Franke James : “My Dangerous Art”

On Sunday, October 11, more than 40 members of the BC Humanist Association

enjoyed a brilliant and whimsical yet frightening presentation by the PEN Canada/Ken Filkow prize winning artist Franke James. Through her perseverance, James was able to uncover evidence that bureaucrats and deputy ministers in the federal government effectively censored a planned European art tour, due to her “controversial” views on climate change and the oil sands. The complete story of this Kafka-esque experience is documented in Franke James’ book Banned on the Hill and in her latest blog, “Oh No Canada! Six easy ways to crush free expression.”

The BC Humanist Association video of Franke’s talk, “My Dangerous Art,” is available on YouTube:

“Not Over Yet! Humanists Should Speak out on the Right to Die with Dignity “

CFI Canada has posted a guest submission from Dying with Dignity’s Dr. David Robertson:

On February 6, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down the laws against physicians helping someone end their own life (assisted suicide) and actively ending someone’s life at their request (consent to death). Individuals seeking help must have a grievous and irremediable medical condition (which may be due to illness, injury or disability) to qualify, and assistance must be provided by a physician. These changes take effect a year from the court’s decision: February 6, 2016.

At first blush, this seems like a landmark victory for those who believe religious dogma should not curtail individual choices. But that conclusion would be premature. The court’s decision only broadly sketches out a solution; the details will determine whether the spirit of the decision is honoured.

Much of the debate surrounding Physician Assisted Death (PAD) was between those who believe in personal autonomy and the right to avoid unwanted suffering, and those who believe life is sacred and suffering is redemptive. Those same two groups are now trying to influence the creation of detailed legislation and regulations. These laws and rules will determine whether physician assisted dying is just a right on paper, or is accessible to dying individuals across the country.

Two critical issues should concern those of us who believe in the separation of church and state: the qualification process for patients, and mandatory requirements for physicians and institutions who don’t support Physician Assisted Death (PAD).

Robertson goes on to discuss the two critical issues: access requirements and the duties of physicians and institutions. Dr. Robertson’s article is available on the CFI Canada website.

The BC Humanist Association reminds us that

Time is running out to support choice in death.


New Zealand’s Cheeky Idea of God

New Zealand has a lot of atheists/unbelievers so they don’t need to worry about ticking off the more religious when they made this short film for a competition for New Zealand tourism.

My favourite line: “It’s nice to get home now and again, eh bro? Eat some ice cream. Do some bombs.”

Here is Mr. Frosty and the BMX Kid from 2010.

“The 64 Gazillion Dollar Question”

Before I received my Autumn 2015 issue of Humanist Perspectives, a friend asked me if I’d read Richard Young’s editorial, “The 64 Gazillion Dollar Question: How do you know?” I finally received my copy (I’m a subscriber), and I was so impressed with Young’s editorial I asked permission to reprint it on Canadian Atheist.

Permission received!

The 64 Gazillion Dollar Question: How do you know?

How do you know?

I can remember when I thought the question was a waste of time, a tedious and boring exercise in hair-splitting. Worse still, some people considered it rude, so you didn’t even ask.

“Because I said so” once counted as a good-enough answer for me. “Because God said so” was even better! How could you argue with that? It slammed the door on any further discussion.

My thinking slowly changed, though, in university. In the Faculty of Engineering we were allowed one elective in our first year. I chose philosophy. The course, called ‘Problems of Philosophy,’ was a buffet of ideas and topics: free will, skepticism, the mind-body problem, artificial intelligence, ethics, the existence of God, and epistemology. Those eight months did me a world of good, but the epistemology part really stuck with me. Here I am, 25+ years later, and I can’t listen to the news (or have a conversation, or read an article, or write an editorial…) without a little voice in my head asking, “How do they know that?” and “Can they really be that certain?”

With every passing year, I see more clearly the importance of this question, and I can better appreciate the hard, honest work that goes into answering it properly.

Answering it properly can literally save lives. You could say that vaccinations, helicopters and roofs that don’t collapse are all products of systematically acquired answers to “How do you know?” an endeavour sometimes called the scientific method.

Conversely, answering it poorly can kill. In the USA, about a dozen kids die every year simply because they had the misfortune of being born to parents with low epistemological standards, who believed that faith trumps chemotherapy and antibiotics. Why believe this? ‘Because God said so.’ How do you know? ‘Because my minister (or priest, or imam, or rabbi) said so.’ How do they know? ‘Stop. You’re being rude.’

Low epistemological standards affect us all. For example, it is likely that all of us have known (or will know, or will be) a person who has endured a long, drawn-out, horrible death. When such hopeless suffering befalls a beloved pet – a cat, a dog, even a hamster – our sense of compassion demands that it be put out of its misery. But when it comes to human beings, forget it; they must suffer until their last pained wheeze (p 8). Why? ‘Because it’s God’s will.’

When members of ISIS throw homosexuals from the tops of apartment buildings, when they behead aid workers, when they blow up ancient cultural treasures, when they buy and sell Yazidi girls as sex slaves, they tell us they do it because their god commands it. How can we argue with that if we allow the invocation of a god’s will in other contexts? If we ever accept the ‘god clause’ then we must also accept that we can’t tell the difference between piousness and thuggery, i.e., between good and evil. Our moral compass goes out the window, carried aloft by angels – or by demons, who knows?

How can you tell a Mormon there’s no such thing as a talking stone when you yourself believe in a talking bush? How can you laugh at a UFO cult waiting to be lifted off to a better place when you believe in the bodily Assumption of Mary? Does it become, then, just a matter of who has the best weapons, or who reproduces or proselytizes faster? Is it back to a jungle (of genes and memes) with nature still red in tooth and claw? We simply must do better than that.

I’m reminded of Alexander Pope’s lines:

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;

The proper study of mankind is Man.

To be fair, it’s not just the religious folks among us who would benefit from an epistemological booster shot; all of us could probably do with one now and then. (Check out Linus Pauling’s claims about vitamin C when you have a moment!)

A great many of the articles in this issue wrestle with the question ‘How do you know?’ in one form or another. Then again, I see the question everywhere, so don’t take my word for it!

– Richard Young

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