Thursday, February 10, 2011

BHA briefs Peers on marriage debate

BHA briefs Peers on marriage debate

Posted: 09 Feb 2011 03:49 PM PST

The BHA has briefed members of the House of Lords ahead of tomorrow’s debate in the chamber called by the Lord Bishop of Chester, concerning the role of marriage and marriage law in the UK.

The brief mentions key issues that the BHA is committed to supporting such as having legally recognised humanist marriage, same sex marriage, and it details the BHA’s concerns regarding potential ‘religious’ civil partnerships.

Unlike in Scotland, humanist marriages in England and Wales are not legally recognised, meaning that people wanting a humanist ceremony must get their marriage legalised with an additional civil marriage. Religious people however, can have a legally recognised marriage according to their particular religious beliefs. It is deeply unequal that non-religious people cannot also have their marriages legally recognised in a ceremony which demonstrates their beliefs.

Our brief also raises the continuing inequality in marriage law between gay and straight couples. Although civil-partnerships were a positive step, they are still not equal to marriage. There is absolutely no legitimate reason why same sex couples should not be given the same rights as heterosexual couples.

In terms of current discussions which propose allowing religious elements into civil partnerships, the BHA is a strong supporter of the principle that civil marriages be conducted completely without reference to any particular religion or belief (including Humanism) because it is necessary for civil law to remain secular. We are therefore very concerned that the same principle be maintained in respect of civil partnerships.

Read the BHA’s briefing on marriage, marriage law and civil partnerships

Related articles:

1.       BHA briefs MPs on humanist marriage motion

2.      British Humanists lend support to the ‘Equal Love’ campaign

3.      Proposition 8 Ban On Same-Sex Marriage Has No Legitimate Basis, Americans United Tells Appeals Court

A dose of pain to take the guilt away

Posted: 09 Feb 2011 03:30 PM PST

Self-abuse is a popular atonement for 'sins' in Abrahamic religions.

Can you take away the feelings of guilt through self harm? Well, here’s one way to find out.

Take 59 Australian students, and split them into three groups. Get two groups to write about something they did that they feel guilty about.

Then get one of those groups to stick their arms into iced water – if you’ve ever tried to do that for a long time, it hurts! The other group gets nice warm water. The third group writes about just some everyday interaction, but then they get the ice bath too.

When Brock Bastian, of the University of Queensland, and colleagues did that they found a couple of things. First the students who wrote about about a guilt-ridden experience really did feel more guilty.

Cold showers: Not just for 'the hornies' anymore. Click for larger version.

Second, these guilt-ridden students kept their arms in the ice bath longer than the guilt-free students. What’s more, their level of guilt dropped more than the guilt-ridden students who had a warm water bath. The figure shows the averages.

This is the second study I know of to show this effect. The other one, published last year, used a different technique (it made people feel like they’d let their partner down in a co-operative game, and the self-punishment was not physical), but the basic results were the same.

Any one study is always a bit suspect. But two independent studies with similar results is much more robust. Darn it, there might just be something to all this guilt-atonement thing.

Here’s what Bastian and colleagues have to say:

…pain may be perceived as repayment for sin in three ways. First, pain is the embodiment of atonement. Just as physical cleansing washes away sin (Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006), physical pain is experienced as a penalty, and paying that penalty reestablishes moral purity. Second, subjecting oneself to pain communicates remorse to others (including God) and signals that one has paid for one’s sins, and this removes the threat of external punishment. Third, tolerating the punishment of pain is a test of one’s virtue, reaffirming one’s positive identity to oneself and others.

But there’s still a couple of nagging doubts in my mind. It seems clear that self-punishment could be a signal to others that you’re truly sorry, but in this experiment people actually felt less guilty (i.e. less sorry) after the pain. What good is it to me to know that you were sorry, but that you’re over it now because you’ve stuck a needle in your arm?

Secondly, is this a cross cultural effect? Both these experiments were conducted in countries aligned to Christian notions of atonement. Although religions often have a pain fixation, usually it involves displays of fidelity, rituals of self enhancement, or attempts to reach a transcendent state (or all three). It’s only Christianity that’s made atonement and penance a central part of ritual self-harm.

If that’s the case, then is what we’re seeing here a basic human instinct, or is it a cultural construction? Do these students feel less guilty after self harming simply because that’s what happens in the films?
Bastian B, Jetten J, & Fasoli F (2011). Cleansing the Soul by Hurting the Flesh: The Guilt-Reducing Effect of Pain. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS PMID: 21245493

Creative Commons LicenseThis article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

Related articles:

1.       Corporal Punishment Ban Praised by Secular Coalition for America

2.      Religion promotes punishing wrongdoers – but is that a good thing?

3.      The emotional problems of the slightly religious



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