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East London Humanist chair Paul Kaufman is positive despite struggle between enlightenment and dogma

PUBLISHED: 09:25 17 February 2016 | UPDATED: 09:25 17 February 2016

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New Year began with a fantastic new president for British Humanist Association, Shappi Khorsandi, perhaps best known for her work as a stand-up comedienne.

She follows in the footsteps of the outgoing president, Iraqi-born scientist and broadcaster Dr Jim Al Khalili.

She takes over as a figurehead for one the fastest growing groups in the country – the ethical non-religious.

Her family fled to London from Iran to escape persecution from the Ayatollah. She is quoted as saying “If you are beige, people often can’t accept that you were not raised in religion”.

The growing contribution the thoughtful non-religious make to public life and the appointments of Jim Al Khalili and Shappi reflect some remarkable ways in which our country has changed and advanced.

Progress has also been made in mainstream religion, for example the ordination of women bishops and appointment of female rabbis. However, the possibility of a woman being appointed to head up one of the major faith groups is still hard to imagine. This progress is in depressing contrast to the attempts to push back the tide.

It is, for example, appalling that professing lack of religious faith remains an offence in many countries. How can this be tolerated in the 21st century?

Yet our ally Saudi Arabia tortures and beheads its citizens for this “crime” with impunity. Meanwhile in Bangladesh, a Commonwealth member, the government response to the systematic hacking to death of so called “atheist bloggers” has been feeble.

We saw further division in the Anglican Communion between those who celebrate all humankind in all its wonderful diversity and the zealots who condemn gays and those who don’t meet their narrow view of sexuality.

In a couple of centuries, humankind may look back and define our era as a time of global struggle between rational enlightenment and superstition and dogma.

Humanists should be very proud of the part we play at the forefront of the struggle. More from Paul


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