Coventry & Warwickshire Humanist

September/October 2018

Issued by Coventry & Warwickshire Humanists

Website: Twitter: @CWHums

FB and Newsletter Editor: Derek Franklin



A self-governing voluntary association affiliated to the International Humanist and Ethical Union [IHEU] and to the National Secular Society [NSS].

freedom / happiness / virtue

Get well soon!

Our guest editors are still standing in, as Derek continues to recover.  We send best wishes to him for a speedy return to office.

Media round-up

Calls for a secular state

Ian McEwan guested on Newsnight arguing for a secular state.  He said “The best guarantee of religious freedom and religious tolerance is a well-organised secular state. The courts and the state should take no views on the existence of God…. There is a higher authority, it’s called the law.” You can see a brief version of the interview here.

First Humanist lead chaplain

The BBC also reported that Lindsay van Dijk has become the first humanist lead chaplain in the NHS, after being appointed by Buckinghamshire NHS Trust. Her team includes religious staff and volunteers and she talks about the need to focus on the person rather than the faith in this video.

Humanist viewpoints

Another two Humanist viewpoints have been recently published in the Warwickshire press. Here they are:

1. Boris and the Burka

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has stirred up a hornet’s nest with his trenchant criticism of the Islamic burka in his Daily Telegraph column. One Muslim peer has called for him to be expelled from the Conservative Party and Jeremy Wright, our own MP who is now Culture Secretary, has condemned some of the language Johnson used.

This hostile reaction reminds me of two previous instances of great controversy over Islam: the one involving the Muslim author Salman Rushdie (later Sir Salman Rushdie) when his novel The Satanic Verses was published, and the one involving the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The publication of The Satanic Verses incurred the wrath of Muslims, including those in the UK, because of what was seen to be an irreverent depiction of Muhammad. Because of the fatwa (death sentence) issued against him, Rushdie was forced to go into hiding.

Similar wrath followed the publication of a series of cartoons of Muhammad in Charlie Hebdo which resulted in its offices being attacked by Islamist gunmen causing many deaths and injuries. During the attack, the gunmen shouted “God is great” and “the Prophet is avenged”. To its credit the French government granted nearly €1 million to support the magazine and it received massive support from the general public.

Regarding Boris Johnson’s column, the term islamophobia has been bandied about. Coined by the left-wing think tank the Runnymede Trust, this term has become widely used to stigmatise and proscribe legitimate criticism of Islam. My Oxford dictionary definition of islamophobia is “hatred or fear of Islam” and there are certain laws imposed by this religion that should give any liberal minded person good reason to fear. These include its law against blasphemy (impious utterance or action concerning God, Muhammad or anything considered sacred) which can incur the death penalty, apostasy (the abandonment of Islam) which can also incur the death penalty, and perhaps worst of all, Sharia Law which proscribes barbaric punishments such as public beheadings, floggings and stonings that are put into practice in Islamic theocracies like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Also, the Islamic holy book, the Koran, has numerous passages condemning non-believers, who include atheists and Humanists, to hellfire. Humanists maintain that all these matters should be freely discussed and criticised.

George Broadhead

2. Public opinion towards progressive causes is growing

The 19th century poet Arthur Clough  was no stranger to the feeling that the causes he supported never seemed to succeed.  He was particularly disappointed by the collapse of the Chartist movement after a rally was crushed in 1848.  In response he wrote an inspirational  poem ‘Say not the struggle naught availeth’ to cheer campaigners up by the thought that they may be making more progress than they think.

Humanists sometimes feel despair when Parliament defeats another progressive Bill despite widespread public support.  However in fact here is much room for longer term  optimism with the  decline of religion in Western Europe and the  consequent gradual changes in public opinion towards progressive causes.

Two concrete instances.   In Scotland Humanists are now authorised to conduct officially recognized marriages. In  the rest of he UK you can have a Humanist ceremony but a trip to a Registry office is required to make the marriage legal.   For the first time last year , the Humanist Society of Scotland married more people than the Church of Scotland. Almost half of all marriages are are now civil  consistent with 59% of Scots describing themselves as non-religious. This rises to 69% for those under 44 years.  The pressure is on and it can only be a matter of time before the rest of the UK too can have the choice of a Humanist marriage. 

With regards to Assisted Dying which  Humanists actively support there is so far no progress in the UK except in public support. However in an increasing number of other jurisdictions, that support has been turned into legislation. Statistics have recently been published for Belgium where  euthanasia  can be provided to all competent adults who are suffering irreversibly.  Deaths for 2016/17 totalled  4,337 of which  2,807 were over the age of 0f 70. The majority were cancer sufferers but  710 were for reasons like going blind or double incontinence.

Behind the statistic are human beings who have  decided that the life they are living is not one that they want to continue.  No-one chooses death lightly but we can all recognize a situation where it would be our choice if we were able to make it.  For the few people who take advantage of that opportunity there are vast numbers more who are comforted by the fact that it is there. 

For Humanists wanting to maximise human welfare,  “My life. My Choice” is an important issue. It must surely be recognized here before too long. Say not the struggle Naught availeth!

Brian Nicol

Homeopathy no longer on prescription

Humanist UK reported that the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) for Bristol, North Somerset, and South Gloucestershire has announced that it will no longer routinely fund homeopathy remedies. This was the last CCG in England to fund homeopathy. 

CCG Clinical Chair, Dr Jonathan Hayes, said, “We are working hard to become an evidence-informed organisation because we need to make the best use of all resources to offer treatment and care to the widest range of people. The decision on homeopathy funding today is a step towards this and brings us in line with national guidelines.”

Humanists UK said: This means an ineffective pseudo-scientific treatment, which over the years has wasted scarce NHS resources, has been effectively ended in England. 

‘According to the CCG the annual cost to the NHS of providing homeopathic treatments in the area is £109,476. This is could fund 22 hip replacements or 170 cataract operations.’  

2018 Blackham Lecture

This year’s event, a joint Birmingham Humanists/Humanists UK production is entitledGetting Science Right’ with speaker James Williams from the University of Sussex.

The lecture will take place at 7.30pm on Thursday 18 October at Conference Aston, Conference Centre and Hotel, Aston St, Aston University, B4 7ET

Tickets can be booked on the Humanists Uk website.

Green drinks

Local humanist friends are invited, along with other green thinking and socially aware people e.g Friends of the earth, Greens, etc, to Green Drinks every 1st Wed evening of the month, 7.30 onwards, at The Engine, 8 Mill End, Kenilworth CV8 2HP. Next meeting Wednesday 7th November 2018. Look forward to seeing you. In case of re-arrangement and for any other queries contact Tracey Drew or phone 01926 857782