Sunday, 2 November 2008

Winterval is Getting Earlier and Earlier Each Year

It's always great to keep an eye out for the first sightings of Winterval. Maybe the flurry of snow which fell one night this previous week has brought it on earlier this year. As reported by the National Secular Society, Tories at Camden council
"[believe] that the renaming of Christmas as a “Winter Festival” or any other non-religious nomenclature is part of the systematic erosion of Christianity in modern life, which itself is the cause of the loss of our sense of national identity and cohesion."
Earlier, my interest in what is now universally referred to as the Atheist Bus led me take a look at the sponsoring organisation, the British Humanist Association. As an atheist myself, it would appear that I could fit in with their ideals. But my sticking point is the statement that "Humanism is the belief that we can live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs." Specifically it is the "good" part.

Firstly, who is to say what is good and what is bad? Increasingly I have come to believe that morality is connected only to a personal journey. Not that anything goes, but that we are each plotting a course through life, and morality is one of the environmental factors that are encountered along the way. There are no absolutes in terms of what is good and what is bad, but that good and bad are judgements upon decisions we have each made in a particular time and place. I am a strong believer that it is the actions that we can place judgements on, but judging the whole person is out of bounds. To take a recent example, we can say that certain actions of Saddam Hussein were wrong, or evil, but even a lifetime of such acts did not make Saddam an evil person. To label someone as evil is to prejudge all their actions to have evil intent. This is undesirable because it clouds our judgement, without adding anything useful about the subject of our condemnation. To aspire to lead a good life is to fall into the same trap: a bit of bad here, a bit of good there, but make sure it all adds up on the plus side. It might make sense, if you also believe that some supreme being is going to mark you against a target score at the end of your days. But to claim that you can weigh up concepts as unmeasurable as goodness and badness is stretching rationality beyond its breaking point.

My second objection is to the part that says "... Humanism is the belief ...". In rejecting religiosity I am steering clear of "beliefs". Of course I've got my own beliefs, but if I don't need deity based ones, why do I need humanist beliefs? Whoever it is that says what a humanist believes, it doesn't seem to be me.

Having rejected humanism as something I could prescribe to, I was pleased to come across the National Secular Society. Neatly describing secularism as the "separation of church from state", theirs is not a belief based moral mission, but a political aim. Particularly relevant to the United Kingdom, where twenty six Bishops have seats as of right in the upper house of parliament, the NSS aims to remove the influence of religious leaders from state institutions.

Personally I believe that it is demonstrable that religions such as Christianity have acquired pre-existing festivals and moulded them into a form which corresponds to scripture. My interest in Winterval is therefore partly an attempt to de-religiousify a perfectly sensible celebration of the colder months, and partly a tongue in cheek poke at the weird sensibilities of the pious. Well done to the NSS for spotting the first sign of Winterval!

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