fact in terms like this, but I doubt they are our motivations at the time.

I suspect we tend to act morally because we evolved that way. Indeed, what we call moral behaviour tends to be more or less universally agreed, regardless of creed or lack thereof.

The religious often claim that without the threat of divine punishment they’d commit terrible acts. I don’t believe that. Very few people would stop being essentially decent if their belief in god were to evaporate. I think they’d just need to find a new way to rationalise or explain why they do good things without what they previously considered a ‘reason’.

Preferably, they’d lose the idea that there needs to be a reason at all and just carry on trying to be nice to people.

Tip for the day: Some days there might not be a tip for the day.

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Return to Belief

By Adrian Rogerson

There is plenty of advertising on certain well-known morning news and current affairs broadcast by one of Britain’s Biggest Corporations. I’m sure you have noticed because you are likely to be bright (if not a Bright) if you are reading this.

Of course, good old TFTD is itself advertising the benefits of belief and faith and stuff. So , I feel it is time to refresh us tired, gloomy, and amoral atheists or whatever we call ourselves with a new, improved (can’t be both!) lifestyle.

Jealous of those cheerful types who are here for a Reason?
Grumpy because you only have one life?
Confused because no super-being is around to advise?
Lonely without the comfort of a creator?

My life was like yours until I discovered the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (May you be touched by his noodly appendage). I realize many of you will have heard of it or may be lapsed but in the tradition of TFTD, I don’t need to offer anything you haven’t already come across.

With a belief, you will have better health, you will have more friends, you can go on missions and have the consolation of knowing there is a point to it all.

As a bonus, you can make up your own morality and proudly voice your selfish demands. The iconography is cool and there is plenty of room for reinterpretation and stickers and stuff. But Above All, the Flying Spaghetti Monster (May you be touched by his noodly appendage) loves you.

Please, for the sake of your ‘sole and, more importantly, mine, please stop being concerned with reality and start believing. You can be better than others simply by believing it. You would be mad not to want to spend eternity with a friendly monster, the sauce of all.

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Is intellectual honesty the same as morality?

By Rob Smith

I spend more time than I should arguing with creationists. I can't help it: I'm offended by intellectual dishonesty and to be a creationist is to both ignore swathes of scientific evidence and yet to elevate pure speculation to the status of absolute proof. Creationists have no monopoly on intellectual dishonesty, of course and I don't mean to demonise them. However, the interesting part is that I suspect they tend to place more value on honesty than does the population in general.

I don't mean by this that they are more honest than the rest of us. I mean that creationists probably think about honesty more and hold it up as more of an ideal. I'm sure they don't think of their beliefs as intellectually dishonest, but when creationists are presented with evidence and proper argument, dishonest is what they become.

This leads me to the question of whether intellectual dishonesty is akin to immorality. It gives us an excuse to pick and choose what we want to be true and invent myths to back up any particular choice. We can't do that if we're intellectually honest. We have to go with the evidence.

Is intellectual honesty any different from the absolute standard of morality claimed by religions? Yes, because it is built on evidence and subject to peer review, rather than being defined in advance.

Does this distinction mean anything much in practice?

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Society is all of us

By Clare Topic

A very great man named Arthur Ashe was a very successful tennis player, mostly remembered for winning Wimbledon. Terminally ill with HIV Aids, contracted from a contaminated blood transfusion, he gave an interview to the BBC at the end of which he was asked if he cursed the fates for his illness. I cannot quote him exactly but essentially this is what he said: ”If I were to curse the fates for this illness then what right would I have to claim my achievements as my own and not handed to me from some higher power? “I thought that was an astonishing piece of wisdom and grace and that is why Arthur Ashe is on my list of greatest human beings.

I try to implement that philosophy in my own life but also I believe that society should do the same. As a society Britain likes to take great credit for their heroes, such as Oscar winning actors, olympic champions, nobel prize winners, etc. An Oscar for Kate Winslett was recently heralded as a great night for Britain. While nobody would ever claim that Kate’s success comes from anything other than her own hard work and inborn talent, Britain likes to attribute the environment and culture she grew up in as being a part of the reason for her success and believes that her success reflects well on Britain. If Britain wishes to herald their success stories as a product of British society, then they also have to take responsibility for those less successful Brits.

Just as some in Austria are questioning their society and its role in the Josef Frtizl crimes, should not Britain reflect on the violence that is also a product of their society and they should perhaps from time to time re-examine their culture and way of life to see what, if anything is lacking. It is not just the outrages committed by the likes of Harold Shipmen or Peter Suttcliffe that should make us re-examine ourselves, but every time a violent act occurs, be it a drunken brawl, domestic violence or a mugging in the street. It is all very well to call for these criminals to be put away and locked up, but we also have to examine ourselves as a society because, although everyone is responsible for their own actions and nobody else, we are all responsible for the environment which set these people on the path to violence. We have also to acknowledge that we owe these people a duty of care to attempt to rehabilitate them, even if it costs money. We cannot wash our hands of them because they are bad people. This is very difficult; it is everyone’s instinct to shy away from the violent, the unsuccessful and the antisocial. If we do not claim them as our own, however, we cannot in honesty claim the successes which we so love to celebrate. There is a word for this. It is called Citizenship.

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Living Up To Human Nature

By Chris Brockman

Many years ago, while I was earning a degree in Philosophy, I developed an ethical principle that I still believe strongly today: It is reasonable to be good, and it is good to be reasonable.

This principle derives from Aristotle’s definition of humans as rational beings. To be good, we must live up to our nature as rational beings. This works out very well in practice because the grand societal ideals—things such as freedom, cooperation, tolerance, consideration—are entirely reasonable.

What would happen if we applied Aristotle’s idea to ethics and morality? What would happen if the highest moral virtue was to be rational, that is, to live up to human nature. It would set up a whole different set of expectations than now, when irrational behavior is explained away as “human nature.” Our children would grow up to a world that found war to be completely unreasonable, and therefore evil. If reason were the standard of goodness, disputes over righteousness would take place in journals and in debates, not with bombs and on battlefields.

Even if it were recognized that every normal human being is by nature designed to be reasonable, there doubtless would still be disagreement over what is reasonable. Reality, however, would soon establish general guidelines. Individuals would also get better at solving interpersonal disputes through practice at being reasonable. Common sense would be actually common.

I believe this scenario is reasonable. Because we are rational beings by nature, reason is inexorable. The pace of realizing our human nature as rational beings is accelerating, I believe, on the scale of history, we are very near to realizing that it is reasonable to be good and it is good to be reasonable.

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