View Full Version : Life as a humanist with the armed forces

08-27-2011, 01:54 AM
Life as a humanist with the armed forces in Afghanistan'I don't believe in the concept of an afterlife and it frightens me that people do believe in it,' Petty Officer Christopher Holden tells Riazat Butt

"Humanism doesn't have a lot to say about war and conflict; what it would say is that the subjugation of women and the lack of human flourishing might give a reason for this war," says Petty Officer Christopher Holden from 3 Commando Brigade, which is deployed in Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province.

The 38-year-old from Peterborough describes himself as a humanist because "it seems the most moral philosophy".

Christopher joined the Royal Navy in 1990, aged 17. He was, as he puts it, "flunking his A-levels with too much partying". His friends were in the forces. He wanted to travel so he signed up. He is on his first tour.

His experiences of church, like so many deployed troops, are restricted to births, marriages and deaths. In a similar vein, his only regular exposure to religion is the vigil, something explored earlier in this series. It is here that Christopher's feelings diverge from the established narrative. He feels ambivalence towards the ceremony and a "certain amount of anger".

It's overtly religious at vigils and that surprised me at first. I can see the need for a ritualised, communal expression of grief. I don't feel I'm forced to go against my will but there's an element of disbelief there, because I don't believe a word of it. I don't believe in the concept of an afterlife and it frightens me that people do believe in it. From that flows all manner of justification for certain things. Even though the vigils frustrate me they do offer a dependable mechanism for grieving.

Pascal's Wager seems to be at work in theatre - that living your life as if there were a God is a win-win situation. There is no harm done, everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Essentially you are religious or not depending on whether your parents were. If you had someone who was raised in a secular way, they won't drop to their knees out here. They'll have that mechanism ingrained in their mind.

While he objects to the religious elements of the vigil service he accepts that, in a military setting, it is the obvious choice. He doesn't want a vigil for himself, but ultimately he knows that, once he dies, the nature of his funeral won't affect him.

It wouldn't matter to me one way or another. But if there is an afterlife I wouldn't be screaming in rage. Perhaps when I was young I took it for granted that there was a God. There are a few lads who wouldn't want a religious vigil service. I do feel like I'm in a minority - but only at the vigil.

He feels a combination of tradition, established religion and a religious culture among the officer cadre contribute to the ties between the church and the army - especially the presence of a chaplaincy.

I'm ambivalent about military chaplaincy. On the one hand they offer a mechanism that seems difficult to replace in a secular way; that's because it's an institution, an institutional norm; there are ties between the church and the state as a whole.

I'd welcome a humanist chaplain, but chaplain is the wrong word. As soon as you say chaplain you're talking about organisation and structure while humanists are about individualism. I can't imagine what you would call a humanist chaplain.

The world would be better off without religion and so would the armed forces, he says, but he concedes that chaplains and religion are a part of the military and always have been. "It's hard to shake tradition," he says.

You can read more about Christopher's experiences in the October edition of New Humanist magazine. Read all Riazat Butt's posts from Afghanistan here

08-27-2011, 04:32 AM
Without religion the human species would still be living in caves and fighting wars with rocks and sticks.

08-27-2011, 08:12 AM
No. In the beginning, all were atheists.
And, along came christians, and the dark ages began. We would still be in the dark ages if christians had their way.
If not for christians, man would hav been on the moon in 969.

08-27-2011, 03:13 PM
<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: cushioncrawler</div><div class="ubbcode-body">No. In the beginning, all were atheists.
And, along came christians, and the dark ages began. We would still be in the dark ages if christians had their way.
If not for christians, man would hav been on the moon in 969.
mac. </div></div>

1 - Man has sought the Creator since there was man.

2 - Christians were most certainly not the first religion.

3 - The "DARK AGES" came to be from the decadence and fall of the Roman empire.

4 - The church was one of the main sponsors of the sciences which led western Europe from the dark ages.

5 - If it were not for Newton, a devoutly religious man who sought to understand the Creator, we still wouldn't be able to travel to the Moon.

08-27-2011, 05:33 PM

A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom

LL.D. (Yale), L.H.D. (Columbia), PH.DR. (Jena)
Late President and Professor of History at Cornell University

Two Volumes Combined

New York
D. Appleton and Company

Copyright, 1896
By D. Appleton and Company.

08-27-2011, 05:35 PM
Victory of the Church over Galileo
While news of triumphant attacks upon him and upon the truth he had established were coming in from all parts of Europe, Galileo prepared a careful treatise in the form of a dialogue, exhibiting the arguments for and against the Copernican and Ptolemaic systems, and offered to submit to any conditions that the Church tribunals might impose, if they would allow it to be printed. At last, after discussions which extended through eight years, they consented, imposing a humiliating condition - a preface written in accordance with the ideas of Father Ricciardi, Master of the Sacred Palace, and signed by Galileo, in which the Copernican theory was virtually exhibited as a play of the imagination, and not at all as opposed to the Ptolemaic doctrine reasserted in 1616 by the Inquisition under the direction of Pope Paul V.
This new work of Galileo - the Dialogo - appeared in 1632, and met with prodigious success. It put new weapons into the hands of the supporters of the Copernican theory. The pious preface was laughed at from one end of Europe to the other. This roused the enemy; the Jesuits, Dominicans, and the great majority of the clergy returned to the attack more violent than ever, and in the midst of them stood Pope Urban VIII, most bitter of all. His whole power was now thrown against Galileo. He was touched in two points: first, in his personal vanity, for Galileo had put the Pope's arguments into the mouth of one of the persons in the dialogue and their refutation into the mouth of another; but, above all, he was touched in his religious feelings. Again and again His Holiness insisted to all comers on the absolute and specific declarations of Holy Scripture, which prove that the sun and heavenly bodies revolve about the earth, and declared that to gainsay them is simply to dispute revelation. Certainly, if one ecclesiastic more than another ever seemed not under the care of the Spirit of Truth, it was Urban VIII in all this matter.

08-27-2011, 05:38 PM
Not so with American Lutheranism. In 1873 was published in St. Louis, at the publishing house of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri, a work entitled Astromomische Unterredung, the author being well known as a late president of a Lutheran Teachers' Seminary.

No attack on the whole modern system of astronomy could be more bitter. On the first page of the introduction the author, after stating the two theories, asks, ``Which is right?'' and says: ``It would be very simple to me which is right, if it were only a question of human import. But the wise and truthful God has expressed himself on this matter in the Bible. The entire Holy Scripture settles the question that the earth is the principal body (Hauptkorper) of the universe, that it stands fixed, and that sun and moon only serve to light it.''

The author then goes on to show from Scripture the folly, not only of Copernicus and Newton, but of a long line of great astronomers in more recent times. He declares: ``Let no one understand me as inquiring first where truth is to be found - in the Bible or with the astronomers. No; I know that beforehand - that my God never lies, never makes a mistake; out of his mouth comes only truth, when he speaks of the structure of the universe, of the earth, sun, moon, and stars....

``Because the truth of the Holy Scripture is involved in this, therefore the above question is of the highest importance to me.... Scientists and others lean upon the miserable reed (Rohrstab) that God teaches only the order of salvation, but not the order of the universe.''

Very noteworthy is the fact that this late survival of an ancient belief based upon text-worship is found, not in the teachings of any zealous priest of the mother Church, but in those of an eminent professor in that branch of Protestantism which claims special enlightenment.

Nor has the warfare against the dead champions of science been carried on by the older Church alone.

On the 10th of May, 1859, Alexander von Humboldt was buried. His labours had been among the glories of the century, and his funeral was one of the most imposing that Berlin had ever seen. Among those who honoured themselves by their presence was the prince regent, afterward the Emperor William I; but of the clergy it was observed that none were present save the officiating clergyman and a few regarded as unorthodox.

08-27-2011, 05:49 PM
In America the same struggle between the old ideas and the new went on. In the middle years of the century the first adequate effort in behalf of the newer conception of the sacred books was made by Theodore Parker at Boston. A thinker brave and of the widest range, - a scholar indefatigable and of the deepest sympathies with humanity, - a man called by one of the most eminent scholars in the English Church ``a religious Titan,'' and by a distinguished French theologian ``a prophet,'' he had struggled on from the divinity school until at that time he was one of the foremost biblical scholars, and preacher to the largest regular congregation on the American continent. The great hall in Boston could seat four thousand people, and at his regular discourses every part of it was filled. In addition to his pastoral work he wielded a vast influence as a platform speaker, especially in opposition to the extension of slavery into the Territories of the United States, and as a lecturer on a wide range of vital topics; and among those whom he most profoundly influenced, both politically and religiously, was Abraham Lincoln. During each year at that period he was heard discussing the most important religious and political questions in all the greater Northern cities; but his most lasting work was in throwing light upon our sacred Scriptures, and in this he was one of the forerunners of the movement now going on not only in the United States but throughout Christendom. Even before he was fairly out of college his translation of De Wette's Introduction to the Old Testament made an impression on many thoughtful men; his sermon in 1841 on The Transient and Permanent in Christianity marked the beginning of his great individual career; his speeches, his lectures, and especially his Discourse on Matters pertaining to Religion, greatly extended his influence. His was a deeply devotional nature, and his public Prayers exercised by their touching beauty a very strong religious influence upon his audiences. He had his reward. Beautiful and noble as were his life and his life-work, he was widely abhorred. On one occasion of public worship in one of the more orthodox churches, news having been received that he was dangerously ill, a prayer was openly made by one of the zealous brethren present that this arch-enemy might be removed from earth. He was even driven out from the Unitarian body. But he was none the less steadfast and bold, and the great mass of men and women who thronged his audience room at Boston and his lecture rooms in other cities spread his ideas. His fate was pathetic. Full of faith and hope, but broken prematurely by his labours, he retired to Italy, and died there at the darkest period in the history of the United States - when slavery in the state and the older orthodoxy in the Church seemed absolutely and forever triumphant. The death of Moses within sight of the promised land seems the only parallel to the death of Parker less than six months before the publication of Essays and Reviews and the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, of the United States.

But here it must be noted that Parker's effort was powerfully aided by the conscientious utterances of some of his foremost opponents. Nothing during the American struggle against the slave system did more to wean religious and God-fearing men and women from the old interpretation of Scripture than the use of it to justify slavery. Typical among examples of this use were the arguments of Hopkins, Bishop of Vermont, a man whose noble character and beautiful culture gave him very wide influence in all branches of the American Protestant Church. While avowing his personal dislike to slavery, he demonstrated that the Bible sanctioned it. Other theologians, Catholic and Protestant, took the same ground; and then came that tremendous rejoinder which echoed from heart to heart throughout the Northern States: ``The Bible sanctions slavery? So much the worse for the Bible.'' Then was fulfilled that old saying of Bishop Ulrich of Augsburg: ``Press not the breasts of Holy Writ too hard, lest they yield blood rather than milk.''

08-27-2011, 05:57 PM
Echoes came from America. One review, the organ of the most widespread of American religious sects, declared that Darwin was ``attempting to befog and to pettifog the whole question''; another denounced Darwin's views as ``infidelity''; another, representing the American branch of the Anglican Church, poured contempt over Darwin as ``sophistical and illogical,'' and then plunged into an exceedingly dangerous line of argument in the following words: ``If this hypothesis be true, then is the Bible an unbearable fiction;... then have Christians for nearly two thousand years been duped by a monstrous lie.... Darwin requires us to disbelieve the authoritative word of the Creator'' A leading journal representing the same church took pains to show the evolution theory to be as contrary to the explicit declarations of the New Testament as to those of the Old, and said: ``If we have all, men and monkeys, oysters and eagles, developed from an original germ, then is St. Paul's grand deliverance - `All flesh is not the same flesh; there is one kind of flesh of men, another of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds' - untrue.''

Another echo came from Australia, where Dr. Perry, Lord Bishop of Melbourne, in a most bitter book on Science and the Bible, declared that the obvious object of Chambers, Darwin, and Huxley is ``to produce in their readers a disbelief of the Bible.''

Nor was the older branch of the Church to be left behind in this chorus. Bayma, in the Catholic World, declared, ``Mr. Darwin is, we have reason to believe, the mouthpiece or chief trumpeter of that infidel clique whose well-known object is to do away with all idea of a God.''