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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:

Dec 11 12

#Flegmovies

by Phil O'Kane

Every once in a while a trend kicks off on Twitter which flies in the face of the serious issue taking place elsewhere. This humour is a particularly passive method of showing the disdain of the majority for the violence and unruly behaviour from the minority.

Sure, it’s a throwaway “hashtag” game on Twitter, though the very fact that it spread so quickly shows the support it garnered by local people. Many of the offerings from Twitter users were accurate displays of disparagement and frustration, through the clever replacement of words and choosing of titles. Here are some of the best examples:

Dec 8 12

Well Done Belfast — No Surrender

by Phil O'Kane

After the vote on Monday in the City Council to remove the Union Flag as a permanent fixture on the City Hall, instead having it fly on certain days in the year, riots broke out at the city hall, and since then across Belfast by loyalist thugs.

On the upside, the “No Surrender Woman” meme to come out of it has brought much needed laughter in the face of the terrible destruction and violence taking place.

Some original footage

Nov 25 12

Separate Church and State Now! Public Meeting with Sanal Edamaruku and Atheist Ireland

by Phil O'Kane

Atheist Ireland are hosting a public meeting on furthering the idea of separation of church and state in Ireland. The meeting is to be held in the Malone Lodge on Tuesday 27th November with author and president of the Indian Rationalist Association and Rationalist International, Sanal Edamaruku, who is facing blasphemy charges in India, instigated by the Catholic Church, for exposing a crying Catholic statue as being caused by faulty plumbing and capillary action.

Other events are being held in Cork, Galway and Belfast (Dublin event took place on Saturday 24th), to promote separation of church and state in Ireland and internationally.

Michael Nugent and Jane Donnelly of Atheist Ireland will speak on the need for a secular constitution, laws, government, courts, education system and healthcare system, both in Ireland and internationally.

Nov 19 12

David Meade — Just Hanging Around?

by Phil O'Kane

David Meade pulled off an incredible stunt in Victoria Square Shopping Centre this morning. He wowed passers-by as he levitated 20metres/65ft off the ground. Or did he?

David says it’s an old religious hoax which originated 200 years ago in Egypt, created by fake faith healers in order to help them flog their wares. He wants people thinking and asking questions.
So what do you think is going on?

david meade levitation victoria square

david meade levitation victoria square

Nov 16 12

Belfast Vigil in Memory of Savita Halappanavar

by Phil O'Kane

Yesterday evening a candlelit vigil took place in Belfast where many people gathered to quietly demonstrate and remember the death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year-old Indian woman who died in University Hospital Galway on 21st October this year.

Abortion is already a very hot topic in both North and South of Ireland, however, this recent case brings new light on the fact that the Irish government has refused to legislate on abortion for twenty years, since the X Case in 1992.

The 1992 Supreme Court judgement gives women a constitutional right to access abortion when their lives are in danger, including from the risk of suicide. However, the European Court of Human Rights has said there is a notable gap in the theory and practical implementation of the right to a lawful abortion in Ireland because of the lack of corresponding legislation. TheJournal.ie

Over the last two days vigils have been held in Galway, Dublin, Cork, Limerick and London. This is not an issue which is going to go away and something must be done to ensure that such an atrocity doesn’t occur again. That the innocent life of a women is not at risk because the government is under the thumb of the dogma of Catholic church.

Savita and her husband repeatedly informed doctors of the pain she was in and requested that an abortion be carried out due to the complications of the pregnancy. Doctors had found that she was miscarrying and that the fetus would not survive, however they were told that due to a “fetal heartbeat” they would not carry out an abortion as “this is a Catholic country”.

Because her cervix remained fully open for this time, Savita was in prolonged danger of infection, comparable to having an untreated open head wound. Savita developed septicaemia, and she died on Sunday 28 October, a week after entering hospital.

By then doctors had removed the foetus, but only after its heartbeat had stopped. If they had removed the foetus when it was clear that it could not survive, Savita’s cervix would have closed earlier and she would have been less likely to develop the infection.

There are few words but anger at this response. No good moral judgement was carried out in the decision to allow this woman to die. This is a human issue, and more pressure must be put on the government to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. In doing so, full detailed legislation must be laid out for cases of abortion to ensure that all medical professionals are educated on when medically induced abortions can be carried out — medicine must not be dictated by mythological doctrine.

Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland has provided full details this case and others surrounding.

(Photographs and video by Phil O’Kane)