Two new series of posts, on religions’ faults and student atheist et al societies

Oct 30, 2011 Comments Off by

I hereby announce two new series of posts I will be making in the near future. In one, “Faiths in the Firing Squad”, I will go through the world’s extant religions in descending order by size, explaining succinctly (but hopefully without unduly simplifying the issues) why there is more to be critically said about those religions’ doctrines than simply that no evidence happens to support them. We all know the first three religions in that list are Christianity, Islam or Hinduism. What comes in fourth place is a little fuzzy, as Chinese universalism (aka Chinese folk religion) and Buddhism each have approximately 400 million adherents. (At least one source I have seen puts Chinese universalism a little ahead.) When British schools speak of the “six major world religions”, they do not include Chinese universalism, but they do include Judaism and Sikhism, each of which has only a few percent of the followers of Chinese universalism, and roughly the same number as Jainism. The most British schools say about Jainism, if they discuss it at all, is that it is “a form of Hinduism”, which isn’t true.

One of the reasons I hope the series I’m proposing would be valuable is because there is so much misunderstanding of the relative significances of different religions. Another issue is that most atheists only know enough about the religion(s) most common in their own nation to undertake rebuttals against them that go beyond the universally correct complaint that no evidence exists in their favour. I want my own writings at least to not suffer this limited scope, and they will then hopefully also better inform my readers.

In the other series, “Adventures of an atheist student society”, I will discuss my experiences as part of a student society. One of my previous articles, My dinner with Richard Swinburne, discussed such an experience. In 2008, during the last term of my first year as an undergraduate, the Oxford Atheist Society was founded. I was a committee member from that day until I completed my degree, a period of more than three years, and am still in contact with those who are continuing since I left. I was one of several members of the society who attended the London launch of a national federation of such student societies called the AHS (Atheist, Humanist and Secularist). One of the society’s co–founders, Richy Thompson, now leads the AHS. Shortly thereafter our society in Oxford, working with certain other local groups, had our first “Think Week”, a week of daily free events to get more people thinking about those issues we regard as significant. That week ended with Oxford also hosting the first annual nationwide meeting of the AHS. Eventually the fall of the Oxford Secular Society led to our absorbing their funds and becoming OxASH (Oxford Atheists, Secularists and Humanists). This involved some restructuring.

I think I’ve experienced just about everything in those 3–and–a–bit years that any student society of our type can, and included the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m not sure whether anyone who is a part of, or who may have local access to, such a society will be among my readership; but, if they are, I hope to give them something to chew on, and perhaps to benefit from. Because of the meeting at the end of the first Think Week of AHS societies nationwide, I have heard of the difficulties numerous societies have faced, and I know of plenty we faced first–hand. If anyone out there is thinking of setting up a society, do: read my series to be prepared for what may happen, but I can tell you from the experience of myself and others setting up such a society really is worth it.

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About the author

For most of my time as an undergraduate there was an atheist society in my university, which was founded late in my first year there. I was a committee member from then until my degree ended, by which time the society was atheist, secularist and humanist (you needn't be all three!). This gives me many experiences to relate. I have long critiqued pro-religious arguments, including in hundreds of posts - many of them thorough rebuttals to articles - on under my name. My degree was in physics, and I know a lot of the science - physics and otherwise - relevant to the debate on religion.
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