Thoughts

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God

By Delia Ives

Perhaps we should let believers of all denominations have their God but with the following rider:-

It is a god that has never had any interest whatsoever in the human race and never will have; will never make his existence known and whose existence we shall never prove or disprove.

So its probably not worth worrying about it.



Tip of the day: Visit Delia's blog at http://quedula.blogspot.com/

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Humanism 101

By Stuart Worthington

Humanism - much harder to define than say Islam or theism or deism, and many people who describe themselves as humanists are using fundamentally different definitions. Not the same as humanitarianism, but can also be used to mean the study of humanities. Not the same as atheism or agnosticism or secularism. Most humanists would probably class themselves as atheist or agnostic or possibly pantheist, but there are also people who would self-identify as Christian humanists, humanistic Jews and humanistic Buddhists. Not all atheists or agnostics are Humanists, though some could be classed as Humanists without actually identifying as such. Most Humanists wouldn't proselytise, though many may be secular. Being anti-religious is neither sufficient nor required to be a Humanist, and while some Humanists are against some members or some actions or beliefs of some religions, most have many friends who are religious.

If you ask five Humanists to define Humanism, you'll probably get more than five answers. I like the current Wikipedia definition: "a broad category of ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity and worth of all people, based on the ability to determine right and wrong by appealing to universal human qualities, particularly rationality, without resorting to the supernatural or alleged divine authority from religious texts".

Is that it? Well yes. Anyone expecting hard and fast rules, and customs and laws dating back centuries or millennia will have to look elsewhere. There is nothing analogous to the Bible, Qu'ran, Torah, Vedas or Book of Mormon, and while there are humanist marriage celebrants, there are no equivalents for priests, bishops, rabbis, ayatollahs, or popes. Anyone that finds tradition and uniformity and ceremony comforting, or that likes to hold meetings steeped in time-honoured ritual, or that expects to be told what to believe is right and wrong will be disappointed. That doesn't mean that we're all amoral or immoral. On the contrary, most of us would consider ourselves to be as moral, possibly more so, than many people who belong to the mainstream religions. We do have to think a lot harder about what we believe to be right and wrong though. Most of us find that a good thing.



Tip for the day: The spanky-lesbian-pixie-wenches argument for the non-existence of god (WARNING: Straight talking!)

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Why I love my mother

By Michael Kinney

Why do I love my mother?

I love my mother, because she taught me that my value to society, my friends, and my family is measured by what I do, not what I believe.

I love my mother, because she taught me that I am accountable for the good and wrong that I do. No one else died for the forgiveness of my sins – I am responsible.

I love my mother, because she taught me to make this life as good as it can be for all those around me. This life is the only life we have.

I love my mother, because I know she will always love me no matter what. She would never wish me to suffer in hell for eternity if I did not believe in something.

I love my mother, because she told me I was born with the capacity to do good. I was not born a sinner.

I love my mother, because she told me the importance of knowledge, education and reason.

And why do I love? Love has evolved, because with love we have survived.



Tip for the day: Jonathan Bartley has an insight into the politics of the BBC's Thought for the Day.

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The Matrix can be good for you!

By Andy Crowe

With complaining a national pastime, we often hear that ‘children watch too much television’ with the assumption that it will lead them to a life of laziness and immorality. Frank Arnold recently picked up on this in his STFTD entitled ‘The Matrix’. I think it is time to see television – literally - in a better light and recognise that it can often be the basis of a morality that is as good as anything we can hear on a Sunday morning or Friday afternoon.

People like me grew up on a diet of Thunderbirds, where the innocent were saved by a bunch of youths, who clearly had better things to do than rob old ladies. Then came Star Trek, where the rights of all creatures, not simply human rights, were respected and protected. Star Trek is famous for the first inter-racial kiss shown on television. How shocking and revolutionary that was, at a time when segregation still held sway in the southern states of America and had many years left to run in South Africa. A federation of planets shared a policy of non-interference in the lives of other planets, contrasting sharply with the real life events taking place in Indochina and Central America in the 1970s and 80s. At the same time we had the brilliant ‘Cosmos’ series in which Carl Sagan could barely conceal his awe and love of the universe that we inhabit.

The writers of these television series are the ‘prophets’ who have most influenced my life and it is worth noting that Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, and Carl Sagan were long-time atheists. Now these ‘prophets’ don’t have long beards or the perceived gravitas that being worshipped for 2000 years or more can generate, but their messages are clearer and less open to misinterpretation and abuse. Perhaps we should start talking about Thunderbirds values rather than Christian values.

Of course television is not all good and too much of anything can be bad for you. It saddens me to see the BBC pandering to the selfishness and prejudices of people like Jeremy Clarkson. I struggle to understand why the most respected broadcaster in the world seems to be bent on self destruction with ‘reality’ programmes which promote bullying.

But at its best television can be inspirational, accessible and remain entertaining. Perhaps the best job that parents can do is to direct their children to those programmes that both entertain and embed positive values of tolerance and a respect for the universe that we live in.



Tip for the day: There's a new opinion poll to vote on. If Radio 4's Thought for the Day was a reality show, who would you vote off? Vote here.

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Unsung Heroes

By Pete Davis

Modern society has a habit of patting itself on the back. There's the BRIT awards, the Oscars, and a whole menagerie of others awards across the world all focused on self-congratulation. The thing with these industries is do they really need it? No doubt doing well at the awards will impact record/film sales, but these actors and artists already receive tremendous amounts of attention for their achievements already.

Having said this, there is at least one well known set of awards which does make efforts to recognise those who are under the radar; the Queen's New Year's Honours list. The honours recognise passion and devotion in a wide range of real-life occupations – firemen, doctors, carers, electricians, you name it. Were they really expecting the acknowledgement? No, and to many of them the sentiment of having been put forward for the honour is worth more than the order itself.

Sincere thanks is a powerful thing, best received by those who are least expecting it.



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Making a monkey out of someone

By Marc Draco

In my upcoming book (it’s been upcoming for years because I also have to eat) I made reference to a “think-tank” in America called the Discovery Institute and quipped that the only thing it has actually discovered is how to make monkeys from apes: a reference both to the old saying “Making a monkey out of someone”.

Humans are apes related to gorillas and chimps more than we are to gibbons or macaques; yet in common American parlance apes are also alluded to as monkeys: perhaps a trip of language - (you say potato, I say solanum tuberosum). Many Americans - and an increasing number of often influential westerners can’t seem to grasp this simple fact.

Evolution doesn’t have a plan any more than it has a purpose. It just is and for some people that’s just not acceptable because it doesn’t fit within their ordered worlds where things have to happen by cause, effect and design. By anthropomorphising nature, they infer an influence were there simply isn’t one. Former British Prime Minster, Tony Blair and Sir Peter Vardy of the Emmanuel Schools Foundation are two such men of enormous power and wealth.

This becomes a problem when such people start to leverage their ideas into vulnerable minds and thanks to Blair and his associates in Middlesbrough, Vardy has managed to buy up several schools in Northern England: and today he is after another.

Vardy and Middlesbrough Council have already made monkeys out of the people of Coulby Newham but with your help, they might be prevented from doing so again.

The full consultation is here and I would urge free thinking people to write and inform Middlesbrough of the true nature of the Emmanuel Schools Foundation and its links with neo-conservative America.



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My Word

By Tim Maguire

I was moved this evening to think about what it means to give your word. A few weeks ago, full of enthusiasm from launching this year's Humanist Society of Scotland Thought For the World campaign, that ran for two weeks on The Guardian's Comment is Free web site, I thought that the least I could do was support George's plea for thirty people to write their own secular thoughts for the day. So I signed the pledge and felt pretty pleased with myself.

But time passed, other things claimed my attention and my initial enthusiasm was replaced by familiar doubts. Who was I to offer anyone a thought when my own are so mundane, dull and uninspiring? What telling insight could I offer on the moral question of the moment, what profound comment could I make on the credit crunch, free speech, death with dignity or any of the other issues that preoccupy far greater minds than mine?

And then I got the email that reminded me that I had made a pledge. So I had a moral choice. Would I or wouldn't I honour my word?

I'm a humanist celebrant and I'm lucky that in Scotland, humanist weddings are legal and I am privileged to be able to work with couples who want to make their own promises to one another in their own words in front of the people who matter most of all in their lives, their families and friends.
The promises we freely make in marriage are what give our lives meaning.
When we don't keep them our lives, and our futures as we imagined them, fall apart.

My own marriage is ending because I wasn't able to honour my word to my wife, that we would have children. I broke that promise and I'm now enduring the consequences - profound regret and sadness, the shame of failure and the reluctant acceptance that my word doesn't mean what I hoped and believed.

In writing this, I have kept my word to George. I wish I'd kept it to my wife.



Tip for the day: Tim Maguire is a member of the Humanist Society of Scotland which ran the recent Thought for the World series of secular thoughts that was also featured in the Guardian.

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Don't act natural

By Adrian Rogerson

Some of us may feel ashamed or baffled by how our species can behave. What are we thinking? Now there are so many of us, we need to understand. What is human nature? Can we save our world from ourselves? Can we make things better?

It is easy to see how the ability to predict the future would be advantageous to survival. Behaviour now in order to gain advantage in the future does not require a complex mind. Bacteria can move toward or away from a light source. Given time, sophisticated responses to real events can evolve into minds, which can react to unreal or imagined events.

Guessing the future based on the past is a good start. The mind can rehearse possible futures. Then, it can include the effect of other minds on the outcome, realizes its own working affects the outcome and so on until self –awareness and recursive thinking lead to a mind powerful enough to conjure thoughts.

But what is this mind used for? To look after itself and to outsmart the competition. Cheating is an intelligent way of dealing with competitors. You can’t always change the facts but you can change minds. Evolution provided us with the tools to cheat and to detect cheating. And to lie so well that we believe it ourselves. Which is why the rich get richer, why you can’t break your habits and why we lie to ourselves and each other.

Our human nature is not interested in saving the world; it is the rational mind, which evolved as a useful tool of our selves which is the only way to achieve a sustainable future. This may require behaving against our instincts , our natures and concentrating on the real effects in the real world.

If doing the best thing was easy and natural, we wouldn’t be doing TFTD. Whatever you do, don’t act natural!



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Things are the way they are because they were the way they were

"Things are the way they are because they were the way they were."

Sir Fred Hoyle

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Language and the custom of children

By Richard Crowther

A few weeks ago (on BBC Radio 4's PM, I believe) I heard an advocate for the corporate-style management of schools refer to school children as 'customers'. The use of this word was heartily defended after it was called into question by the interviewer. We were told it was a valid term, transferable from the corporate world into other contexts, including education; parents and their children seek a service, schools provide that service.

Talk of 'business models' abounds these days and we have in the last couple of decades experienced the gradual permeation of our public services by the private sector. As a result we have all been saturated with corporate language and influenced by corporate thinking. We're all aware of the jargon and we often cynically deride its usage during meetings or in memos. But it is relentless and potentially dangerous, because it is through our language that we understand the world and decide how to act in it.

The language of the corporate world is not merely for communication, but for manipulation. I don't mean to imply some Machiavellian conspiracy, but merely to state the reason why large businesses pay staggering amounts to public relations consultants and why so many jobs now involve the reading of scripts. Carefully constructed language has long filled our ears and convinced us to become customers long enough to part with our pennies. Now we are being trained from the top down to adopt carefully constructed language in the workplace, whatever that workplace may be.

Providing a service to customers is about making a profit. Apply as many business models and consumer strategies as you wish to that. But education (to focus on just one example of our many public services) involves the social and psychological development of human beings. Our schools are not full of customers, they are full of children. They don't need customer service. They need to be cared about and they need to be inspired.



Tip for the day: Richard Crowther, Sheffield, UK - writes Afterthought for the Day, a sometimes reflective, usually facetious, always tardy response to Thought for the Day.

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