AHS+ Daily (13 May 2021)

Welcome to your AHS+ Daily briefing on news, views and issues related to atheism, humanism and secularism in the UK and internationally. Every weekday we highlight ten articles, news stories or other pieces of content we hope you’ll find interesting.

#01. ScathingAtheist 430: Jenner-al Election Edition

It’s Thursday! Which means it’s time for the best written, funniest atheist podcast in my library.

#02. Hindu sect fined for slave labour in New Jersey

The BAPS sect used forced labour to build the largest Hindu temple in the United States. The story raises issues of caste discrimination and links with far-right Hindu Nationalism.

#03. Uyghur imams targeted in China’s Xinjiang crackdown

The Uyghur Human Rights Project have claimed 630 imams and other Muslim religious figures have been detained in China’s crackdown in the Xinjiang region.

#04. Jordan Peterson is wrong: medical error is absolutely not the ‘third leading cause of death’

It is baffling why Peterson is popular in certain parts of the atheist and skeptic community. People like Peterson bring the sort of pseudoscience and magical thinking into a groups founded on rejecting it, by dressing it up in intellectual contrarianism.

#05. Practicing the withdrawal method?

The National Secular Society report on an independent faith school where every pupil has been withdrawn from sex education, seemingly encouraged by the school’s own policy. How can this possibly mean the school “have fulfilled their statutory responsibilities regarding the teaching of relationships, health and sex education”?

#06. Living in faith and love

While it is good to see progressive religious people try to support LGBT rights, until they are willing to honestly face up to religion’s role in and theological roots of homophobia and transphobia, then they risk simply pink washing those institutions.

#07. Latest religious freedom report from the US state department acknowledges non-believers

#08. Debate continues over German Bishops blessing same-sex marriages despite Vatican opposition

Being less bigoted than Pope Francis and the Catholic Church is an extremely low bar.

#09. Bill to allow creationism to be taught in Arkansas fails narrowly

10. Keep on top of secularist issues with the National Secular Society’s daily collection of news and commentary from across the media.

Thanks for reading

AHS+ Daily is a new feature we are adding in addition to our weekly articles (Mondays at 10.00) and we’d love to hear your feedback. You can always contact us with any suggestions of what you’d like to see included.

If you value this content and are able to financially support it, that would be great. Just a couple of pounds a month would help with hosting and other costs.

Please join our community on Twitter and Facebook to help share the blog, and help pass it along to anyone who may be interested.

AHS+ Daily (12 May 2021)

Welcome to your AHS+ Daily briefing on news, views and issues related to atheism, humanism and secularism in the UK and internationally. Every weekday we highlight ten articles, news stories or other pieces of content we hope you’ll find interesting.

#01. Another Christian claims they are being discriminated against because they can’t be homophobic at work

A former chaplain at a private college in Nottingham is claiming religious persecution after being disciplined for calling same-sex marriage and gay sex is “morally problematic” as part of a wider criticism of the school’s support of LGBT rights.

#02. Bad sociology: religion doesn’t improve charitable giving

The Tippling Philosopher explores the claim that religion makes people more likely to support charity and the mountains of sociological evidence that either counteracts or undermines this.

#03. Could an epidemiology for viral ideas end the culture war?

Should we be ‘treating’ the manifestations of bad beliefs or their causes? A little bit of false equivalency between the alt-right and ‘neo-puritans’, but an interesting read. I have my doubts about how far the epidemiology analogy can be applied, but atheists, skeptics and rationalists of all types should learn that proving a belief false is not always the best way to address a flawed belief system.

#04. Canadian church fined $74k for ignoring Covid restrictions

Another day, another religious institution crying persecution when they don’t get special exemptions from Covid restrictions.

#05. My fifth post

We’ve been continuing our regular weekly articles. The latest explores the 2018 theocratic dystopian novel Vox, written by Christina Dalcher.

#06. Six pseudoscience promoters aiming to be the next mayor of London

This piece is a couple of weeks old, but well worth a read now as we digest the results of last week’s elections. It’s the article I wish I’d written, from The Skeptic, and focuses of six of the pseudoscience promoting and conspiracist also rans in the London Mayoral election. The London Mayoralty is the biggest election in the UK and it sometimes seems that any politician at a loss of what to do next or with dreams of skipping the ranks wants to give it a go.

#07. Exploring the seven types of atheism

Beyond Atheism has fast become one of the best and most enriching atheist podcasts in my library, I’ve just listened to their episode on John Gray’s Seven Types of Atheism.

#08. Banning conversion therapy, apart from the religions that actually practice it?

In yesterday’s Queen’s Speech, the government finally committed to banning anti-LGBT conversion therapy. But there are concerns that there could be loopholes for religious groups.

#09. Exploring the early history of secularism in episode forty-nine of the NSS podcast.

This episode of the National Secular Society’s podcast explores the role of freethinkers and atheists in the radical reform movement of the nineteenth century, before and after the founding of the secularist movement.

#10. Finally, dying matters

It is dying matters awareness week. A non-religious humanistic worldview really allows us to demystify and come to terms with death. Humanists UK are encouraging people to discuss their funeral wishes in advance and explore some of the many ways that humanists and non-religious people think about death and dying.

Thanks for reading

AHS+ Daily is a new feature we are adding in addition to our weekly articles (Mondays at 10.00) and we’d love to hear your feedback. You can always contact us with any suggestions of what you’d like to see included.

If you value this content and are able to financially support it, that would be great. Just a couple of pounds a month would help with hosting and other costs.

Please join our community on Twitter and Facebook to help share the blog, and help pass it along to anyone who may be interested.

Silence can be deafening, review of Vox

A review of the atheist, humanist and secularist themes in the 2018 theocratic dystopian novel Vox, written by Christina Dalcher.

Set in an undefined near future in which the USA has become a Christian theocracy, it is clear from the front cover onwards that Vox is startling and high concept. Women have been relegated to second class status, their passports, jobs and bank accounts removed. Most shockingly all women and girls have been fitted with a counter which delivers powerful electric shocks if they go over a permitted 100 words a day.

This symbolism for the religious right’s obsession with controlling female expression is as subtle as a sledgehammer. The sanitised language of ‘modesty’ and ‘purity’ seen in real world theocratic movements is on full display as is the disturbing fashion accessorisation of oppression. Dr Jean McClellan, our viewpoint character, resists attempts by others to sanitise these instruments of control; rebuking her husband describing the electric shockers as bracelets and refusing a pink model for her daughter.

The inciting incident begins when the president’s brother develops a brain aneurysm leaving him unable to speak. Jean’s expertise as a neurologist studying exactly this sort of aneurysm is needed and, though the regime may preach that women are not suited to the workplace, arrangements are made.

An easy criticism of Vox would be that it is derivative. The front cover even carries a promotional quote calling it a “Reimagining of the Handmaid’s Tale”, and I am strongly reminded of Frederic C. Rich’s Christian Nation. But I also own around a dozen paint-by-numbers zombie apocalypse stories so I am clearly not averse to repetitions on a theme. What matters is the execution and what it adds to the genre.

Jean’s interactions with her son Steven, seen contemporaneously and through flashbacks, are the novel’s most unique and stand out contribution to the genre. We see him as a young man (15 during the story’s main events) finding a sense of identity in the right-wing Christianity seeping into society. Jean fights her growing temptation to hate her son, and so do we, as we are left wondering at what point he stops being a victim of and when he starts being a perpetrator of this radicalisation.

Jean’s interactions with her son do a lot of the heavy lifting in the otherwise limited worldbuilding department. Extra-curricular religious lessons start being offered at Steven’s school and while uncomfortable at their overtones of Christian conservatism and toxic masculinity, Jean doesn’t feel able to complain or intervene. Bit by bit this radicalisation becomes more explicit. I know lots of parents in a similar position, fearing looking unreasonable or ‘hysterical’ if they object to some religious intrusion into their supposedly secular school.

Overall, the worldbuilding is high concept rather than detailed. Most of the structures of the state and society in Vox seem familiar, and it is implied that the Christian Nationalists seizing of power has been through at least partially democratic means.

Vox is scathing in its critique of men’s weaknesses; the insecurity which lies at the heart of misogyny and susceptibility to toxic peer pressure. It is a great pity that, outside of the son, the male characters are so two dimensional. Though this is largely a product of the first-person narrative framing.

Other tropes are hit through the novel. I’m really fascinated by how this genre handles what I call the canary character; a character we normally meet through flashback (in the case of Vox, her name is Jackie), often  related to the protagonist or an old college friend. This character is often presented as a slightly loopy activist who warns about the coming theocracy but is dismissed as hysterical – they are the canary in the coal mine of the story.

Particularly through the Ray family, led by Del the mailman (Del-iver-ray), Vox explores the intersection between Christian Nationalism, race and class in a way largely overlooked by similar books in the genre. Working class families and those of colour, alongside other minorities, would suffer most if Christian Nationalist dreams were to come true.

It’s a good debut novel, but Christina Dalcher’s background as a short fiction writer is evident in the novel’s biggest weakness… its pacing. The short chapters are intended to give a sense of constant momentum drawing you in. This effect is enhanced in what I’ve heard of the audio version. Where this works well, it builds the tension in a way which strangely reminded me of the first part of Dracula. The sense of unease and fear builds up and you can imagine each small chapter is being secretly scribbled down by our protagonist when they can.

Elsewhere the pacing falls flat; the momentum seems to peter out and events leap forward based on contrivances. I assumed that the author was aiming for 100 chapters to match the 100 word limit, meaning the ending felt even more rushed.

If you’re genre savvy, you’ll see the twists coming. But that shouldn’t detract from a good story. If you’re looking for an accessible but thought provoking look at theocratic fiction, then I’d recommend giving this a read.

Thanks for reading

Let me know what you thought of this article and if you want to hear more. I’m thinking of doing more reviews on books from an AHS+ perspective, are there any you’d like to see? Would you prefer books that are generally pro or anti atheist, humanist or secularist?

If you value this content and are able to financially support it, that would be great. Just a couple of pounds a month would help with hosting and other costs, and one day help expand our operations.

Please join our community on Twitter and Facebook to help share the blog, and help pass it along to anyone who may be interested.

Happy humans and atheist ‘A’s; the symbolism of AHS+

As an amateur graphic design enthusiast and doodler, I’ve been thinking about common symbols used by different atheist, humanist and secularist groups, what they communicate and why they are or aren’t successful.

The happy human

1 diverse humanist symbols

In 1965 the British Humanist Association ran an international competition, with a prize of five guineas, to design an easily recognisable, meaningful symbol for humanism. The winning design by Dennis Barrington became the ‘happy human’ whose history originally inspired this article.

The symbol is reminiscent of the da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, which has been used to illustrate the Humanist Manifesto, showing the roots of humanism stretch back far to the renaissance and beyond. A human is a fitting emblem for a worldview which places human agency at its centre. And it is an ‘H’ which works well for the many translations which begin with the same letter.

While the initial and modern trademark are owned by Humanists UK, they have encouraged its adoption and hundreds of humanists organisations around the world have created their own variations of the design.

The happy human was originally known as the happy man, though along with the name change, revisions have lent towards a more inclusive agender version. Interestingly enough a superhuman flying design was apparently suggested in 1965. Happily, this with its sense of smug humanist superiority was rejected and so the happy human, unlike some of those on this list, provides a symbol in which we can see ourselves.

If you would like to learn more, I would recommend this write up in Humanist Life. Some years ago, Conway Hall had an exhibition dedicated to the symbol and it would be interesting to see something like that again.

The atheist A

2 different atheist A

My preferred type of this design is the atheist A spiral designed by Diane Reed for Atheist Alliance International (AAI), though the copyright for this was released by the artist and it is extremely widely used. It is probably the only atheist symbol which is as ubiquitous as the happy humanist. AAI currently use a more stylised capital A in the form of a triangle.

According to user PZ Meyers: “The circle represents the natural universe, the point is the inquiring mind, and the resemblance to the Latin ‘A’ is both a nod to the language of science, and to the necessity of having some easily graspable connection to ‘atheism’.”

It is also reminiscent of the at sign (@), which reflects the important role that online email and social media has played in the modern atheist movement.

Other notable versions of the atheist A include the scarlet script “A” in the Zapfino typeface. This was adopted by the Out Campaign launched by Robin Elisabeth Cornwell at the Richard Dawkins Foundation. The campaign aimed to reappropriate a symbol of stigmatism (more on that later) to encourage closeted atheists to proudly self-identify.

Scientific symbols

3 different atomic atheist symbols

The atomic whirl may sound like a pop band invented by an artificial intelligence. It is actually the symbol of American Atheists. It was selected when the group was formed in 1963, a modern symbol of the atomic age. The use of the symbol associates atheism with science. In the American Atheist design the central orbital is open at one end: “This demonstrates that while atheists rely on the scientific method for learning about the cosmos and increasing our knowledge about nature, we know that not all of the answers are in.”

While the logo itself is copyrighted, the atomic symbol with its association with a scientific worldview and discovery is widely used by atheist groups and individuals, for example the International Association of Atheists.

4 differnt DNA atheist symbols including CFI

Another scientific symbol that I see commonly used for AHS+ identification is the double helix. This associates atheists and other AHS+ groups with science and particularly the science of genetics and evolution, which is often attacked by religious reactionaries. In the logos for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and Centre for Inquiry, the double helix is presented like a flame, a torch of rationality lighting up a dark world. I also really like this design by artist Mel Biv. Other notable examples include the Openly Secular campaign which grew out of the Out Campaign referenced above.

5 different infinity atheist symbols including camp quest

The infinity symbol shows up in a lot of AHS+ logos. I think the best example is from Camp Quest, where the different loops are shaped into their initials, CQ. The symbol evokes the infinite possibilities of exploration in the real world, as well as the interconnectedness of community. In some designs it can be seen to subvert the Christian ichthys symbol.

Sometimes, as in the example above, DNA imagery is incorporated into the infinity symbol, likely symbolising the infinite possibilities within humanity.

The Leviathan Cross is also used as a symbol within atheistic or Satanist groups parodying Christianity, though not widely used in other AHS+ circles. The infinity symbol here indicates the infinite possibilities of nature while the double inverted cross symbolises protection and balance between people. Satanism, both as a satirical and metaphorical religion is more likely to appropriate religious symbols than other AHS+ groups. Doing so is itself an act of satirising Christian conspiracy theories about hidden heretics identified by secret marks.

Direct subversion of religious symbol

6 Darwin Fish and the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Darwin fish, the Flying Spaghetti Monster and variations on the crucifix are often used within AHS+ iconography to satirise or subvert religious ideas.

7 Ex Muslim org logos

While popular within online AHS+ communities direct subversions of religious symbols are rarely adopted as the symbol of organised groups. Notable exceptions include Ex-Muslim groups, many of which appropriate the Crescent and Star or other Islamic symbols. A common design inverts the crescent (similar to an inverted cross in anti-Christian imagery) and replaces the star with the prefix “EX”. This very symbol is an act of defiance given strong Islamic taboos against blasphemy or innovation. Interestingly many Ex-Muslim groups also make use of green, a colour strongly associated with Islam, or red, its opposite.

I suspect that as denominational specific apostate groups grow in visibility, appropriation and subversion of more diverse religious symbols may be more a popular in their iconography.

Secularism

8 secularist logos

As far as I can see, there isn’t a symbol specifically associated with secularism. If you search for one you tend to get more examples of symbols associated with atheism and humanism. I wonder if this is related to secularism being a more complicated idea that is often misunderstood or seen as part of atheism, rather than its own separate ideology. Common approaches to illustrating secularism include equals signs, scales or balance between different religious symbols and occasionally a capital ‘S’. Of that last type, I particularly like how Pagans for Secularism have incorporated the capital ‘S’ and the pentagram.

Use of religious symbols, often a range of symbols together, or repetitions of symbols to indicate diversity, are more common within secularist groups which are more open to religion or associated with particular religious traditions. British Muslims for Secular Democracy also make use of a traditional Islamic symbol (the Rub el Hizb) in an interesting way. Because the organisation is not anti-religious and includes religious Muslim secularists, the symbol is not subversive. It is more complicated than a traditional Rub el Hizb indicating an open-mindedness to other perspectives, while its use of angles and colours is reminiscent of a union flag, indicating a comfort combining Islam with symbols of a largely secular country.

Perhaps when George Holyoake was inventing the word secularism he should have come up with some symbol to help identify it distinctly from atheism. Speaking of the nineteenth century secularist movement, I was surprised to learn that the pansy was once a widely recognised symbol of freethought. Charles Bradlaugh, founder of the National Secular Society, took the flower and its colours for his election campaigning from the late 1860’s. Pansy is derived from the French pensée, meaning thought or reflection, as is pensive. Interestingly, Pansy is first recorded being used as an insult much later, in 1929, with overtones of anti-intellectualism and homophobia. I wonder if this is related to its association with prominent freethinkers and secularists who were pacifists during WW1.

Others

9 Brights celestial body logo

The Brights, an atheistic social movement founded by Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell, and definitely the topic of a future article, use an interesting symbol. The symbol represents a celestial body viewed from space, so can be placed in any direction. It is intended to bring in the ideas of scientific grandeur, the humbling power of nature and humanity’s place in the cosmos incorporated in other AHS+ symbols. But the imagery, like other aspects of The Brights’ ideas, is in my view both too self-aggrandising and confused in its relation to the people it aims to represent.

10 atheist day green circles

The green circle image used by the Atheist Republic #AtheistDay campaign and other online atheists, often associated with Ex-Muslims, is an interesting symbol which doesn’t fit neatly into any of these other categories. The circle could be seen to represent the natural world and all its possibilities or the Earth itself and the need for global solidarity. It is drawn in paint indicating the importance of artistic and creative expression in challenging religious fundamentalism. The circle indicating a zero or the natural world devoid of gods is itself a common atheistic symbol.

Triangles

11 different Sunday Assembly triangles

Triangles are widely used within AHS+ imagery, because of their association with scientific rationalism and balance. It is also a dynamic shape which can be used to indicate direction. I really like how Sunday Assembly, a movement of secular congregations, use the triangle. Sunday Assembly seek to “reclaim the rituals, language, and symbolism long dominated by religious and political forces” so the triangle, also used in Christian iconography to represent the trinity, can be seen as representing their own secular trinity of principles: Live Better. Help Often. Wonder More, and the idea that these are in some sense different, but co-equal parts of the same idea. The arrangement of the letters in a “non-traditional and puzzling manner” also invites the viewer to delve deeper. The upside down triangle is also reminiscent of the location pin marker, indicating the presence of an assembly in physical space.

12 AHS plus triangle logos

I had a lot of pretentious notes on the logo for the AHS+ blog. The three-sided triangle is designed to show that atheism, humanism and secularism can each serve as an equal foundation. The corners are rounded, to show that the divisions between these concepts are not always clear. The triangle is a bit like some variations of the atheist A, but also looks a little like a house – indicating that AHS+ space should be a home for people. The triangle can also be seen as an empty frame, where you can place yourself. In UK signage, triangles indicate warnings and at the AHS+ blog we are often warning about issues. The colour has deep symbolism, meaning that I like pink.

Thanks for reading

Let me know what you thought of this article and if you want to hear more. My focus was on symbols used widely across different atheist, humanist and secularist groups, rather than specific logos. But if there are any I’ve missed, if you have a favourite logo or symbol used by an AHS+ group, or you have any thoughts on those above, please let me know.

If you value this content and are able to financially support it, that would be great. Just a couple of pounds a month would help with hosting and other costs, and one day help expand our operations.

Please join our community on Twitter and Facebook to help share the blog, and help pass it along to anyone who may be interested.

The transphobia problem in AHS+

Many atheist, humanist and secularist groups loudly and proudly proclaim their trans-inclusivity. But if religious fundamentalists are the major drivers and funders of organised transphobia, why does it remain so prevalent in AHS+ spaces?

Facts don’t care about your feelings

Many of us in the AHS+ community rightly dismiss people’s feelings when they are used as the sole basis for unscientific claims or to defend injustices. We understand that somebody’s “feeling” that there just has to be a higher power somewhere is not an argument for the existence of a god or gods, because they are using these feelings to make a judgement about the external world. However, this should not morph into the idea that feelings are of no value, or people’s feelings can’t tell us something about how they should be treated in a just society.

When a trans woman, or for that matter a cis woman, claims that she is a woman, or describes how she would like to be treated, or her favourite ice cream flavour, she is describing facts about her own internal mind.

Science is on our side

Think of the major sources of public controversy surrounding science where AHS+ people are almost uniformly on the right side. A basic high school understanding of science is generally good enough to engage with these debates. If you’ve completed primary school, you should be able to refute creationism, an A-level in biology qualifies you to debunk any vaccine denying alternative medicine conspiracist.

Most of us amateurs know that experts understand these issues far better than us. But for whatever reason, many of us don’t seem to accept that the science of sex and gender is far more complex, and potentially disagrees with what we learnt in school.

In school I learnt that humans have two chromosomally defined sexes. But while this is broadly accurate, and enough for your Science GCSE, the biology is actually far more complex, and the inner experience of gender even more so.

Good people

It would be far simpler if everyone advocating harmful anti-trans view and practices was a moustache twirling villain. Unfortunately, there are giants of the AHS+ movement, including those with previously strong feminist credentials, those who have been on the unpopular but progressive side of so many social issues, who are on the wrong side of trans rights. I can only imagine what it’s like for trans-friends to see people who should be, and may have been, their heroes take these deeply hurtful and ignorant stances. There is no pope of atheism or prophet of secularism, but we have leaders with platforms and followers, and too many are letting us down.

Demographics

Different AHS+ spaces have very different demographics. A local humanist meeting will usually have an older demographic than a Skeptics in the Pub meetup. Many AHS+ spaces, particularly online, are very male dominated. Trans, and non-binary, people have been with us throughout history, but trans-issues have risen enormously in public visibility over the last decade, and mainstream ideas about appropriate language have evolved rapidly. It could be that the older members of our community are more likely to be out of touch with these changes, or that dynamics of toxic masculinity play a role.

Social justice and prejudice in society

Many AHS+ people feel let down by, and disconnected from, wider social justice movements with their seeming blind spot to religious privilege. I hope we can repair this disconnect, without compromising on AHS+ values, and recover from the stream of anti-woke and anti-social justice sentiment within our community.

Transphobia, and other forms of prejudice pervade society, including internalised within marginalised groups and their allies. AHS+ people and communities are not a special case, freed by the powers of our awesome rationality from the habits of wider society. Sometimes we will be wrong on certain issues or be made aware of prejudices we didn’t even realise we had internalised, and we will need to re-evaluate our positions. We should expect AHS+ communities to be at the forefront of challenging these prejudices – and compared to wider society we are – but expecting them to be entirely eradicated may be a target we can only strive for.

We’re the good guys

It is absolutely no coincidence that the rise of AHS+ movements has coincided in the West with a rapid expansion of LGBTQ rights and equalities. LGBTQ people are significantly overrepresented in nonreligious communities and the leadership of AHS+ groups. Ask many AHS+ people what our movement’s bigger successes have been and the rapid expansion of access to same-sex marriage is likely to be a very popular answer.

Many of us have got so used to seeing ourselves as the ‘good guys’ on gay and lesbian issues, or at least seen religious fundamentalists as so clearly the ‘bad guys’, that we’ve become overconfident in this status and blind to how we’ve fallen short.

There was a time where homophobia was so widespread in society that it didn’t need to hide under the umbrella of religion. For many AHS+ groups, it doesn’t matter how you dress up your homophobia in pseudo-secular terms, we still see that as a problem of religion, or religious -like dogmatism. We need to treat transphobia the same.

Edge lords, contrarians and the ‘intellectual dark web’

Religious privilege and the strong societal taboo against criticising it means AHS+ activism has attracted those more willing (or by virtue of their privilege more able) to transgress. But this willingness to offend and attack societal norms in pursuit of a fairer, more rational world, has mutated. Some AHS+ people like to see themselves as contrarians, bravely questioning anything, unencumbered by the “intellectual weakness” that comes from considering others’ emotions. While we still have a long way to go, the increased normalisation of non-religious views and criticism of religion has led some of these people to seek new ‘edgier’ issues.

Thanks for reading

To my trans and non-binary friends, who may feel worried that there isn’t a space in the AHS+ community for you, where you will be safe, valued and affirmed, I’m so sorry. I will continue to work hard to make sure you are welcome, at least here.

Everyone, please let me know what you thought of this article and if you want to read more. This certainly won’t be my last post on this topic.

Are there trans and trans-supporting activists in the AHS+ community, you’d like me to interview? Would you be interested in an article reaching out to people in our community who buy into anti-trans ideas? Would you prefer an article which was more focussed on possible solutions?

If you value this content and are able to financially support it, that would be great. Just a couple of pounds a month would help with hosting and other costs, and one day help expand our operations.

Please join our community on Twitter and Facebook to help share the blog, and help pass it along to anyone who may be interested.

AHS+ space in the UK

‘AHS+ space’ is a way of thinking about the loose collection of atheist, humanist, secularist, skeptic, freethought, rationalist etc groups that make up our movement. In my experience, a lot of these groups have a crossover of members or followers. But the different groups reflect different approaches, priorities, and styles.

I have compiled a list of such groups in the UK, to serve as a quick introduction and help anyone looking for a group to fit in with.

Atheism

Atheism UK seems to be a smaller group with an offline as well as online presence. I am not aware of any other national groups specifically focussing on atheism. Their website describes them as being formed in 2009 to “challenge religious faith in the United Kingdom. Our ultimate goals are the end of religious faith – the false and irrational belief that God or gods exist – and of religion, the social manifestation of faith.”

Humanism

Probably the largest such group in our AHS+ space is Humanists UK (HUK). They promote humanism as a positive alternative to religion. They are very active on a range of important campaigning issues, provide education about humanism, have regular interesting events and do a lot of services such as ceremonies and pastoral support for nonreligious people. Some people think they are too accommodationist or shy away from controversial issues. On the other hand, they also take on a lot of liberal social and political issues which are less directly related to religion. If that’s not your sort of thing, or you worry about mission drift, then they may not be your organisation of choice. Many local and special interest groups within the AHS+ space are affiliated to HUK and primarily identify as Humanist.

Secularism

The National Secular Society (NSS) campaigns for the separation of religion and government, freedom of and from religion. If you’re primarily concerned about religious privilege issues such as faith schools, religious exemptions to equality law and protecting secular public services, but you’re less interested in (or put off by) atheism or alternatives to religion, then they may be the place for you, given their religious neutrality. The NSS seem to share a lot of local groups with Humanists UK, and similar high-profile supporters. They are more interested in systemic change, than getting a seat at the table for the non-religious.

British Muslims for Secular Democracy was founded in 2006. They are a campaigning and advisory organisation which challenges Islamist fundamentalism and anti-Muslim bigotry.

The Centre for Secular Space was set up to “strengthen secular voices, oppose fundamentalism, and promote universality in human rights.” They were doing interesting work and events a few years ago. But they currently seem to only have an online presence.

Plus

Online skepticism has seen a lot of toxicity in recent years. But the UK skeptic movement is extremely inclusive and focused on using sceptical inquiry to address social problems. Not just unmasking fortune tellers. The Merseyside Skeptics Society are a leading group and run the largest skeptic conference in the world (QED). You can find a Skeptics in the pub group in cities across the country, and they run online events.

Sunday Assembly was started by comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans in 2013. They’re a type of secular congregation, or ‘atheist church’. There are over 40 Sunday Assemblies around the world of various sizes, including many UK cities. They typically meet once or twice a month to provide community, talks on interesting topics and some fun songs. Their motto is “Live better. Help often. Wonder more.” Not everyone’s cup of tea. They steer well clear of campaigning, but if you’re looking for community then they may be for you. Similar organisations include The Sunday Alternative, a secular community in Reading, and New Unity, an explicitly non-religious church in London similar to Unitarian Universalist congregations in the US.

Camp Quest UK runs nonreligious residential summer camps for kids inspired by the movement in the US, where religious camps are ubiquitous. They aim to 1. provide mental and physical challenge. 2. create a culture of curiosity. 3. build a community of freethinkers. The movement started in the US, where there is a larger summer camp culture but many parents struggle to find a secular option. This may be less of a problem in the UK. However, though they have become more inclusive, Girl Guides and Scouts can still be quite religious.

FiliA, meaning daughter, they put on a large feminist conference that has supported secularist principles and been open about the role of religious fundamentalism in violence against women. But a lot of the people involved have been openly transphobic and are very anti sex worker.

Southall Black Sisters is a secular charity providing support primarily to black, Asian and African-Caribbean women, experiencing violence or other inequalities. Their work has led them to actively challenge religious fundamentalists and highlight the role of religious fundamentalism in perpetuating gender-based violence.

Politics

Most of the major political parties have some sort of AHS+ group: Labour Humanists, Humanist and Secularist Liberal Democrats, Conservative Humanists. Being a member of a political party is a great way to get involved in social change, make connections and access training. If you are a member of a political party, I would really recommend joining whatever AHS+s group they have.

Ex-religious

Within the AHS+ movement, groups catering to the specific needs and experiences of former members of religious groups play an important role.

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, produce a lot of research and media on the lives of, and challenges facing, ex-Muslims. They provide a community for many who have lost that support after coming out as non-believers or who are still in the closet.

Ex-JW Support provides a community for ex Jehovah Witness, and expose some of the harm caused by this organisation.

The Faith to faithless project, now managed by Humanists UK, was founded in 2015 to improve public and public service understanding of apostasy, and to support those who have left religion.

Others

The online AHS+ space is a whole other kettle of fish. I may write something in the future looking at the major blogs, podcasts and social media personalities which have a following.

Thanks for reading

Let me know what you thought of this article and if you want to hear more. What you think these organisations do better or worse? Are there any I missed? Would you be interested in a series looking at some of these in more depth? Should I keep this updated? Should I do something on the international groups that operate in the UK?

If you value this content and are able to financially support it, that would be great. Just a couple of pounds a month would help with hosting and other costs, and one day help expand our operations.

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What is AHS Plus?

AHS+ is a catchall term I’ve come to use over more than decade’s involvement in atheist, humanist, secularist, and similar groups, of various nonreligious and irreligious types. It is an attempt to recognise both the overlapping and distinct identities within our movement.

How we define ourselves is a debate many feel passionately about, and others just shrug at. Terms such as secularism and humanism, although they have their own distinct meanings, have at times been put forward as ‘positive’ alternatives to the term atheism.

A 2019 survey gathered the views of nearly 34,000 nonreligious Americans. Among the wealth of findings, those on identities stood out most to me. When asked how they feel about a range of nonreligious identity labels, 79% strongly identified as atheist, 75% as secular and 65% as humanist. When asked to pick a primary identity, 57% chose atheist with humanist a distant second with 14% and no other identity label passing 10%. Many people who do not identify as non-religious may share these labels.

The term AHS+ should help us understand our common interests. It is an attempt to encompass, rather than replace or override. If you primarily identify as an atheist, then that’s great. This blog will very much come from an atheistic perspective. But there are many committed secularists who identify as religious, and humanists who practice their humanism within a faith tradition. Many atheists hold religious cultural identities. All these people should have a place within our movement.

The term is consciously based on the LGBT+ label, which allows people to see themselves as part of a community of shared interests with complementary identities, without compromising on their own primary identity. The term does not imply that every letter in the acronym must apply or apply equally to all within the wider community it covers.

I’ve framed this in terms of identity, but each of the initials in AHS+ also represents an idea. Atheism is a view on a single question, humanism covers a range of worldviews or life stances, and secularism is a political philosophy.

We need more effective approaches to atheism to challenge religious dogmatism, more effective approaches to humanism to bring empathy and reason to solving the crises we face, and secularism to liberate us from controlling religious privilege in the public sphere.

This blog will explore these social, political, philosophical and identity issues, with a particular focus on the UK. It will strive to be a positive voice for change within the wider AHS+ community.

Thanks for reading

If you value this content and are able to financially support it, that would be great. Just a couple of pounds a month would help with hosting and other costs, and one day help expand our operations.

Please join our community on Twitter and Facebook to help share the blog, and help pass it along to anyone who may be interested. Please feel free to get in touch with feedback or ideas for future articles.