Tag Archives: secularist

We Need Richard Dawkins And You


Despite having written “The God Delusion” which inspired me and others to be involved in the secular movement an argument goes that Richard Dawkins has had his day, a bit like a star footballer approaching retirement. His style of play is seen as ineffective and embarrassing as we are urged to move to civil engagement and reconciliation with believers. Turning keyboards into ploughshares will apparently herald a new age of reasonable reason.

Dawkins for me is the star defender of the team – he tackles hard. You do not want angels playing in that position; there will be times when the other side will shout for a booking let alone a sending off. But the game would be lost without that talent and determination regularly being employed on the pitch.

Watching Dawkins debate Deepak Chopra reminded me why I traveled thousands of miles to support the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Dawkins’ passion for not just calling out pseudo science but explaining what the science actually is, expressing real poetry in how things are without needing to imagine what we cannot know. Quite simply it is enthralling to hear complex subjects so beautifully explained by Dawkins.

I remember listening to a radio interview when a recovering drug addict phoned to say his new found Christian faith helped him and who was Dawkins to knock that? Richard replied that he had no desire to do so and wished him well. So much for the uncaring atheist bashing professor “The Guardian” article tried to paint to besmirch him recently.

Twitter does not do full justice to Dawkins, but his intellectual capacity to aid public understanding of science together with the resources he makes available to secular and atheist organisations makes a huge difference. Accusations of aloofness at someone who engages with the public on a social media platform, is the least of his worries in the hullabaloo.

For me this goes further than a culture war, or enjoying the argument on social media. People are suffering and dying because of attitudes which are defended as religious – or claimed simultaneously to be cultural yet still to be respected. For Dawkins this is no intellectual exercise but a moral imperative to speak out. How someone feels about a t-shirt really is not in the same league.

Though that did not stop Yvonne Ridley suggesting to me I must find the Jesus and Mo t-shirt as funny as the anti-semitic quenelle salute – because she said there is the empathy with how she feels about an image of the prophet. Religious cartoon satire worn at a student fair is the same as an inverse nazi salute on the railway tracks that led to a concentration camp where thousands were killed.


A t-shirt that says hi yet the image used (which do not forget means the cartoonist hides his identity for fear of reprisal) is somehow comparable emotionally with a disgusting gesture of fascism that killed millions. Sensibility is not sense when it comes to this view.

Religion needs challenging by one and all against apologists who misrepresent what religious freedom means as a way to reduce human rights. Sensibilities might be hurt, but bruised pride is the least of our worries in the grand scheme of things.

Debating tactics and strategy is all very well, and yes there will be times when free kicks might be awarded against Dawkins. It misses the nature of the game being played and the stakes involved. It’s not about winning player of the match, but calling out the harm done by religion and preventing it. Human rights, freedom of speech, contraception, to learn proper science at school and even men and women sitting or doing group work together. Even non religious institutions like University UK colluding with gender inequality unless challenged.

Dawkins with “The God Delusion” started a new wave of atheists. Not just to publicly declare there probably is no God, but to challenge the supernatural claims by which public policy is manipulated.

Secular activism needs you – it’s time to get off the bench. With a revamped OUT Campaign promised now is a good time to warm up. Join a secular society and get involved.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under Dawkins, Religion, Richard Dawkins, secular

Diana Nyad on “Soul to Soul” and Acting As an Atheist Ethically


Soul to Soul with Diana Nyad: “I’m an Atheist Who’s in Awe”

It’s incredible to think that the pigeon holing of atheists continues. That they are less civic minded, not good citizens – uninterested in life and the universe lacking the emotional response that people who believe in God have. No awe of nature or the spirit of humanity.

Diana Nyad on Oprah Winfrey’s show articulated awe without a supernatural element, spirituality without the divine. It sounded so good that Oprah did not want to call Diana an atheist. Rather patronising, but Diana handled with amazing grace. Talking about atheism as humanism that transcends the mundane to see and feel the sublime.

Diana showed a confidence to talk about her humanist view – which brings me to an article that David Silverman shared. That not talking about your atheism would be unethical. Silverman mentioned social benefits by more atheists being known in the community via a tweet.

According to David Silverman, president of American Atheists, “Hiding your identity means lying to everyone you know, forcing them to love someone fictional out of fear that they might not like the real you. However, given the chance, most family members love the person, not the lie, and everyone benefits from a more honest relationship.”

Why is being closeted about one aspect of one’s core worldview an untruth? Some nonbelievers will take offense to connecting this decision to ethics, suggesting that their lack of a god belief just isn’t important to them, so why advertise it? But that’s a weak argument because it’s undeniably of vital importance to many people in our society with whom they communicate. Despite the rising numbers of nonbelievers, belief in a god, specifically in the Christian God, is more than a majority idea in America. In fact, 78 percent of Americans believe in a Christian God, and 31 percent believe so strongly that they interpret their Bible as the literal word of God. Lack of belief in a god may not be the dominant issue in your personal life (most humanists understandably have a much more positive agenda than that), but it has to be recognized that it is meaningful to others. If people are to be respected, they deserve to know who we truly are.” [The Huffington Post article written by Roy Speckhardt Oct 15, 2013 whose opinions I am challenging here]


As I am sure David would acknowledge, it will not always strengthen family bonds to openly declare atheism as this article highlights much more vividly than Huffington Post:

While Namazie was “astonished” when she found out how many Muslims there are with atheistic, agnostic and secular tendencies, she admits that groups like the CEMB find it difficult to attract them, as most are deeply worried about airing their beliefs in public. “Muslims are not homogeneous,” she says, emphasising how – like basically every human in the entire world – they don’t want their identities to be pre-defined in narrow terms. Unfortunately, owing to fears like the possibility of their family completely disowning them, they often end up falling into line publicly rather than admitting their beliefs lie somewhere else on the Kinsey scale of faith. [Source]

Putting aside physical danger to being open as an atheist (which the article mentions), I find the use of the word unethical to keep hidden from the world views on the existence of the supernatural perplexing, rather than offensive. Am I being unethical when I say bless you to someone that sneezes, “Oh God!” at the heights of ecstasy or even naming a child with a gospel name nine months later?

The use of Christian names was brought up at an American Atheist Conference talk where it was suggested that using them entrenched Christianity – we should therefore name our children otherwise to promote a less religious society, rather than act in a way that condones religious sentiments.

This suggestion angered me. The talk suggested that our ethical character reflected on us as atheists. My radar is sharp to pick up such exertions on individuals to think of the group and others in our atheism. To suggest not being open about atheism is dishonest – not buying into that for the same reason. I happen to be an atheist and blog about it – such openness is not for everyone.

Intellectual honesty and being open about how you feel about faith or non faith are not quite the same thing. No one has a right to know what my religious feelings are – it is of my own free will to express them. No religious test may be imposed on me by the state or indeed anyone as a citizen. There should be no demands made to express or conform in society.


In a truly secular world whether I am a theist or an atheist would not matter. Yet for some there will be judgments made on them. That is unethical – not someone that keeps it to themselves. I also resent that personal views should be expressed for the social benefits of others. In matters of religion they are deeply personal and a matter of conscience. It is up to an individual to decide whether to make them public or not. Diana is a model of how to speak with heartfelt sincerity about atheism and the humanist view – but that was for her alone to decide and no one would deny the benefit of her public appearance talking about it.

We should be encouraging people that being atheist, and joining the discussion about religion, faith, secularism and pluralism is not just about being intellectually honest. It is a rewarding discussion to have, and yes may have a positive benefit to society when we evaluate social policy not by religious dogma but impact on people irrespective of it.

Telling atheists they are unethical for not being open, is to me not the way to go about this, and quite frankly sounds dogmatic however noble the reason for saying it. I may even go so far as to say ridiculous. If someone brings up religion it is entirely ethical to say back that is a private matter for me or not to reply – if they persist quote Bill Hicks above right back at them. The really ethical thing to speak up for is secularism – we still have a long way to go to ensure that all citizens are treated equally regardless of faith or non faith. We need to be having a go at those that pressurise others for public declarations of faith, for being unethical. Not mimic them in this as atheists.

I would encourage everyone to get involved with promoting a secular state that is for all. Declaring your atheism by contrast is up to you when you are ready, and confident to do so. You may however feel as Brian Cox says above, that declaring it is the least part of your true character to be concerned about. That is just being honest.

Just remember, it is up to you.

Update: via twitter David Silverman felt I was misrepresenting his view vis “Telling atheists they are unethical for not being open” I have replied and restate here this is a counter view to The Huffington Post article.

Have made clearer now that Huff article was written by Roy Speckhardt, and it is that article I am replying too.

Hope that clarifies.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under atheism, Council of Ex Muslims of Britain, OUT campaign, Philosophy, secular

When Atheists Attack Each Other


The battle for top dog plays out on twitter


Unity is overrated as a virtue. Dissent can be thankless, and critiquing mistaken as disloyalty to a higher purpose. Movements will eventually have people falling out, over ideas or clash of personalities. After all when something matters to you the ability for clear heads and compromise, let alone reaching a consensus, may be the last thing to have as an objective for yourself.

Wondering where to begin writing about the Atheism Plus and detractors I thankfully saw Martin Pribble’s post Walking A Thin Line – The Perils of an Online Voice. If you have no idea what this is all about read his post for a fair attempt at being even handed to both camps, with measured criticism on both. It is a good introduction so I can move on to other things. Having tweeted the link Alex Gabriel offered his thoughts which have rather taken a march on my own being original here. Walking On Thin Ice may have been a better title for Martin – because this may be one instance where protagonists on either side will not appreciate an even handed reflection on what has been happening.

I have spoken to Martin before about being for Sam Harris’ position that using atheist in social policy debates is like lying down in a chalk outline laid out for us by theists. If we are talking about homosexuality and they suggest God is against, quoting bible and scripture I can point out the nonsense of using their God and how even if we allow for this being how on earth you know what their will is and why we should give a damn – without being concerned that perhaps instead values of ignorant men long since dead are imprisoning the living.

Yet I can win this convincingly as a secularist, that no one gets to impose their religion on anyone else especially when someone’s happiness and well being is at stake. Political principles of citizenship and human rights, let alone pluralism in a democracy, win this without resulting to an atheist/theist feud. More on this and being a critical free thinker in my post here.

The infighting within the atheist online community may seem a big deal to us that regularly use social media. I expect to the vast majority that do not it will seem churlish, capture the banner of the atheist spirit over others, a storm in a tea cup. Mud slinging and demonizing – civility lost in a deluge of insults and vulgarity. It is getting so heated it will take more than a censor bot to stop the torrents of hatred from hounding some from using social media. Or saying a plague on both your houses.

The bot is being used to label people with tags that immediately ruin a person’s standing – that smarts even if you do not care a jot for what those deciding these things think. This is already happening in the real world when prominent members in the atheist community use their influence to blacklist speakers, or ruin reputations with allegations but no evidence that could go beyond the court of public opinion. Maybe we think we can be flippant because we care about issues so passionately – it hardly justifies sitting in judgment based on one tweet, or rumors. Well, if you want to have others decide what you can hear and who from on twitter more fool you. The point is this storm in a tea cup is happening in the real world, and otherwise good people are being spilled out.

I look on with bewilderment and anger at how quickly people are being labelled. For me atheism is not the issue but secularism in the political process and society. My anti-theism means I am critical of religion – good people will do good things and find good things from their religion to commend this just as bad people will do the same. The problem is once you say a text or leader is sacrosanct then ideas can become heresy, and morality turned on it’s head as not a matter of reason and empathy embracing a common humanity, but tests of identity by trial that no one of compassion would ever do. Beyond a personal understanding of good and evil things become a matter of faith. The tribal nature of A + makes me think this is happening here to.

Political Secularism

In this battle secularism is claimed as only being possible because of atheists, they are the champions. Neglecting that secularist principles were well established by theists/deists who saw religious conflict as needing to be made a personal one and not one to be played out in civil strife. Or that by sheer numbers alone the most persecuted are the religious by the religious. We all have a stake in a secular state, yet we are allowing the religious and atheists to denote secular as atheist. Not on my watch.

Regarding Dawkins – he is a social commentator first with particular interest in religion and it’s impact on society. He is a retired biologist whose books on science, and in particular public understanding of evolution, mark him as an intellectual. Yet whether it is his praise for Fitna, not maintaining The Out Campaign Website, tweets needing re clarifying / apologies later – there are things to be critical of him. He is not just this guy you know – with his platform, his influence both financial and as a public figure, are ones that make secularism as a big tent difficult to be reconciled with the atheist troll you see online.

The world is a far bigger place. Do not confuse the social media world of infighting and name calling for being representative of all. Yet without twitter I would not have met secularists, both atheist and theist, who want freedom from religion and religious freedom for real. That in itself is worth the occasional loud mouth that tries to test my civility. I find often it is those that dish it out that get it back; for some reason they cannot stomach that.

UPDATE: good example of double standards by Atheism Plus linked to in this tweet by Rah.

UPDATE: much more detailed analysis here of what is happening.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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My Huffington Post Blog


Filed under atheism, Dawkins, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, secular

Opting Out

I fear that sort of intimidation and bullying does happen at high levels of the secular and atheist movement. It needs exposing and challenging, not sweeping under the carpet or growing a thicker skin to ignore. Thanks for posting.

I imagine either the court of public opinion or civil courts will decide the allegations circulating around – far from the ideal way. As you say, irrational responses are not helping here.


Note: I’m overwhelmed by the response this blog has gotten! If your comment has been trapped in moderation, sorry about that–I work full time and didn’t expect my blog would get this level of attention. I’ve left some particularly atrocious comments up because I feel they prove my point. So, survivors, trigger warnings ahead.

There’s a subculture with a healthy Internet presence, centered around passionate advocacy for a particular ideological cause. It has several popular male leaders. These men enjoy comfortable jobs, speaking engagements and publishing credits. That places them in a position of power in this subculture, and they’ve got the dedicated followers to prove it.

And then these leaders are accused of abuse: sustained sexual harassment, even rape, all directed at women, an under-represented demographic in this community. Rather than treat these allegations with respect and serious inquiry, there is backlash. These women, people say, are sluts. They…

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Filed under atheism, secular

Video: What Is Secularism?

What is secularism, or more accurately the assertion that religious people cannot ever be secularist, is one of the things that keeps being said to me. Essentially the assertion proves they need an answer to the question above.

Check out my most recent comment below – that a religious secularist was a contradiction in terms and Muslims are all a threat.


The National Secular Society shared on twitter today a short video that explains atheists, theists, religious and the non religious can support a secular state.

Naturally there will be tensions and issues that need resolving – the principle of religious freedom, non state preference or penalty for a faith, and universal human rights that no one is exempt from will be factors just as freedom from a religion should be too.

Such political conflict is inevitable in a democracy – key is using the political and legal process to resolve. Rather than the threat of mob violence or the suggestion that others sensibilities matter more than the freedoms we have in talking about religion.


Egypt, where Coptic churches are being burned down as civil war becomes the bloody reality between Islamists and military security power, is one of many examples where a functioning democratic state is one not to be taken for granted here in the United Kingdom.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury recently stated that for British Christians to say they were persecuted with hurt sensibilities was hyperbole and insulting to those who were suffering real persecution. He remarked they need to grow up. [Source: Daily Telegraph]

Secularists need to be grown up too – theocrats are going to be forever pushing at the boundaries, and we have to be careful that the wall of separation remains strong, fortified where needed, and that we do not leave the rampart unguarded.

We can do this as defenders of religious freedom too while still wanting to be free from religion.

Related past posts:

Secularisation or Secularism and why the secular outlook matters …

Religious Freedom is For Everyone

What Is Secularism?

Secularism – why it is good for us all

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

My Huffington Post Blog


Filed under atheism, British Society, politics, Religion, secular, World