Nov 152011

With thanks to Bex Holmes.

Aberdeen was one of five locations across Scotland where the Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) shot a series of short films to show what humanists believe.
The films cover a wide range of important moral issues, including physician-assisted suicide, sectarianism and same-sex marriage and feature more than fifty people – from 10-year-old Mellin Buchanan (Thurso) to 81-year-old Margaret Ferguson (Inverness).

The films can be viewed at the society’s H Factor campaign site where they can also be downloaded and shared on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Among the contributions in the film on humanism, Alex (Edinburgh) says:

“As far as I am aware, no humanist has ever killed anyone because of their beliefs”.

Among those commenting on physician-assisted suicide Catriona (Aberdeen) says movingly:

“We had to watch my granny die over a period of months, in pain, and wasting away in front of us when she’d told me years ago she’d had a great life and she was ready to go. Why can’t we afford people the same compassion that we show to our animals?”

HSS Convenor Les Mitchell says:

“We’re delighted with the H Factor films.  They show that humanists are deeply committed to making the world a better place.  Humanism is becoming daily more familiar in Scotland.  But, although our ceremonies grow ever more popular, very few people actually know what humanists believe.  In these films they can see for themselves and many of them may realise that, without knowing it, they’ve been humanists all their lives.”

The HSS is also inviting members of the public to win £1,000 by creating a new slogan for the society in an online competition hosted at the H Factor site.

Humanist weddings were made legal in Scotland in June 2005.  In 2010 there were 2092 weddings led by Humanist celebrant, compared to 1776 Catholic weddings, making Humanist weddings the third most popular form of marriage in Scotland [after Registrars and Church of Scotland ].

The Humanist Society Scotland is a charity founded in 1989 and currently has more than 7,000 members.   Christopher Brookmyre is its president and distinguished supporters include Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins, Professor James Lovelock and the novelist Iain Banks.

The Society aims to represent those in Scotland who choose to live a moral life without religion. We have a network of trained Celebrants who carry out non-religious ceremonies such as funerals, weddings, baby-namings etc.

For further information please contact:
Tim Maguire, HSS Media Officer
Tel. 0131 556 0128 or 07770 555 224

Aberdeen Group  Main Contact:
Marion Richardson, Secretary
Tel: 01888 562 237

Oct 222010

By Robert Johnson.

Last week the Aberdeen local papers were up in arms about a story of a couple of men who held down a pet cat so their pitbull could savage him. It is very difficult to find justification for such an event, as it is two individuals gaining pleasure from the unnecessary suffering of another sentient individual (regardless of which species that individual is from).

Depending on which source you read, the story obviously provoked a different type of outrage – and there are very few who wouldn’t be on the side of such a response.

But why? Well, it’s two men getting nothing but pleasure from a vast amount of suffering and we don’t need to go around torturing cats to enjoy our lives.  If we did, I wouldn’t be the only one advocating we find pleasure elsewhere – people being socialized to gratify themselves from the infliction of suffering is something society is better off without, for a host of reasons.

Perhaps a more relevant question is why we are horrified by this event in particular? The animals tortured to produce our meat, dairy and eggs, leather, fur and cosmetics (etc) are treated every bit as badly as the cat in question. Cows have their calves torn from them and are continually forcefully inseminated, most male chickens are gassed or shredded at birth – and moreover every single one of these individuals will die in the process, or necessarily be murdered at a young age in a cold slaughterhouse for our pleasures. All the while our best response is a ‘humane treatment’ stamp every now and again, which will do nothing but ensure they can flap their wings or breathe fresh air occasionally. Why are we not quite so distressed by this?

My critics first response will be that, for the cat, the suffering was unnecessary. The two men were gaining only sadistic pleasure from watching the cat be torn apart by their beloved fighting dog. In doing so the assumption is made that the tastes for animal foods and other products is somehow necessary. But this is where we err.

There is no moral difference between demanding a cat be torn apart for your pleasure, or that of a cow and if both are unnecessary, then they are equally wrong.

A human being has no more need for cows’ milk than it does for dog, giraffe or horse milk – we drank it in times when food was presumably scarce and no longer need to in a world where we have rich varieties of foods available. We got calcium, before dairy products, in places like green vegetables, nuts and beans – and such places are still the healthiest sources for a mammal who is not meant to drink the milk of another species, or any milk at all after being weaned.

We don’t need animal flesh either. Again, this is a remnant of a time gone by when we needed to kill to eat. You could eat nothing but potatoes and still not be ‘protein deficient’ (such is the myth about protein – there has never been a single case of ‘protein deficiency’ where someone was not starving), but nevertheless you can get more protein as a ratio from soya beans than you can from beef.  Iron – again, try vegetables, beans, nuts…

What I’m trying to say is that eating animal foods is not at all necessary, and so buying animal products means causing unnecessary suffering. There is no moral difference between demanding a cat be torn apart for your pleasure, or that of a cow and if both are unnecessary, then they are equally wrong. This is true, regardless of the excuse that we have done this for years, or that everyone does it – had we been using pitbulls to tear cats apart from years, or if everyone else did it, it would still be morally abhorrent.

You won’t hear the big ‘animal protection’ groups saying this. They are all too happy to jump on bandwagons with public outrage in the hope you will donate money to them.  If you were disgusted by the story of the two men’s behavior, rather than support an animal welfare cause, or simply support their incarceration, your first step should be to stop indulging in the behavior yourself. Just because the cow, chicken, fish or pig you eat this evening didn’t have her torture detailed on the front page of the P&J, it doesn’t change a thing. The first step of the person disgusted with unnecessary suffering is to go vegan – and it’s a step that is very easy to take in the modern world.
For more information on veganism and becoming vegan, please visit, or the GrampianARA’s ‘Vegan Guide to Aberdeen’