Sunday, 6 September 2015

National Anthems

I have a real beef about the UK National Anthem. Not so much about the tune, which is OK, but about the words. The first three lines are the following:

God save our gracious Queen!

Long live our noble Queen!
God save the Queen!

My beef is not because I dislike the Queen – I don’t, though I’m sympathetic to the case for republicanism - it’s the ‘God’ word that I object to, along with the ‘save’ word. As an atheist I can’t buy into anything to do with God, and I’m unclear about what is meant by the word ‘save’. Save from what exactly? Doubtless it has some historical meaning like ‘preserve’, though not in any kind of cryogenic or mummification sense. And whatever the intent I suspect it will be lost on most people reading/ singing it today. 

Then there’s the second verse which hardly anyone knows:

O Lord our God arise,

Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall:
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix:
God save us all.

This is rife with reasons to dislike it. There’s the first line which kind of contradicts Christian belief in that it suggests God needs to arise when we are led to believe Jesus (God incarnate) had already risen. Then there’s the terrible rhyme in the next line, followed by a request to do nasty things, Putin style. Enough said!

Now if you want an example of a good national anthem, lyrics wise, then the Slovenian one below has got to be up there with the best:

Long live all the nations

that yearn to wait for the day to come
that everywhere the sun walks
the strife will be driven away
that every compatriot
will be free
and the man living at one's borders will
not be a devil but a neighbour!

To me that comes across as an entirely humanist anthem

Graham Connell

Our Greatest Moral Failing

The August GMH Meeting was a Discussion: In 2115, what will our descendants condemn as our greatest moral failings?

John Coss opened the meeting by summarising an article written by Stefan Klein and Stephen Cave entitled, What will morality look like a 100 years hence? The authors point out that norms and values change, e.g. in 1915 – sexism, racism, imperialism, anti-Semitism and homophobia were not just accepted, but expected, even required.  The authors self-identify as ‘progressive’ and are glad that these attitudes are increasingly unacceptable. But OUR values will also be supplanted – and not always in ways we will welcome.

What is the proper reaction to such change? A good start is to CONSIDER HOW OUR VALUES MIGHT CHANGE OVER THE NEXT 100 YEARS.

Secondly, there is an idea of moral progress that can help us see how values might change in ways that we today could accept as FOR THE BETTER even though it may not be easy for us. This alerts us to the contingency and particularity of our own moral views. It pricks our illusion that we are at the pinnacle of moral progress. It is different from asking ‘what are you or I doing wrong’ which implies we are not living up to CURRENT moral standards. Instead, it addresses our moral
IMAGINATION. Rather than speculation about future norms, we can look at underlying trends that are still unfolding, and ask where we are failing not individually but COLLECTIVELY as a moral community. In other words we can imagine a better world and in so doing may help to make it real.

As to what counts as moral progress, the authors argue that morality means giving common concerns or the wellbeing of  others as much weight as one’s own self-interest. The tricky question then is: WHO COUNTS AS THE ‘OTHER’? They conclude that moral progress means including ever more people (or beings) in the group of those WHOSE INTERESTS ARE TO BE RESPECTED. In these terms we have come a long way. But there is room for improvement, and so a key aspect of moral progress is imagining HOW THE CIRCLE MIGHT WIDEN STILL FURTHER.

The authors claim that recent research supports the view that the more people feel connected with others, the more moral they are. Hence they hope that an increasingly globalised interconnected and interdependent world will also be an  increasingly benevolent one, with ever more people (or beings) drawn into the circle of concern. But these changing values have a price. For many of us, they will mean sharing or giving up privileges that we have long enjoyed, admitting that our comfortable lifestyles are based on industries of exploitation, or otherwise recognising that we have in a hundred ways been wrong. This is not a message we rush to hear! But debating the question of what we will be condemned for in 100 years may be a way of easing the transition.

The authors then put forward four suggestions as to what they think we might be castigated for in 2115, which they regard as natural extensions of progress so far. 

1. Rights for future generations, i.e. extending the circle of moral concern IN TIME. This will involve massive  restrictions on our freedom of action, since current activities have impacts on people far into the future 
2. Rights for other conscious beings: non-human animals feel pain and many other emotions 
3. ‘Opening the floodgates’: in 100 years, our descendents may be impressed by current levels of welfare and prosperity in the developed world, but appalled that access to them depends on where you are born 
4. Healing criminals: in 100 years, no one will believe in absolute free will or that anyone chooses to become a criminal but we will not find it easy to decide who to treat, how radically and when, nor to extend sympathy to those who commit the worst crimes 

The authors acknowledge that there are many other changes they could imagine, and say they have barely touched on the  question of INEQUALITY. For many who live through them, these changes will be extremely uncomfortable – but they will not be troubling for those who grow up with them.

John suggested that the discussion should focus on societal norms in modern technological societies and how these are likely to develop, assuming that civilisation develops continuously from the present but the position of humanity in 2115 is significantly less favourable relative to how things would have been if current environmental challenges had been
adequately addressed in a timely manner.

A lively and healthy debate ensued. One of those present suggested at the conclusion of the discussion that we (GMH) should consider getting involved with H4BW - Humanists for a Better World, a BHA special interest group. See The meeting was well attended, especially given that it was August, with a lot of new people in attendance.

Is Humanism a Leftist Philosophy?

At the Stockport August meeting we had a debate on ‘Is Humanism a Leftist Philosophy?’

Speaking for the motion David Seddon opened his remarks by saying that if he had been writing an essay he would have started by defining the terms Humanism and Leftist, but he was limited by the time constraints of the meeting. He did say that Humanism is a philosophy and that Right and Left ideas are political ideologies. Humanism is not political.

Throughout history Humanism has been about equality and democracy the same as socialism. Modern Humanism started with Erasmus who was a Christian but began to think more about people than Heaven and Hell. Jesus was a socialist as evidences by his exhortations on ‘Blessed are the meek, suffer little children…, Easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle…', and giving money to the poor.  The Quakers ,formed in 1652, searched for God in everyone, even paedophiles.

With the enlightenment we had philosophers such as Voltaire and Rousseau. The American revolution promised Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness, whilst the French revolution shortly afterwards promise Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.  Both countries rejected religion as an integral part of Government. 

We need to value everyone whether they are on benefits or trying to leave Calais. We all inhabit one planet and as a race we are destroying it. Children who do well at school are not entitled to a better life than those less fortunate. All children should have a good education. Socialism and Humanism look to greater equality and agree about republicanism. We have one race and one planet, we need to work together.

Speaking against the motion Brian Stanyer said he believed he was as much a Humanist as David even though his politics were very different. He is also an republican and wants to see an end to the House of Lords. However, he is pragmatic and doesn’t believe that socialist thinking achieves what it sets out to do.  He believes that Socialism does not encourage people to strive and does not accept that people have different qualities. 

He does not believe in equal pay for everyone because if people at the top are not encouraged they stop working.  Nationalised industries were run inefficiently.  The philosophy is lovely but the results are disastrous.  He wants harsh attitudes to drugs and wants to  motivate people to do the right thing.  

A lively debate followed. Here are some of the comments from the floor:

Christianity and Capitalism support the existing social order and are resistant to change.

Religion is right wing.

Inheritance of wealth perpetuates social inequality.  Inheritance tax closes the door after the horse has bolted. We need to avoid letting people get rich in the first place.

The right wing is socially conservative whilst socialists want change.  

The right wingers also want change in a different way. 

You could not call yourself a Humanist and be on the far right.

Human nature determines your policies whether selfish or co-operative.

Are people motivate by money or by interesting work?

Many people have an idealistic streak as evidenced by the large number of volunteers.

Society should be change in the long term but we need to respond to emergencies now.

Most people just want to earn enough to live a reasonable life.

The Chair tried to get the debate back on track and the debate was wound up with a discussion on Free speech.