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BC Humanists’ World Humanist Day EVENT: George Jacob Holyoake

Visit the Event Page

June 22, 2021 at 5pm – 6pm (Pacific Daylight Time)


Secularism, the world’s most widely applied model for the separation of church and state, has freed peoples and their governments from control by religious authority. At a time when it is being challenged by evangelical Christianity and fundamentalist Islam, Inventing Secularism, the first modern biography of secularism’s founder, George Jacob Holyoake, is scheduled for the Spring 2021 list of McFarland & Co.

Ray Argyle, Canadian biographer of French president Charles de Gaulle and American ragtime composer Scott Joplin, writes that George Holyoake “changed the life experience of millions around the world by founding secularism on the idea that the duties of a life lived on earth should rank above preparation for an imagined life after death.”

Jailed for atheism and disowned by his family, Holyoake came out of an English prison at the age of 25 determined to bring an end to religion’s control over daily life. He became a radical editor and in 1851 invented the word secularism to represent a system of government free of religious domination. Inventing Secularism reveals details of Holyoake’s conflict-filled life in which he campaigned for public education, freedom of the press, women’s rights, universal suffrage, and the cooperative movement. He was hailed on his death in 1906 for having won “the freedoms we take for granted today.”

More than 160 secular and humanist organizations around the world today advocate principles set out by George Holyoake in his newspaper The Reasoner and in hundreds of lectures as well as books and pamphlets.

Argyle’s Inventing Secularism warns that a rise in religious extremism and populist authoritarianism has put secularism under siege in countries ranging from the United States to such once staunchly secular nations as Hungary, Poland, Turkey and India. He writes that Holyoake “looked beyond his own time, confident of a future of moral as well as material good, offering an infinite diversity of intellect with equality among humanity.” 

McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, is located in Jefferson, North Carolina, and is one of the leading publishers of academic and scholarly nonfiction in the United States, offering about 6000 titles in print.

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The British Columbia Humanist Association has been providing a community and voice for Humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the non-religious of Metro Vancouver and British Columbia since 1982. We support the growth of Humanist communities across BC, provide Humanist ceremonies, and campaign for progressive and secular values.

We are a registered charitable organization. Our mission is:

  • to promote the ideas and philosophy of secular humanism by all available means of education and communication;
  • to serve the educational needs of its members and others of humanistic, scientific and naturalistic outlook, in a democratic, non-dogmatic manner free from authoritarian doctrine;
  • to provide opportunities for fellowship, study and service at all levels of humanistic endeavour, and to advance the values and welfare of humanity in dedication to the continuing enhancement of human life through human effort and understanding;
  • to offer and provide meaningful ceremonies to members and non-members at significant times such as marriage and death; and
  • to elaborate and to express publicly Humanist positions on issues of concern to people, including values, morality and ethics.

Sources, Citations and References

Featured Photo Courtesy of https://rayargyle.com/a-radical-life/



The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Footprints of Henry Beissel: A Conversation With A humanist Poet

ZOOM EVENT! MARCH 27, 2021

In a celebration of the humanities, Humanist Ottawa hosts this afternoon of conversation with Henry Beissel, poet, playwright, fiction writer, translator, editor and winner of the 2020 Ottawa Book Award in English Fiction for his book of poetry, “Footprints of Dark Energy“.
 
In awarding this prize, the jury said, ” Part idyll, part love song and mostly about man in nature, Henry Beissel’s Footprints of Dark Energy approaches the sublime in its epic treatment of its subjects. The meditative undertones of the shorter poems coalesce into the epigrammatic wit of the long title poem, and all are bolstered by the narration’s majestic sweep.”
 
The title poem of this collection takes us on an epic journey across past and present historical events and through spaces defined by the natural sciences, as it explores the challenges of being human in these troubled times. It is accompanied by a gathering of shorter poems that confront the dark forces in our world as they struggle for the light at the end of the tunnel. In stark imagery, these poems turn words into music to celebrate the anguish and the glory of being alive.
 
Henry Beissel is author/editor of 44 published books. Among his 22 collections of poetry are his epic “Seasons of Blood” and the lyrical “Stones to Harvest” as well as his celebration of Canada in “Cantos North” and the 364 haiku in “What if Zen Gardens …“. He lives in Ottawa with his wife Arlette Francière, the artist and literary translator. 

Feel free to forward this invitation to any of your friends.

When:            Saturday,  March 27, 2021

Time:                1:30 pm  Eastern Time

Medium:           Zoom  –  
Please register in advance for this free event at:  

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZcrcuCtpz8vHdawRAzYyEy2q1Of6QlmmwJM 


References and Resources

  1. Featured Image Courtesy of: Humanist Ottawa

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Books: The Sirens of Mars – Searching For Life on Another World By Sarah Stewart Johnson

On February 18, 2021 NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on the surface of Mars. Perseverance is the largest, most advanced rover NASA has sent to another world. It travelled 472 million kilometers over 203 days and the intact landing was broadcast live via the internet for anyone with an internet connection to witness.

Humanity is deep into exploration of another planet. If that doesn’t whet your appetite to know more about the possibilities of planetary exploration and planetary biology – including all of the philosophical and metaphysical implications they bring…we’re not sure what will!

The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World ...
Sarah Stewart Johnson’s The Sirens of Mars

In 2020, Sarah Steward Johnson‘s publishers released The Sirens of Mars – Search for Life on Another World. At a little-over 200 pages in hardcover, the publisher’s categorize the book as “biography and memoir” given the frequent inclusion of personal anecdotes and reflections of the author’s life and relationship to the subject.

Sarah Stewart Johnson is an assistant professor of planetary science at Georgetown University. A former Rhodes Scholar and White House Fellow, she received her PhD from MIT and has worked on NASA’s Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers. She is also a visiting scientist with the Planetary Environments Lab at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Countdown to Mars | Astrobiology

Stewart Johnson’s writing style is very approachable and relatable. It is a meaningful and worthwhile trend that scientists publish books which reflect their individual humanity as well as the humanistic principles that are deeply embedded in the work that they do.

The book includes a history of Mars exploration beginning with Plato,
Galileo and Isaac Newton through to both NASA’s and Russia’s programs as well as informative glimpses of the science behind one of humanity’s most astounding projects. The book is aimed at a broad and general audience but it isn’t a “picture book”, so if you’re looking to be inspired by photos of the red planet, the internet is a better source.

At the end of the book, Stewart Johnson writes, “In writing this book, I’ve come to understand better the meaning I find in searching for life. I’ve also come to appreciate all the people who came down this path before me and the astonishing lives they led, as well as the remarkable colleagues with whom I have the privilege of working today. In my final acknowledgements, I wish to extend my gratitude to all of those people, throughout the generations and across the disciplines, who have created and continue to deepen this field. If we find life on Mars, we will have done it together. In the meantime, we have this great human project, and we have one another.”

The book is worth the time and resources you may spend in its acquisition and study.

Side view of tilted rock layers on Mars

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of : https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/
  2. https://mars.nasa.gov/mer/mission/overview/
  3. https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/
  4. https://mars.nasa.gov/news/8865/touchdown-nasas-mars-perseverance-rover-safely-lands-on-red-planet/
  5. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/529592/the-sirens-of-mars-by-sarah-stewart-johnson/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Books: Transcendence, How Humans Evolved Through Fire, Language, Beauty and Time by Gaia Vince

Evolution. It’s only one word, but how many hundreds or thousands of other words, ideas and opinions does that one word conjure up? How many books have been written about evolution since Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species was published in 1859? A comprehensive collection that included all books for, against, explaining, confusing, misrepresenting, re-purposing and otherwise largely or wholly devoted to evolution were included, it would make an astounding and enjoyable library.

Even in the absence of such a devoted library, it is entirely possible for the average enthusiast to delve the shelves of their public library and reach a point when it seems like there isn’t much more to be considered. Perhaps academics, biologists and others of specialist sort may have further footnotes to add, but really – is there anything fresh?

Well, yes there is. In 2020, Gaia Vince published Transcendence: How Humans Evolved Through Fire, Language, Beauty and Time. According to the author’s website, Gaia Vince is an “award-winning science journalist, author, broadcaster and speaker…. particularly interested in how human systems and Earth’s planetary systems interact.” who feels that “this is a unique time in Earth’s history, in which climate change, globalisation, communications technology and increasing human population are changing our world – and us – as never before.”

At about 350 pages, the book incorporates a mix of anecdotes, storytelling, and science journalism that is often but not always effective on the first read. But that may be a characteristic in its favour. Like evolution, the book requires a commitment of time. It isn’t exactly like all the other books on evolution. It needs to be read and considered – and sometimes even re-read.

It’s fresh.

In a unique time in Earth’s history when human population is rapidly changing the world, fresh perspective-taking is needed. We shouldn’t be glazing over our routine understandings of the fundamental processes of life. We need to struggle with them a bit more. We need to deepen and widen our perspectives. That is what it seems that Gaia Vince has tried to do with this book.

The book is worth the time and resources you may spend.

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of : https://wanderinggaia.com/
  2. https://www.mit.edu/~ejhanna/sci/evobook.html
  3. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43521776-transcendence

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Books: Great State: China and the World By Timothy Brook

It approaches impossible to be a humanist without eventually trying to reach an understanding of the politics of China. Enter just about any conversation about secularism and sooner or later someone is going to mention the human rights record of the Chinese government over the last 80 to 100 years. Here’s a book that may be a good place to move toward an understanding of China’s immense history.

Great State: China and The World was published in 2019/2020 by one of Canada’s leading scholarly experts on China. It is a collection of thirteen historical vignettes written to support its author’s thesis that China is, and has very nearly always been, a “Great State”.

Timothy Brook is a professor at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver). A native of Toronto and graduate of the University of Toronto, Brook moved from Toronto to become principal of St. John’s College at UBC in 2004, where he was named to the Republic of China Chair. Brook previously held positions at the University of Alberta, Stanford University, and the University of Oxford, where he was Shaw Professor of Chinese from 2007 to 2009.

Book Marks reviews of Great State: China and the World by ...

At a little over 400-pages, the entire book is well-worth reading; however humanistfreedoms.com found particular interest in ….Chapter 8: The Missionary and His Convert, a chapter providing some interesting insights into how China’s political leadership has approached religious influences in the country. The chapter is set in the early 1600’s and reviews political events stemming from the arrival of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in China. Brook demonstrates that some leading Chinese political forces felt that “...these foreigners were not official envoys from their rulers. There were protocols for receiving tribute envoys, but these men had entered China without having received such clearance. That they were in China to speak of matters of Heaven – which could be construed as infringing on the divine authority of the emperor – only made the illegality of their status that much more offensive.” (pg. 203)

It is not uncommon for Western people to view China as having been cut-off from the world (i.e. Europe) for must of its existence. Brook attempts to dispel this view as a myth. But he also reinforces, in this chapter and others, the deep concern Chinese political leaders have had regarding foreign influence in their country’s affairs. The lesson seems to be that foreign influence that is cut-off is very different from foreign influence that is limited and controlled.

Another valuable chapter to the humanist student is Chapter 10- The Lama and the Prince, dealing with the Dalai Lama and China’s occupation of Tibet – what Brook describes as China’s act to “reimpose its active sovereignty over the territories of the old Great State.

Despite being reasonably attentive readers, we found it difficult to locate where Brook differentiates a “Great State” from an “Empire”. Clearly in certain parts of Western culture, the words empire and imperialism carry a great deal of baggage. The words bring up notions of militarily-strong foreign control and influence of local populations.

In the book’s introduction, Brook argues that Great State is an “Inner Asian concept. It is not a term that Chinese today will recognize, let alone accept, but it has hugely shaped Chinese Political thinking since the time of Khubalai Khan. Before the 1270s China was a dynastic state in which one family monopolized power at the center because, so the theory went, Heaven had given that family an exclusive mandate to rule.. What changed with the coming of the Mongols was the deeper conviction that this mandate entailed the right to extend the authority of that one family out across the entire world, incorporating all existing politics and rulers into a system in which military power is paramount. This was the Great State, and this is what China became.

The book is well-worth the time spent.

Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of https://thetyee.ca/Culture/2020/03/25/China-Pandemics-UBC-Expert/
  2. https://www.harpercollins.com/blogs/authors/timothy-brook
  3. https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2019/09/myth-chinas-great-state
  4. https://history.ubc.ca/profile/tim-brook/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Philosophy Now Issue 138: The Religion & Society Issue

Issue 138 of Philosophy Now (June/July 2020) bears the bold sub-title: The Religion & Society Issue. While it was Robert Griffith’s article entitled “Beyond Humanism?” that first caught our attention, the issue’s Table of Contents offers a number of great articles, including a feature section on religion and secularism. The periodical’s website appears to allow complimentary viewing of up to four articles per month – so select carefully! Or subscribe and enjoy some interesting reading. Here are a few of our favorites:

Einstein & The Rebbe

Ronald Pies sets up a dialogue between science and religion.

Christianity & Homosexuality

Rick Aaron argues that religious recommendations are sometimes unrealistic.

Beyond Humanism?

Robert Griffiths argues that humanist ethics has significant limitations.

Suffering & the Media

Ian Church queries the influence the media has on our perception of evil.

Buddha Travels West

Peter Abbs follows Buddhism’s path towards becoming a Western humanism.

Philosophy & The Creation of the Individual

Mark Vernon chronicles a revolution in consciousness.

The Character Gap by Christian B. Miller

Massimo Pigliucci is frank about human character.

Issue 138

Visit the Philosophy Now website.

Featured Image courtesy of Philosophy Now.

Virtual Book Launch: The Abortion Caravan

Join humanists across Canada as we come together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Caravan. This one hour conversation with author Karin Wells is the first in a serices of events honouring the incredible legacy of the 1970 Abortion Caravan. Representatives from Canada’s national sexual and reproductive health organizations, including Action Canada, the National Abortion Federation, and the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, will also join us to share their work. 

As we reflect on the legacy of the Caravan in 2020, some of the original caravaners will join us to discuss the anniversary theme of “Then and Now.” What issues would a 2020 Abortion Caravan work to tackle? How has access to sexual and reproductive health services changed in the last 50 years? Where do we go from here? This hour long conversation and launch of Karin Wells’ new book The Abortion Caravan: When Women Shut Down the Government in the Battle for the Right to Choose is open to all. 

When May 4th, 2020 7:00 PM   through   8:00 PM

Thanks for joining us for  A Virtual Conversation with Karin Wells on the Abortion Caravan.

The video and other resources are now available for viewing and download. We ran out of time for questions, but answers to the Q&A are on the event page. 

Don’t forget to get the book! It can be bought from your local bookstore – ask them to order it  – or directly from Second Story Press.  We’ll be adding more content to the campaign page. Sign up for our newsletter to keep in touch.

Further Reading

  1. Prasad, Sandeep and Doctoroff, Jill. Canada is Still Falling Short on Abortion Rights. Toronto Star, Tuesday May 12, 2020.
  2. https://www.actioncanadashr.org/resources/reports-analysis/2020-05-12-1970-abortion-caravan-celebrating-50-years

Featured image courtesy of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights

Book Review: There is No Difference by Peter Best

According to the back cover of his book and his website, Peter Best is “a lawyer who has practiced law in Sudbury, Ontario for 43 years. Raised in nearby Espanola, favored with lifelong personal and professional relationships with indigenous Canadians, he brings a personal, literary and historical perspective to the greatest social crisis experienced by Canada today- the perilous state of its original peoples.”

What is the book? The long-form version of the title probably acts as the best summary of its contents: There Is No Difference: An Argument for the Abolition of the Indian Reserve System and Special Race-based Laws and Entitlements for Canada’s Indians. In a regular book review, we might investigate the overt arguments and contents of the book. Certainly the title contains enough potential for drama and controversy to whet almost any intellectual appetite. But that’s not what we’re going to do here. What we’re going to do, instead is feature, an underlying theme presented by Mr. Best.

On page three, he writes that when he was growing up in Espanola, “there was a sense that old religious and ethnic prejudices were hollowing out and being overcome, and that increasing social unity and equality was happening.” It is the first of many hints (and outright declarations) of an underlying theme of humanism to be found in the book. This is what we will consider.

How many books are currently published with an overt declaration of humanism or humanist values? More specifically, how many books are written about contemporary issues wherein humanist-based positions are asserted, explained, referenced and documented? These aren’t questions with precise answers. These are startled observations of an avid reader. I haven’t seen humanism asserted and affirmed so clearly and frequently in a long time. Water for the thirsty.

On page seven, Best writes…”the humanist assumptions were ones that emanated from the confident, busy, properous people we were then. They seemed to be shared by everyone, right to the political and economic top of the country. They highlighted what a civilized, progressive, ‘ideals in action’ society Canada was becoming.

The book is written as a series of essays which, across 700+ pages, delves the matter outlined in the title in pains-taking detail. Frequently Best grapples head-on with various ideologies and asserts arguments and positions contrary to those from Canadian intellectual and political “elites” (Best’s term). The book is thoroughly referenced and widely sourced. The overall theme is that “somewhere along the way, liberal, humanist aspirations once common to our entire country have ceded to various forms of petty and chauvinistic ideological tribalisms and, with respect to our Indian peoples, to actual racial tribalism.”

And then again, Best asserts that he believes “that the vast majority of Canadians profoundly disagree with this trend towards further legal and social racial apartness between Indian and non-Indian Canadians. They want our humanist values – with their emphasis on equality and the rights of the individual over the rights of any racial group – respected, maintained and promulgated in all areas of society….why this rejection of 200 years of enlightenment thinking?

The point to be made is not that all of Best’s arguments represent a clear, consistent and authoritative humanist approach to the topic. It seems highly unlikely, not to mention undesirable, that a singular humanist outlook should be asserted on any substantive matter. Nor should this article be read as an endorsement of every argument Best makes. Instead, Best is here approved on the basis of making an attempt to present a considered humanist-principled perspective on a hot and fraught topic.

Best makes an argument about his chosen subject that may be stated about any number of contemporary issues: “this issue is being driven and dictated by…a minority elitist theory of democracy, where on an issue of this importance the majority is being asked for and being offered no say.

Peter Best has asserted his version of a humanist-informed opinion. More humanists need to step forward to assert similarly cogent humanist perspectives on whatever contemporary issue seems to require the attention.