Humanist Thought for the Day (BBC Radio Bristol)

12th October 2020

Stacey Shepherd’s Thought for the Day can be found at 2hrs 44m of the following link:

Here is the transcript:

The BBC’s ‘Pledge to Talk’ campaign reminds us of how therapeutic it can be to talk to someone understanding when times are tough. It’s for this very reason that pastoral carers and chaplains working in hospitals, hospices and prisons have been recognised as key workers during this current crisis.
Sadly, non-religious pastoral care is not yet widely available in many healthcare settings. This is partly due to some reluctance to accept non-religious people into traditional chaplaincy teams. The data, however, suggests that half of the UK population is non-religious and these sorts of discussions often work best with someone who shares a similar world view. Non-religious patients and staff are therefore unlikely to contact pastoral services if they are perceived to be exclusively religious yet of course they still have the same needs to discuss their worries and concerns, their existential questions, and their search for meaning and purpose.
In recognition of this, in 2016 Humanists UK set up the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network which aims to ensure that those in public institutions do have equal access to emotional, moral, and spiritual support regardless of their religion or beliefs. At a local level, two of the Bristol Humanists committee members have been offering pastoral care at St Peter’s Hospice and the Children’s Hospital and we have also recently set up our own Bristol Humanists ‘listening ear’ phone service for anyone feeling they’d like to talk to someone like-minded during these challenging times.

 

14th September 2020

Stacey Shepherd’s Thought for the Day can be found at the 2hrs 43m 22s time stamp at this link:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08q7yhr

Here is the transcript:

Just like the young girl and her grandfather who’ve been keeping in touch using amateur radio, many of us have turned to new hobbies and new ways to keep in touch during these last few challenging months. This makes me think about how curiosity, creativity and connection are at the heart of what makes us human.

Curiosity leads us to examine ourselves and the world around us by wondering who we are and where we come from. It produces extraordinary journeys of creative discovery and great art as well as leading us to ask questions which motivate scientific investigation.

Creativity is an attribute that can make us feel fulfilled and bring us joy, whether this be through art, music, writing, conversing, gardening or anything else. Our imagination also allows us to be innovative, compassionate and drive change.

As social primates, our drive for connection means that we are warmed by the joys of love, family and friendships. We gain comfort and security from the sense of being part of a wider community. Working with others to create a better world, we can find purpose in widening our interests beyond the limits of our own individual lives.

The Humanist approach is about free-thinking and living the one life we know we have as fully as we can and helping others to do the same.  Whilst we can’t control every twist in the plot, we do have the freedom to plan our own life’s adventures. So being Curious, Creative and Connecting with others seems like a great place to start!

 

5th August 2020

Stacey Shepherd’s Thought for the Day

Today’s story about the plans for a new secondary school on the Feeder Road made me think about how in some parts of Bristol, the only school options for parents are either faith schools or schools with a faith ethos. This is an even more common occurrence in rural areas where 53% of all primary schools are religious. Given that 52% of the UK claims to have no religion, and only 25% of parents say they’d want their children to go to a faith school this seems like quite a bizarre position.

Around a third of all state-funded schools in England and Wales are registered as Faith Schools. In addition, a number of state-funded free schools and academies which aren’t registered as faith schools still claim to have a ‘faith ethos’. And surprisingly, all schools, religious or not, are expected to provide collective worship with a Christian Character or another faith subject to approval.

Most types of Faith Schools are allowed to discriminate against both admission of children and employment of staff on religious grounds. They are also allowed to deliver Religious Education as per the tenants of their faith and are not required to educate their pupils on other religions or worldviews.

As a humanist I believe in the importance of an inclusive, secular school system, where children and young people of all different backgrounds and beliefs can learn with and from each other. Allowing children to learn about all religions and worldviews also encourages independent thinking, tolerance and compassion – qualities I’m sure we’d all agree we’d like to foster in our future generations.

13 July 2020

Stacey Shepherd’s Thought for the Day

Today’s story on the new monitoring system at the River Chew made me reflect on just how incredible it is that us humans are able to adapt our environment so effectively using such complex tools.  Taking the time to stop and reflect on such things helps to us to see the world with a sense of wonder and appreciate how lucky we are. Through the luck of the draw, you were born and have survived up to the point where you are now listening to this. You were even born part of a species that happens to have the capacity to reflect on its own existence and to appreciate the fact it is alive.

Humanists believe that it is important to stand back and consider the bigger picture, such as the history of where we are now, so that we can adopt a more considered approach to life. For example, thinking about the universe and its sheer scale might give us a more modest sense of our own importance. Thinking about our planet and its rich diversity may give us greater motivation to protect it. And thinking about human life and our place in relation to the other 7.5 billion people on Earth may help us to acknowledge the differences in life opportunities and how lucky we are compared to the vast majority of others.

Our lives and the universe hold an infinite array of wonders and approaching the world with awe and curiosity can bring us energy, joy, humility and gratitude. To quote the great Carl Sagan, ‘Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.’

 

25 June 2020

Stacey Shepherd’s Thought for the Day

Humanism is rooted in a belief in equality and social justice.

Personally, I was delighted when the statue of Colston, a slave trader, ended up in the harbour – and onwards to the MShed, a museum where it can be displayed in context. That context should never have been on a pedestal, in the centre of Bristol, with a plaque declaring he was ‘one of the most virtuous and wise sons’ of our city!

Now, petitions have been set up calling for the removal of Cabot’s name from the many places it’s found in Bristol.

It’s documented that Cabot once sold a slave, but a Bristol University expert says there is no other evidence of links to the slave trade: Cabot was an explorer whose life preceded Bristol’s involvement in the Triangular Slave Trade by 200 years.

We can criticise him for being a major player in the origins of colonialism, but that’s not the same as saying, as we must for Colston, that there’s a direct line from him, through slavery, to the urgent necessity of today’s Black Lives Matter movement.

The plaque on Cabot’s statue says: IN MAY 1497 JOHN CABOT SAILED FROM THIS HARBOUR IN THE MATTHEW AND DISCOVERED NORTH AMERICA.

Looking at that plaque a few years ago, I noticed someone had placed neat gold speech marks round the word ‘discovered’ – immediately suggesting a different context: what of the native American people?!  Did their lives not matter? The truth is, North America was only ‘discovered’ from a European perspective, – and was promptly claimed for England in its race to beat Spain in the colonisation of the so-called ‘new world’ that Columbus had stumbled upon 5 years earlier.

Our current challenge is to understand, and display, our history from the perspective of everyone affected by it.

 

17 June 2020

Nick Hooper’s Thought for the Day

June 21st, this Sunday coming, is a day that in many people’s minds is the day of the summer solstice – the longest day in the northern hemisphere. It also happens to be World Humanist Day. It is the day we humanists think more about why we are humanists and what humanism means to us.

This may all seem rather irrelevant in the age of Covid and Black Lives Matter. But it’s worth considering how these are connected. Atheism as a philosophy has been around for thousands of years, before the birth of Christ. In Europe, atheists were persecuted, much as non-Christian religions were. And still today atheists, or humanists, can be the subject of persecution. Mubarak Bala, president of Nigerian Humanists, has been arrested for blasphemy and if found guilty could face death. So, humanists stand for tolerance and freedom of thought and speech – irrespective of whether that be religious or political.

In another significant way humanism is also connected to today’s world of the pandemic. Modern humanism owes its origin to the development of rationalism and the scientific revolution, especially to Charles Darwin. He came to understand that there could be no god if the theory of evolution proved to be true. We owe him a great deal of our understanding of our world and how we function as human beings. It is because of Darwin that politicians are able to talk about ‘following the science’ – and scientists will find a cure Covid.

So, when you notice the longest day this weekend; when you see that many countries are getting Covid under control; and when you think about freedom of expression, spare a thought for that much underreported idea of humanism as a critical factor in shaping our modern world.

 

6 August 2020

Stacey Shepherd’s Thought for the Day:

On the surface, we live in an increasingly tolerant society where the vast majority of us would respond to any act of racial abuse with abhorrence. The scale of the current global uproar against the oppression of the black community may therefore come as a surprise to some.  But we mustn’t forget that racial hatred is merely the glaringly obvious tip of the very ugly iceberg. If we take the time to listen, this outcry is about the deep-rooted and systematic biases of our society that are hidden from those of us who are privileged enough not to be disadvantaged by them.

The term ‘white privilege’ is not the assumption that our achievements are unearned, nor does it ignore white poverty or suffering. It simply describes the embedded advantage that comes with the colour of our skin. It is the power of being part of the ‘normal’ where products are designed for us by default; It is the power of the benefit of the doubt as we are more likely to be trusted and believed, and it is the power of the accumulated power that we’ve inherited from our colonial past;

When we recognise our privilege, feelings of guilt, discomfort or defensiveness are common. But we can choose to channel our feelings and to use our privilege to the benefit of others. Striving for a fair, just and tolerant society is a core part of the Humanist agenda and to that end, these recent events have certainly encouraged me to consider “what can I do to better share my privilege”.

 

18 May 2020

Stacey Shepherd’s Thought for the Day 

When unexpected and significant life events stop us in our tracks and force us to radically change our way of life, it is at these moments that we tend to take stock and reflect on meaning in life. We might try to apply meaning to the event itself – why did this happen, is life sending me a message? We might also reassess what gives us meaning in our life and how we could live it more meaningfully.

Some people believe that there is one single ‘meaning of life’. They think that the universe was created for a purpose and that humans are part of some larger cosmic plan and that things always happen ‘for a reason’.

Humanists however see the universe, and life within it as a natural phenomenon with no design or creator behind it to send us messages.  Meaning is not something out there waiting to be discovered, but something we create in our own lives.

And whilst this vast universe was not created for us, all of us are connected to something bigger than ourselves, whether it is family and community, a tradition from the past, a cause for the future, or the planet on which we were born and our species evolved.

There are no simple recipes for living that are applicable to all people. We have different tastes and preferences, different priorities and goals. We may find meaning through our family, career, a political cause, a hobby or a thousand other ways.

So perhaps the best way to find meaning in life is to simply get on and live it as fully and as well as we can.

 

15th May 2020

Chrissie Hackett’s Thought for the Day 

Today we’ve been hearing about a Bristol couple who’ve built 25 nest boxes for swifts, in the eaves of their house! They’ve installed cameras so they can watch the whole lovely process of nesting, egg-laying, hatching and rearing! And yesterday morning one of their 21 birds laid her first egg – fabulous!

This story got me thinking about one of the brighter aspects of how we’re coping with this current pandemic. How so many of us, in this quieter time of lockdown, are noticing the world around us that little bit more: really seeing the natural world that lives alongside us, but which – especially in the city – we often scarcely notice.

And birds, in particular, are not only fascinating in themselves but are also often seen as symbols for how we feel about ourselves, our predicaments – even as metaphors for the human condition itself.

Right now, we are having to cope with lockdown, with fear, with uncertainty. We need strength. We need hope. So maybe we need this little poem too, written by Emily Dickinson one and a half centuries ago:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

 

28th April 2020

Nick Hooper’s Thought for the Day  

There are many surprising things about this pandemic we are all living through. Some of those things are aspects of our existence which, before Covid, lay unnoticed. I am appreciating the new-found quiet of the city. There are many other things previously taken for granted, that most of us miss.

One of the things I particularly notice is the sense of touch. With the arrival of self-isolation, and especially if you live alone, it may be many weeks before you are able to touch a loved one. Whilst video-chats can make up for part of this by stimulating sight and hearing, there is nothing in our current conditions that can substitute for touch.

Touch is the first of our 5 human senses to develop. The very first thing that happens when a baby is born is that they are held by their mother, often their tiny hands wrap around a parents’ finger. This is before any of their other senses are fully developed. And touch isn’t just one thing – it’s said to be one of the most complex organs in the body – different receptors convey temperature, pain etc. More than this, touch can convey connection and compassion and is vital to well-being. Touch is also vital to effective communication and even fighting disease. Of course, touch is a very complex issue – if you live with an abuser, then the last thing you want is them touching you. And because of the sensitivities of unacceptable touch some research has found that human touching has reduced significantly.

Even our language reflects the significance of touch – ‘please keep in touch’, ‘I was touched by that’, or ‘don’t you dare touch me’ are familiar metaphors for physical contact.

When we start to come out of lockdown many will seek the touch of others, to feel reassured about our common humanity. Human touch is electric; it’s infectious; can be unwelcome, or coercive; yet can be healing, and transformative. We should cherish the latter in a post-covid world.