Haiti relief challenge

How many people are going to church this weekend? What about an atheist or secular humanist meeting? What about just meeting with some friends?

Pass around a hat, collect donations for the Haiti earthquake and drop the cash off at the nearest Red Cross office on Monday morning (or online).

I’ll collect at the BC Humanist meeting tomorrow and at my birthday party at the pub on Saturday and drop it off on Monday (I’ll even take a picture to prove it).

Remember, every dollar raised is being matched by the federal government.

Small steps

About 3 months ago I posted my criticisms about the leadership of CFI Canada. A little debate ensued and then the issue essentially died as I ran into school and focussed less on it.

In mid-October Justin Trottier issued his formal response on behalf of CFI Canada, by means of his blog ironically (considering it isn’t CFI affiliated, but I’ll admit the optics are better putting it there than on the front page of http://cficanada.ca).

The best news out of this is the following (long overdue, but that’s Canada’s system of red-tape):

As proof of how far we have come, I am pleased to announce the Centre for Inquiry is now a charitable organization in Canada and ready to issue tax receipts.

He also removed his blog postings from his Facebook profile, which further separates CFI from his men’s rights views.

Unfortunately, my concerns about the democratic nature are left unaddressed, however, it’s well worth noting that each CFI branch in Canada tends to operate as a self-directed organization. This means that CFI Vancouver (or Calgary or Montreal) almost entirely run themselves, and have access to the resources of the CFI umbrella.

CFIs board remains unelected, and I see that remaining as is for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile Humanist Canada’s elected board has undergone some internal strife recently that culminated in the resignation of board president Pat O’Brien (who spoke at the BC Humanist board meeting a couple weeks ago). I’ll avoid the gossipy details since I didn’t take notes.

Humanist Canada has kept an elected board for years, however, with declining active membership, their board essentially becomes election by acclamation (which is hardly different then appointments anyway).

In the new year I’ll likely be actively involved in both Humanist Canada and CFI Canada, and advocating for greater cooperation between both groups for the good of freethought in Canada.

Gimme’ some of that old time anti-theism

This morning I decided to make the commute to the weekly Sunday morning BC Humanist meeting in Vancouver, mainly helped by the fact the time change made getting up on a Sunday less of a chore.

I had met with the Secular Humanists in Calgary a long time ago, and was expecting a similar dynamic of older-aged, don’t-rock-the-boat style humanists.

Unfortunately, I was again the junior of most of the members by at least 20 years, and in most cases 30-50 years (one member had a granddaughter that’s my age). Nevertheless, this group still had lots of energy. The discussions were lively, and next week they plan to discuss the friendly vs. offensive atheism stances.

The meeting was fairly well organized, with a couple of leaders who saw that it ran smoothly from the catching-up gossip of the first half to a viewing of a clip from the Dawkins: Genius of Darwin Uncut Interviews. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and weren’t able to have a post-video discussion, which frustrated a few people.

I also sensed there was some discontent with the BCHA board, who for the most part weren’t in attendance. But I can’t really comment on this at all since I don’t know their internal dynamics.

They did let me know that they had tried to contact CFI Vancouver, but hadn’t heard a response so hopefully that can all be sorted out.

They also currently don’t have any registered Humanist Officiants in BC, since a few years ago they decided not to go with the religious officiant label that the BC government would require (otherwise they are just plain old marriage commissioners – which have less freedom in their ceremonies).

I will say that they were all very friendly and were definitely glad to have a newcomer to their meetings. Humanist associations have a lot of history and are well established in Canada. They’ve had charitable status for a number of years (something recently attained by CFI after much hard work) and are generally positive in outlook. Unfortunately, many humanist organizations have stagnated and failed to attract new and younger members, causing some (like in Edmonton) to vanish entirely.

So for the time being I think I’ll attend the odd BCHA event and try to encourage a few more people to come – there’s a lot of experience in these groups and it can help to sometimes no have to reinvent the wheel.

An open letter re: the Iron Ring

The following is the letter that I have sent regarding the Iron Ring ceremony:

An open letter to the Corporation of the Seven Wardens Inc., the University of Alberta Faculty of Engineering, and APEGGA

I write to address my disappointment in The Corporation of the Seven Wardens Inc. (CSW), the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Engineering, and of APEGGA. This disappointment stems from the exclusive and outdated language that remains in the Obligation for the Ritual Calling of the Engineer. I refer specifically to the explicit assumption that all engineers to be obligated hold a belief in the existence of a higher power.

On 9 March 2009, I was refused the ability to sign the Obligation without violating my conscience. I had requested the option to strike the line “God helping me” from the end of the Obligation, and was denied. As such I could not sign the document Possessing no belief in God, it would be dishonest for me to be obligated under the same ceremony that asks repeatedly for my Honour and to disobey my own beliefs. Further, I feel personally offended that the aforementioned organizations would suggest that I ought to betray myself in such a way.

Each of the CSW, Faculty of Engineering and APEGGA is involved in this systematic discrimination against those who hold no belief in God. The Faculty, through repeated endorsements in ENGG 100, 101 and 400, as well as the use of space in ETLC for Obligation signing and Iron Ring sizing, has inextricably tied itself to the CSW. Similarly, APEGGA has offered similar endorsements to the Iron Ring through its website.

“Like many established symbols, in recent years, the iron ring ceremony has come under criticism. It is viewed by some as sexist and by others as archaic. Some argue that the ceremony should be public. Others suggest it relies excessively on Judeo – Christian principles. Some feel that language should be changed to reflect current times by eliminating any reference to gender or to God. Others simply state that the overall tone is inappropriate for these enlightened times.”

However, they merely respond that “…the value of the ceremony and the obligation and the reason why the heritage of the iron ring ceremony should be valued and preserved.” This utterly fails to adequately address any of the concerns addressed in the cited paragraph.

What value does tradition and ceremony hold if they are unable to grow with our culture? When the ceremony was devised in 1925, the language reflected the times. It also reflected the biases and discriminations that existed then. In 1925, women had had the ability to vote in Canada for less than 10 years, while First Nations and members of specific races and religions could not vote. Were the Iron Ring ceremony of 1925 not to be open to the Chinese would we continue that practice today in the name of tradition? A truly meaningful Obligation is one that everyone feels comfortable and proud to sign, not one where potentially up to one third of the signatories are disregarding or excluded by portions of the wording.

Many similar arguments to these being presented by the CSW and its allies were heard in protest of the requested change the convocation charge at the University of Alberta. However, realizing that human rights were being violated, they agreed to a change, and took the opportunity to draft a charge that could be viewed as truly inspiring to all students. The new charge incorporates historical aspects, as well as recognition of the rights of freedom from religion and freedom to religion. Specifically, University of Alberta President Dr. Indira Samarasekera, one of Canada’s leading metallurgical engineers, states:

“In the past, Albertan society used to encapsulate this idea with the words ‘to the glory of God.’ Now, Albertan society has changed and different words are needed. This does not mean that we are abandoning long-standing values. By echoing the words of our founding president, Henry Marshall Tory, and the U of A’s motto, the new wording of our convocation charge is both a nod to tradition and a response to the need for change. And, fostering change in critical awareness of the past, in my view, is another goal that every great university should strive to achieve, and another reason why I take pride in how our community handled this issue.”

Seeing as the APEGGA Code of Ethics demands that engineers respect human rights relating to matters of religion, it seems hypocritical for the organization to endorse the Iron Ring, without requiring that the ceremony be open and respectful to all practicing engineers.

I urge the Faculty of Engineering at the University Alberta and APEGGA to lobby the CSW to alter the wording of the Obligation, and the ceremony itself to reflect the diversity of viewpoints that are present among their constituents. If the CSW is unwilling to perform these changes, as is their right, then, as public organizations, APEGGA and the Faculty must remove their support from the CSW and Iron Ring, thereby recognizing the principle of the separation of church and state.

With my graduation is rapidly approaching, it is my desire to participate in the rituals with the friends and colleagues that I’ve spent the past few years with, but I refuse to compromise my principles to partake in this ceremony. It must be understood that were I to have signed the Obligation as it remains written, it would have been rendered meaningless to me.

Instead, I shall pledge to myself, not upon Cold Iron, but upon my honour, that I will abide by the intention of the Obligation, which, I believe, requires no belief in God and instead asks that every person perform to their utmost in their duties, and in failing that, be willing to admit their own faults. By refusing to modernize the Obligation and ceremony, the CSW appears to have lost sight of the meaning of the words in a stubborn adherence to traditionalism.

I remain optimistic that I will be allowed to sign a modified version of the Obligation, so that I can have the same right as every religious graduate of engineering.


Ian Bushfield

The text of the Obligation for the Ritual Calling of an Engineer (from ENGG 400 course notes http://www.engineering.ualberta.ca//pdfs/ENGG%20400%20Week%203%20-%20Compliance,%20Engineering%20Organizations,%20Iron%20Ring.pdf)

The Corporation of The Seven Wardens Inc
Custodians and Administrators of
The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer

I, ________ in the presence of these my betters and my equals in my Calling, bind myself upon my Honour and Cold Iron, that, to the best of my knowledge and power. I will not henceforward suffer or pass, or be privy to the passing of, Bad Workmanship or Faulty Material in aught that concerns my works before mankind as an Engineer, or in my dealings with my own Soul before my Maker.

My time I will not refuse; my Thought I will not grudge; my Care I will not deny towards the honour, use, stability and perfection of any works to which I may be called to set my hand.

My fair wages for that work I will openly take. My Reputation in my Calling I will honourably guard; but I will in no way go about to compass or wrest judgement or gratification from any one with whom I may deal. And further, I will early and warily strive my uttermost against professional jealousy or the belittling of my working-colleagues in any field of their labour.

For my assured failures and derelictions, I ask pardon beforehand of my betters and my equals in my Calling here assembled; praying that in the hour of my temptations, weakness and weariness, the memory of this my Obligation and of the company before whom it was entered into, may return to me to aid, comfort and restrain.

Upon Honour and Cold Iron, God helping me, by these things I purpose to abide.

Also referenced:

Foundation for a better life?

I saw a brief PSA commercial on TV today, specifically this one:

This lead me to look up the “Foundation for a Better Life,” as I’m often sceptical of cheery-feel good messages (call me jaded).

From their website, we find (among inspiring images and challenges for society to be better):

We are a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing the values that make a difference in our communities. We create public service campaigns that model the benefits of a life lived by positive values. In turn, we hope to inspire people to make values a part of their own lives, and then to communicate the benefits to others.

Looking further into their “About Us: FAQ” page we learn:

Q: Are you affiliated with any religion?
A: The Foundation for a Better Life is not affiliated with any religion. We hope the values we share transcend any particular religion or nationality.

Q: Are you affiliated with any other organizations?
A: We have a sister foundation, The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.  It is also privately funded by the same source. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation is the only organization with which we are affiliated.

Investigating The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation doesn’t lead to much more than inspiring and a campaign for a better world.

So it looks like all we have here is an example of some financial backer who just wants the world to be a better, friendlier place.

It’s refreshing for their to be no hidden agenda.

However, a little investigation through Wikipedia tells us that the donor is Philip Anschutz and that he is a “Conservative Christian,” and while I admire his desire for this campaign to transcend religions, some of his other financing campaigns seem to have ulterior motives.

These campaigns include trying to overturn gay rights in Colorado in 1992, the Discovery Institute, and a television council that lobbies against “indecent” television.

But in the end this campaign looks to represent the better side of his values, and doesn’t even touch the controversial issues.

If this is what religion solely offered, I would have no issues with it.

Update (12 Dec 2010): Note, I am in no way affiliated with the Foundation for a Better Life and am merely commenting on their ads here. Their website is http://www.values.com/.

Well, maybe atheist bus ads in Edmonton

So it wasn’t too clear to me yesterday what was going on with atheist ads in Edmonton. But I’ve figured everything out now.

Basically, the Journal reporter had heard from Pattison (who run the ads in Edmonton) that they don’t do advocacy ads for media stunts. He then called me to see if we (the UAAA) would get all angsty and protest. I told him I’d look into the issue and see what our members thought.

I guess the noncommital response didn’t warrant a story (rightly so), but I still needed to sniff around.

It turns out that Pattison’s real response is that their VP doesn’t like his company being used for media stunts. If we were to do an ad campaign in Edmonton (which is a potential now), it would have to be a real campaign. He is really opposed to the idea of running a lone cheap ad just so some group can get free media press in the local news.

So with all that sorted out, I can now difinitevely say that the “No God” ads are not banned in Edmonton, and may potentially run.

I’ve also put a vote out to the Edmonton Atheists and UAAA on which slogan they’d rather see:

Results will be in in one weeks time, and then we’ll see what will (or won’t) be seen on Edmonton transit in the near future.

Of course the ads have been banned in Halifax, Ottawa, Vancouver, Victoria, and Kelowna, so those struggles continue.

War on Christmas

Atheists shouldn’t be celebrating Christmas they tell me.

Well guess what, neither should Christians.

Remember those Ten Commandments that so proclaim the fundamental basis of Christian morality? Well numbers one and/or two (depending how you count them) are pretty specific about no idols. Hell, the whole story about the Golden Cow sums up the Old Testament God’s feelings on other idols.

So in modern incarnations of Christmas, where celebrators are pseudo-worshipping Santa Claus, the Grinch, Rudolph, Mary, a tree, or even Wal-Mart, perhaps the Christians telling me not to have a Christmas vacation ought to reexamine their own belief systems.

But further than that, what parts of Christmas are even Christian?
Continue reading War on Christmas

Humanist Symposium – from the highway edition

Sorry for the late edition posting of this symposium, I’m typing this on a bus from Calgary to Edmonton after a successful inaugural event for the Centre for Inquiry – Community of Calgary, the new home for freethought, humanism and scepticism in Alberta. We have some great posts this edition, so let’s get to them.
Continue reading Humanist Symposium – from the highway edition