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Apr 7 14

Video of March Event – The New Age and Native America

by Dave Powell

Feb 27 14

March Event – The New Age and Native America – The dissent of spirituality at Hopi

by Dave Powell

This months talk is by Dr Nick McCaffrey

Dr Nick McCaffrey will look at the relationship between Native American religiosity and the appropriative aspect of New Age spirituality. Drawing upon his own anthropological research at Hopi he will present examples of the ways in which indigenous culture has been idolized by contemporary spiritual seekers, and explore the reasons why the majority of Hopis, like many other contemporary Native American communities, are opposed to the appropriation and commodification of their culture.

Where : Sunflower Bar Belfast

When: Monday March 3rd

What Time: Doors at 8pm Talk starts at 8.30pm

Dec 2 13

The Sunday Assembly Belfast (On a Monday)

by Dave Powell

Today is the inaugural meeting of The Sunday Assembly in Belfast (Yes I know it’s a Monday). The Sunday Assembly is often referred to as an “AtheistChurch” or “Godless Congregation” much to the chagrin of some fellow non-believers who seem reluctant to acknowledge anything remotely positive about the idea of a church regardless of what is being discussed (or preached) inside. The fear is that if people attend “AtheistChurch” then this will give ammunition to Theists who want to paint Atheism as a religion or a competing belief system. It should be made very clear that Atheism is not a belief system, it is a specific answer to a specific question : Does God exist ? There is no dogma or commandments to adhere to and no obligation to get up early on a Sunday morning. And it could be argued that if you are looking for an alternative world view then humanism already ticks that box. So why the need for The Sunday Assembly? Yes, there may be issues in the way it presents Atheism but the idea of community and getting together with people who share common values with you shouldn’t be under valued. We are social creatures and just because we have a problem with religion doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge any of the positive aspects, and that is what I think The Sunday Assembly is trying to do with its goals to celebrate life and help others. I had the pleasure of listening to Chris Steadman give his “Faithiest” talk at the black box a few weeks back and he believes we should be involved in multi-faith initiatives when it involves subjects of mutual concern to believers and non-believers alike, such as global poverty. If people value being part of a community why would we want to take that away from them? Acknowledging that one is a an Atheist can be very liberating for people but it can also leave them distanced from close knit church communities and all the social support that comes with that, so if people see worth in these projects who are we to say that there is none? I for one will be attending and singing from the same hymn sheet, especially as that hymn is likely to be don’t stop me now by Queen.

Jul 23 13

July Event — Matthew Collins, 24th July, Sunflower Bar

by Phil O'Kane

Our speaker this month will be Matthew Collins. Matthew may be familiar to some of you as the resident geek on BBC Northern Ireland’s Great Unanswered Questions, where he inhabits the famous wicker chair with his trusty lap-top interjecting pearls of wisdom from the world wide web. Matthew is also a stand up and we are very lucky to see him preview some of the material he will be performing at this years’ Edinburgh Festival. An academic with a love of science, puzzles, beards, big words and the game of thrones. I think you’ll agree a perfect match for an audience of skeptics.

Put the date in your calendar:
Facebook Event
Wed 24th July
Sunflower Bar (65 Union Street, Belfast) [map]
8.00pm

Jul 5 13

Event – Matthew Collins – Puzzled

by Dave Powell

The Sunflower Bar (Map)

Wednesday 24th August 2013

8pm

Facebook event page

Our speaker for this month will be Matthew Collins.

matthewcollins

Matthew may be familiar to some of you as the resident geek on BBC Northern Ireland’s Great Unanswered Questions, where he inhabits the famous wicker chair with his trusty lap-top interjecting pearls of wisdom from the world wide web.

Matthew is also a stand up and we are very lucky to see him preview some of the material he will be performing at this years’ Edinburgh Festival. An academic with a love of science, puzzles, beards, big words and the game of thrones. I think you’ll agree a perfect match for an audience of skeptics.

Mar 27 13

Social Media Activism

by Phil O'Kane

There’s no simple answer to this quandry: does liking or sharing a status or image on Facebook do anything for the cause?

It’s nothing like Kony 2012, the viral campaign published in March 2012 by American charity ‘Invisible Children’, but how many people believe they are making a difference by sharing a video online?

Yesterday the Human Rights Campaign shared an image which quickly went viral on Facebook and Twitter:

The image, which is in support of marriage equality, has been spread through Facebook shares, and by people and organisations making it — and variations — their profile picture/avatar.

While it’s important to support causes, it is unlikely that such ‘online activism’ will scare governments into taking any action one way or another.

We at Belfast Skeptics support LGBT rights and marriage equality — we don’t need to change our avatar for a day to show that. We support many issues and causes. What about all the other important issues?

However, Solidarity is important. Knowing that friends, people you respect — even brands — support a cause is important.

While marriage equality is going to be rolled out in England, Wales and Scotland in the next few months, it is unlikely to happen in Northern Ireland any time soon. We’ll be trailing behind as usual. And so much more needs to be done than simply ‘armchair slacktivism.’

Raising awareness is great.
But let’s do more than simply change our avatar for a day.

Mar 20 13

A call for atheist activism in Northern Ireland for women’s rights.

by DavidC

On Tuesday 12th March a proposed amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, described as ‘entirely inappropriate’, ‘tacked on’ and ‘ill-thought out’, fell when it failed to gain cross-party support. This amendment was pushed by the unlikely partnership of the DUP and SDLP, and while I wouldn’t usually go out of my way to attack such surprising unity, in this case I and many others felt we had to. This amendment aimed to further curtail the rights of women in Northern Ireland by making abortion illegal outside of NHS premises.

Now what does this have to do with atheism, agnosticism, scepticism, secularism, etc.? At first it would seem not a lot as the vast majority of labels which the irreligious community tend to use describe only that, we lack a belief in the existence of deities. In many cases (though not all and it is in no way part of the definition) this extends to lacking a religion or any belief in the supernatural, and embracing the scientific method, as well as the vast majority of scientific knowledge. This is where I find the link.

In watching the debate I was appalled at the utter disregard many of the MLAs had for scientific understanding, not to mention their inability to grasp basic human biology. At one point an SDLP MLA was corrected on his spewing of nonsense, had it broken down and explained for him; his response, “Ah, well I don’t accept that.” That was seen as a win for the SDLP MLA. At various points MLAs even broke out into Christian sermons, quoting the bible and calling each other’s religiosity into question as a way to win an argument.

Even if we just look at this rejection and wilful ignorance of logical reasoning and evidence, there are grounds enough for sceptics (whether they prefer the C or the K) to be annoyed by this and pursue a course of activism. Likewise, secularists should be cringing and banging their heads upon tables in unison at the idea of not only religious groups having power over legislation, but that our political leaders personally and willingly bring it into this debate; turning a medical matter which they want to twist into a criminal one, somehow into a holy crusade.

Then I suppose the question remains, why call on the wider atheist community (by which I mean ‘a-theist’, lack of a belief in the existence of deities) to become involved? One argument I have heard against this is that anti-choice, so called ‘pro-life’, atheists do exist and that the atheist community must embrace them as well, unless we want to drive them away and reduce our numbers. Well likewise I’m sure that there are racist, homophobic and more widely sexist atheists too, but most atheist groups will have standards enough to say ‘change or leave’.

What I am suggesting is not a redefining of the word ‘atheist’, the religious do that enough for us, but rather that we use our numbers to affect positive change which would seem to fit the ideals of secularism and scepticism. If anything, this positive activism would attract more people and allow them to come out of the atheist closet than it would drive away. Plus, they’d likely be individuals you would rather spend time with over the bigots. If you want to see an example of a movement like this I’d suggest Atheism Plus.

I’d like to ask all atheist groups, no matter their focus, to support women in this effort to extend free, safe and legal abortion to Northern Ireland (I’d also love to see those in the south get involved as well). In doing so you’d be standing alongside the vast majority of medical and scientific evidence, that the limit should be set at 24 weeks and that women do not need to be ‘protected’, but should instead be trusted with their own bodies. I’m sure this argument could be extended to other causes as well and I warmly welcome that.

 

David Campbell

Dec 21 12

It’s the end of the world as we know it

by Dave Powell

Well, it’s finally here – the apocalypse, came round quickly didn’t it? Do people really believe that the world is going to end today? Did the Mayans even believe that the world would end today?

A quick perusal of The Mayans on Google reveals a certain amount of conjecture on the subject, as you’d imagine.

It seems that the Mayans tracked cycles of time within greater cycles of time, based on their observations of the heavens over a prolonged period. The 21st December 2012 was significant in that it marked the end of one of these cycles with the intersecting of the central point of the milky way and the plane of the ecliptic creating a “sacred tree”. So using this tree analogy, a lot of “spiritual” folk are not claiming that this will signal the end of the universe, but rather the dawning of a new era of spiritual enlightenment — the age of Aquarius.

As you’d expect the astronomers see it slightly differently, responding to the claim that the sun will be aligned with the centre of the milky way for the first time in 26,000 years Dr Strous states:

“The Milky Way has no clear central line, so there is uncertainty about when the solstitial point crosses that central line. Different groups of people can each use reasonable definitions for the central line that yet deviate from one another. If we estimate (for example) that the uncertainty about the “best” central line of the Milky Way is half a degree (which is only a small fraction of the width of the Milky Way), then the corresponding uncertainty in the date at which the solstitial point crosses the central line is 0.5°/360°*26000 = about 36 years.”

Some wishy washy notion about the dawning of the age of Aquarius may be essentially harmless, but the sad point to all this is that some apocalyptic beliefs can have devastating consequences. The brilliant ‘what’s the harm?’ lists numerous cases of suicide and mass murder associated with predictions about the coming apocalypse.

People have really short memories; there have been numerous end times predictions since the turn of the millennium. Last year it was Harold Camping managing to convince some of his more gullible followers to get rid of all their earthly possessions in preparation for the rapture, this year it’s the Mayans turn, next year there will be someone else.

Just remember folks, all these “end times predictions” have one thing in common — NONE OF THEM EVER HAPPENED!

See you tomorrow.

Dec 16 12

Belfast Peace Gathering

by Phil O'Kane

Another protest in Belfast — how very Northern Irish. Whether it’s a protest against government cuts, fighting for abortion legislation, the killing of a police officer, we do love a good protest — but despite what some say, such gatherings are vital. Sure, creating hashtags on Twitter, shouting about how awful it is on Facebook, and creating memes are a large part of what it is to show disapproval, physically rallying in the centre of town shows that the people are serious about taking a stand. Armchair activism is vital for getting movements off the ground, but it needs to be taken to the streets.

Over 1,000 people gathered at the City Hall for an hour. Then at 11.55 whistles, horns and drums came out. Screams could be heard all around and the clapping was contagious. The atmosphere was electric. There was no tension in the air. Everyone was happy to be out. If anything, it made us simply feel better about the people who live here. As one placard said: “It’s a piece of land, and we all have to live on it.”

This was a non-political event. Organised on the ground by a very small number of individuals, which rapidly spread over the course of just a few days, this is the way in which our society will continue to move forward. This is about more than a flag, this is about informing the small, violent, minorities that we do not want violence. The very fact that many did not turn up today due to fears for their (and their childrens’) safety from a counter-protest, is a sad fact in itself. However, today was peaceful, and we can only hope that tomorrow will be peaceful.

The next step is ensuring that the positive attitude that everyone went away with can be shown in the party policies, that our government leaders can lead us away from violence. That the fight for peace can resonate in the minds of those who continue to disrupt the peace. Whatever the outcome, we came together and showed our support. For peace. For no violence.

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

belfast peace gathering 16th december 2012

Dec 11 12

Few Surprises in the NI Census Results — But What of the Atheists?

by Phil O'Kane

census 2011 logoThe 2011 Census data released today continued the growing trend of religiosity losing its majority populace throughout the UK. In Northern Ireland 16.86% of the population responded as having “no religion” or “did not state religion” whereas the response for “persons with no religion or religion not stated” in the 2001 census was 13.88% — this marks a small increase of an increase of 2.98%.

In England and Wales the number of people selecting “no religion” increased from 15% in 2001 to 25% in 2011.

The NI data reveals 48% of the resident population are either Protestant or brought up Protestant, a drop of 5% from the 2001 census.

However, the numbers show that 45% of the resident population are either Catholic or brought up Catholic, yet only 41% Catholic on census day.

  • 41% Catholic
  • 19% Presbyterian
  • 14% Church of Ireland
  • 5.8% other Christian or Christian-related denominations
  • 3% Methodist
  • 0.8% other religions and philosophies

Putting this with the figures for national identity — the first time this question has been asked — the overall statistics become much more interesting as well bringing a better understanding of the politics of people in Northern Ireland. Just 25% regard themselves as Irish only. This just shows there is not a definable correlation between religion and national identity/voting pattern.

According to the BBC

7% say they either belong to another religion or none

And the UTV reported this as

Just over 5% of people in Northern Ireland said they do not belong to any religion

Each news outlet is taking different data to be the correct response.
The BBC are giving the number of 6.75% of those who “who did not state religion” for Question 17 which asked “What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?”. While UTV gave the number of those 5.59% of those who answered “none” to Question 18 which asked “What religion, religious denomination or body were you brought up in?”.

Neither of these take into consideration the 10.11% of people who answered “No Religion” under the same Question 17.

This inaccuracy of the data reporting is extremely important, and it’s a shame to see the media portray the numbers incorrectly. The numbers of those who have no religion are

Jill Farquhar states why this is important:

As politicians use the census statistics to form policy and allocate resources this type of misrepresentation is extremely significant. The use of data conflating religion with religious background produces an image of Northern Ireland which is significantly more religious and significantly less diverse than is actually the case. This reinforces the Catholic/Protestant binary and justifies the continued intrusion of religion into lawmaking in NI (see the restrictive abortion legislation for example).

More broadly, the conflation of ‘religion’ with ‘religious background’ perpetuates the idea that the religion of our parents defines our own religious identity and produces religion as something essential to the individual rather than something which can be changed, challenged and/or rejected.

For the purposes of the NI census, it seems, atheists really are ‘catholic atheists’ or ‘protestant atheists’.

Based on the data in English and Wales, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has calculated that if the change in Christianity shown between 2001 and 2011 continues, then Christians would be recorded as being in the minority from September 2018.

This is highly significant data as we watch rationality become the norm, yet there are still continued efforts to be done in education, particularly in Northern Ireland, which has seen a rise in Atheism and secularism, and indeed a growing progressive liberal community, however this has been much smaller than elsewhere in the UK.

Below is the data comparing the 2011 census data with that from 2001: