This is the web site of the Suffolk Humanist and Secularist Group, providing fellowship, education and ceremonies for Humanists and Secularists in Suffolk, NE Essex, and elsewhere.
However much we may be annoyed by the activities of religious organisations in the UK, at least we're free to express our opinions about religion and belief without fear of death, which isn't the case for many atheists worldwide. Bob Churchill of the International Humanist & Ethical Union was interviewed on BBC World News about the Freethought Report, which showed the extent of discriminatiuon against atheists worldwide.
The first report was published in 2012 on International Human Rights Day, 10 December. In his preface to the report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, said:
As a universal human right, freedom of religion or belief has a broad application. However, there seems to be little awareness that this right also provides a normative frame of reference for atheists, humanists and freethinkers and their convictions, practices and organizations. I am therefore delighted that for the first time the Humanist community has produced a global report on discrimination against atheists. I hope it will be given careful consideration by everyone concerned with freedom of religion or belief.
Left to right: Margaret, David, Sophie and Sue.
The TV funeral of Coronation Street character Hayley Cropper on Friday 31st January may bring back memories for the thousands of Suffolk and N E Essex families who’ve arranged something similar for a loved one. Since 1991, the Suffolk Humanist Ceremonies Team – David Mitchell from Pettaugh, Sue Hewlett from Stutton and Sophie Lovejoy from Brightlingsea – have helped Margaret Nelson from Elmsett, near Hadleigh, to meet increasing demand for funerals free from religion.
Hayley Cropper is played by actor Julie Hesmondhalgh, a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association. The Suffolk Humanist Ceremonies team are members of the group, Suffolk Humanists and Secularists, which is affiliated to the BHA.
For thousands of viewers who’ve never been to a humanist funeral, Hayley’s will show them what they might expect. No hymns, prayers or religious readings, but a dignified, personal celebration of a life, where mourners can share memories and their sense of loss.
People often ask us if we knew the person who’s died, because they recognise his or her character and personality in our description, but mostly we didn’t. We aim to find out as much as we can by talking to the people who knew him or her. It’s like a mirror, reflecting back a familiar portrait in words.
Some relatives or friends contribute their own memories to the ceremony, though we take the precaution of asking them to write it all down in case they’re overcome by emotion on the day.
Families choose music that was special to their loved one, and some even wear clothes that reflect his or her personality. I’ve done a funeral for a keen camper where all his friends wore colourful Hawaiian shirts, and at a funeral for a young Goth, we all wore black and purple, her favourite colours. Every funeral we do is different, because everyone is different.
Some of my friends used to think it was a very odd thing to want to do, but I’ve met some lovely people and heard some fascinating life stories over the years.”
The Rationalist Association has much more stuff for you to read. No point in us just forwarding it - get over there and read it yourself. Better still, use their feed to follow them, and join the RA while you're at it.
On 10th December we took part in the annual Celebration of Human Rights organised by the Ipswich UN Association. This year the theme was based upon Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
The meeting was hosted by the Ipswich Society of Friends (Quakers) at their meeting house in Fonnereau Road, Ipswich. The Mayor of Ipswich, Councillor Hamil Clarke MBE, and his partner, Daisy Weekes, attended and heard contributions from representatives of several of the faiths and beliefs in the area. Although local MPs and other organisations had been invited, the others attending were mainly from religious groups.
Rather surprisingly some of the presenters seemed to have misunderstood what Article 4 was all about and instead spoke of people being slaves to alcohol, drugs, etc., which seemed a bit strange.
Sue Hewlett and Denis Johnston represented us, as follows:
Slavery has existed ever since man made the change from being a hunter-gatherer to becoming settled in fixed communities. The irony is that slavery was the cornerstone of what we choose to term 'civilisation' and was part and parcel of all the co-called early civilisations. So much so that it was formally embedded into religious texts and laws.
At the core of slavery lies the belief that one group of humanity is in some way inferior to another and should therefore be subordinate. Factors such as skin colour, tribal affiliation, language, gender and religions have all be used to justify this belief.
Dehumanisation, treated as a commodity or being bought and sold as 'property', is no longer as prevalent as before and is not legal in any country but let us be clear on one thing; slavery still exists. Slavery today is mainly based upon bonded labour, child labour, sex trafficking, early and forced marriage. Underpinning all of these is debt, poverty and financial control.
The vast majority of those enslaved today are those at one end of the global supply chains that provide us with many of the goods that we buy in supermarkets and on the high street. It ranges from the cashew nut industry (20,000 children are engaged in cashew nut processing in India alone) to cotton, cocoa, tea and clothing manufacture.
Probably between 10 and 20 million people in the world are enslaved at the present time and the profits generated worldwide are second only to drug trafficking in terms of global criminal enterprises.
It means that not only does slavery still exist but we are all part of it. Only by understanding the nature of modern slavery and by acting to eliminate it both at source and by changing our lifestyles can we hope to stop it.
The Rationalist Association's magazine New Humanist has a new editor, Daniel Trilling. When he introduced himself in August, making it clear that he didn't share an anti-religious, hardline atheist point of view, he attracted (predictably) some strong criticism from those who did. In the winter edition of the magazine he's written,
As anyone who’s ventured online knows, to many people “atheist” has become a badge of identity, and an aggressive, exclusionary one at that. In a country like Britain, where being open about a lack of religious belief puts you in no physical danger, and does not hold back your career, your love life or your liberty, it doesn’t require much investment. For some, it’s become an easy way to feel smugly superior to the ignorant masses. Worse still, for others, it’s been co-opted into a paranoid right-wing project that would have us believe that the West is locked in a Clash of Civilisations with the Muslim world.
I agree totally. How about you?
The BHA has produced a clever Christmas card this year. It says "Christmas", until you turn it upside down.
To buy some, click here.
Of course, you may prefer to avoid referring to it as "Christmas" and stick to "Midwinter" instead. That's when we have the festival, after all. Click here to read about how the ancient festival got high-jacked.
See our page about Christmas under the "Humanism" tab above.
Whatever you call it, have a happy one.
If you meet any "Storms" at Xmas parties, go easy on them - or not.