Sorry, regular readers, I’ll be back to ranting about quackery or religious nutjobs very soon but, in the meantime, my attention has been drawn to a story that concerns subjects particularly close to my heart: humanism and, in particular, the critical thinking skills that every humanist should be striving to develop, especially if they aspire to positions of responsibility that affect other people’s lives.

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I see the utterly tedious topic of the religious Thought for the Day slot on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme has been back in the headlines lately after Radio 4 Controller, Mark Damazer, said the BBC Trust is considering complaints made by hundreds of disgruntled atheists. It’s very nice, I’m sure, of the BBC to finally consider the complaints when everyone I know who has ever complained received a standard rejection letter from Damazer taking the same daft ‘secularists get a big enough slice of the pie already’ line as many religionists do.

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Having now written three negative posts about particular Muslims, I was hoping that this one would be a lot more positive. I had high expectations of a gathering initiated by the Dialogue with Islam organisation and co-hosted by the Central London Humanist group. On its website Dialogue with Islam appears to be a well-intentioned initiative whose declared sole aim is to “provide a bridge of understanding and discussion between the Western Intellectuals and the Muslim community in Britain”. The website features quotes from a few high-profile journalists and politicians giving the impression that, thanks to Dialogue with Islam, valuable and constructive discussions were taking place from which we could all learn something.

As a result of the meeting I attended — a precious hour and a half of my life that I’ll never get back — I have resolved, firstly, not to bother attending any more CHG meetings that are addressed by religous speakers and, secondly, to join the National Secular Society.

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Or something like that. Last night I went to the Conway Hall Humanist Centre in London’s Red Lion Square Conway Hall balconyfor a meeting organised by the Central London Humanist group.

For those that don’t know it, the Conway Hall was built some 90 years ago by the South Place Ethical Society — a Society dedicated to fostering “freedom in moral and spiritual life and thought”. The SPES describes itself as “the oldest freethought community in the world. It was founded in 1793 as a dissenting congregation and for more than two centuries has been a focus for serious discussion of basic ethical principles. By 1888 SPES had rejected the existence of God and became an Ethical Society, the only one which now survives. SPES is now an educational charity and maintains a proud tradition of free enquiry in all areas of thought and action.”

So it was a bit of a surprise and actually quite alarming to arrive there on a hot summer evening and find a number of women shrouded from head to foot in black being shepherded upstairs by men who were dressed a good deal more comfortably.

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Atheists, by virtue of being atheist, think there’s nothing wrong with deliberately flying light planes into buildings, killing thousands of people. This view was expressed by a a 25-year-old Muslim from East London with a talent for self-advertisement, who hilariously describes himself as an “intellectual activist who has been working in the field of Muslim apologetics for almost a decade”.

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