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Humanist Quakers

Any topics that are primarily about humanism or other non-religious life stances fit in here.

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Poll ended at September 28th, 2007, 7:48 pm

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Chris
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Humanist Quakers

#1 Post by Chris » September 23rd, 2007, 7:48 pm

From long observation of the endless arguing between humanists, atheists, brights & the various other labels of non-belief I have come to the conclusion that it is the result of successive waves of non-believers, not recognising the major division at least in the UK.

The argument is not between atheists and humanists, or humanists and secularists or brights and atheists, but between those 'strong'* atheists, humanists and brights who think that campaigning for humanism, atheism or naturalism has to include the explanation of what is stopping it. i.e. what they are against and why - organised political religion, supernatural belief, anti-humanitarian religious practices and sectarianism and on the other side 'weak' atheists, humanists etc. who think that opposing religion in any way is counter productive, will not tolerate it at any price and try to exclude 'strong' opinion.

There are atheists, humanists, brights and secularists on both sides of this basic divide. And I believe that until this is recognised and a way found to separate and satisfy both there will be no 'kindred spirit' and every campaign will be stifled.

In an article in the Face to Faith series in the Guardian by David Boulton promoting his book Godless for God's Sake, a book of essays by 27 non-theist Quakers- it is clear that the aspirations of those who want to stay in the warm shallows of the sea of faith, should rightly join the Society of Friends who are, I guess, like the rest of the less strongly enforced religions, losing members to the growing army of Sunday shoppers and boot fair fanatics.

Unlike the 'weak' atheists, humanists, brights and secularists - 'strong' atheists, humanists, brights and secularists have only the existing secular humanist organisations. so we have to fight for our place.

*'strong' and 'weak' in this context does not denote a value judgment.

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Re: Humanist Quakers

#2 Post by Fred » September 23rd, 2007, 8:47 pm

Chris wrote:From long observation of the endless arguing between humanists, atheists, brights & the various other labels of non-belief I have come to the conclusion that it is the result of successive waves of non-believers, not recognising the major division at least in the UK.
Isn't it more the result of the fact that we are, by nature, thoughtful, contemplative, argumentative so-and-sos who aren't going to believe what we are told by others? If we weren't, we'd be religious.
The argument is not between atheists and humanists, or humanists and secularists or brights and atheists, but between those 'strong'* atheists, humanists and brights who think that campaigning for humanism, atheism or naturalism has to include the explanation of what is stopping it. i.e. what they are against and why - organised political religion, supernatural belief, anti-humanitarian religious practices and sectarianism and on the other side 'weak' atheists, humanists etc. who think that opposing religion in any way is counter productive, will not tolerate it at any price and try to exclude 'strong' opinion.
I don't recognise those two extremes. You can campaign against organised political religion, supernatural belief, anti-humanitarian religious practices and sectarianism whilst accepting that religion is not going to go away in our lifetimes. We have to share the planet with these people, so we have to engage with them not only to put our worldviews across, but also to understand theirs. I can't speak for the rest of you, but I admit that some of my assumptions about individual religions may be nothing more than prejudice.

There are atheists, humanists, brights and secularists on both sides of this basic divide. And I believe that until this is recognised and a way found to separate and satisfy both there will be no 'kindred spirit' and every campaign will be stifled.
Has every campaign to date been stifled by this divide? If not, why should future campaigns be so stifled?
In an article in the Face to Faith series in the Guardian by David Boulton promoting his book Godless for God's Sake, a book of essays by 27 non-theist Quakers
Interesting link. Thank you, I'll try to get hold of that book.
- it is clear that the aspirations of those who want to stay in the warm shallows of the sea of faith, should rightly join the Society of Friends who are, I guess, like the rest of the less strongly enforced religions, losing members to the growing army of Sunday shoppers and boot fair fanatics.
The inference that I draw from this is that your so-called "weak" atheists "who want to stay in the warm shallows of the sea of faith". If that is what you are actually implying then I disagree totally. One can recognise that religion is here to stay without wanting to join it. However, from the little I know about the Quakers, I'm certainly interested in finding out more about them. If they could ditch the god talk, I'm sure they would appeal to more of us. Even without ditching the god talk, I think they might be natural alllies for some of our campaigns. I'm sure they would oppose sectarian education and compulsory worship. Their membership seems to be higher than that of active Humanist groups. The statement about sunday shoppers and boot fair fanatics also applies to Humanist groups - we're not exactly pulling in the crowds are we?
Unlike the 'weak' atheists, humanists, brights and secularists - 'strong' atheists, humanists, brights and secularists have only the existing secular humanist organisations. so we have to fight for our place.
Hmmm - that sounds like "If you don't agree with me, you can find another organisation to be a member of".
*'strong' and 'weak' in this context does not denote a value judgment.
In that case, why did you choose those words?

Thank you Chris for such a thoughtful and thought provoking post.
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#3 Post by Fred » September 23rd, 2007, 9:29 pm

Fred

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Re: Humanist Quakers

#4 Post by Chris » September 24th, 2007, 12:05 am

Ref your first question:

No I don't think so Fred. we may argue about other things but not on the dangers of religion, and not usually as ferociously as on whether religion is OK and should be respected or denounced as dangerous and misleading superstitious rubbish. Put more politely for those who believe of course.

I never said, nor do I believe that 'religion is going away in our lifetimes' The two statements are not linked .
However I am torn between believing that the decline will continue as slowly as before - and thinking that once people see the flaws in religion ( as they are doing) and the foundations slip, it may collapse like a pack of cards, at least in some countries.
We have to share the planet with these people, so we have to engage with them not only to put our world views across, but also to understand theirs. I can't speak for the rest of you, but I admit that some of my assumptions about individual religions may be nothing more than prejudice.
No-one is proposing banning religion - secularism is ' freedom of religion' as well as 'freedom from religion', and those of us who oppose their beliefs and attitudes etc, are engaging with them. I certainly am, and I can assure you, I reflect growing opinion whenever I express these views in a polite but assertive way that does not patronise wavering believers. And I know because they come up to me and say so.

Why do you say 'we do not understand them'? I think I understand them very well, I know that they believe what they believe because that is what they have been taught and cultural and family pressures make it difficult to leave. After all many of us have been through the process and come out the other side.

And I think that understanding that, is why we think it is important to back up our views with the evidence - views backed up with the facts are not 'prejudice' prejudice is irrational i.e young women being killed for disobedience to their menfolk & to religious dogma, people contracting HIV.AIDS as a result of not using condoms because the UN or local health clinic will not or cannot provide them or the information, or starving to death because of RC or evangelical religious pressure or blocking of funding for WHO population and health programmes. No religious mumbo jumbo will persuade me against the evidence of the facts I can see for myself , that religion is not supremely harmful to humanity, society and world peace.
Has every campaign to date been stifled by this divide? If not, why should future campaigns be so stifled?
Our successes have been very very few.indeed - adoption, but adoptive parents can still be discriminated against, humanist ceremonies, but still not weddings. Perhaps you can tell me what humanist campaigns have been successful. How long have we been campaigning for an end to worship and prayer in schools? How long have we been campaigning for equal representation on the BBC, equal marriage laws, voluntary euthanasia, against law-making Bishops in our legislature, prayers before council meetings, being expected to sing 'god save the queen' ....
Where have you been Fred?

The inference that I draw from this is that your so-called "weak" atheists "who want to stay in the warm shallows of the sea of faith". If that is what you are actually implying then I disagree totally. One can recognise that religion is here to stay without wanting to join it.
??

I am saying that accepting, and 'respecting' superstitious views and religion without criticism, is a soft option and no position for intelligent people campaigning against the evils of superstition and sectarianism. It is nothing to do with 'not recognising that religion is here to stay or not' and I am saying that it would be better for humanist quakers to join other quakers and influence their humanist leanings away from irrational belief, rather than stifle active secular humanism.

And I don't much care what people believe in private so long as they keep it to themselves and don't make everyone comply through the law.

Some Quakers might indeed be natural allies for some of our campaigns and they will do what they want to do. But joining with them would weaken any more robust pressure we could bring to bear if we were not stiled by so much 'weak' humanism.

You say:-
I'm sure they would oppose sectarian education and compulsory worship. Their membership seems to be higher than that of active Humanist groups. The statement about Sunday shoppers and boot fair fanatics also applies to Humanist groups - we're not exactly pulling in the crowds are we?
Of course they are, and they have the infrastucture to make it easier. They have been going for considerably longer, over 300 years to our 50-60 and are part of the established Christian church that still actively excludes and censors our views. And I have not heard of them campaigning or supporting secular humanists against religion in schools or to have equal air time on the BBC - they are required by law to be 'fair and balanced' . And of course Sunday shoppers etc. are secular, so what point are you making?
Chris wrote:
Unlike the 'weak' atheists, humanists, brights and secularists - 'strong' atheists, humanists, brights and secularists have only the existing secular humanist organisations. so we have to fight for our place.
Hmmm - that sounds like "If you don't agree with me, you can find another organisation to be a member of".
Yes, it means that weak humanists have the option of the humanist organisations, PLUS the Unitarians, Sea of Faith, and Unitarians, 'strong Humanists' have only the tiny Humanist organisations, so stop hogging all the space and weakening it.
In that case, why did you choose those words?
I used what is now a quite widespread convention of using 'strong' and 'weak' in this context - that does not denote a value judgment.- it relates to the strength of the opposition views, which could be judged as better or worse. Presumably you think that weak atheism is a good thing. How else are we to describe our different views. Atheism has been suppressed by the church for centuries as has the language necessary to go with it .

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Re: Humanist Quakers

#5 Post by Fred » September 24th, 2007, 9:03 am

I've only had chance to scan through this, so please excuse me while i only refer to some of your points. I'll come back to the others when I have a bit more time.
Chris wrote:
Why do you say 'we do not understand them'? I think I understand them very well, I know that they believe what they believe because that is what they have been taught and cultural and family pressures make it difficult to leave. After all many of us have been through the process and come out the other side.
OK, I don't understand them. I have not "been through the process and come out the other side." I have never been religious and I don't understand what cultural and family pressures can make otherwise intelligent people believe, what is to me, patently absolute b*ll*cks.

How long have we been campaigning for an end to worship and prayer in schools? How long have we been campaigning for equal representation on the BBC, equal marriage laws, voluntary euthanasia, against law-making Bishops in our legislature, prayers before council meetings, being expected to sing 'god save the queen' ....
Where have you been Fred?
Not around organised Humanism / atheism / secularism very long. As i think I have said in other posts, for most of my life religion and I have been happy to ignore each other. In fact I was prejudiced against Humanism, expecting it to be a "faith" for people who couldn't actually bring themselves to believe in gods. I was wrong about that and am happy to admit it.
Fred

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#6 Post by Nick » September 24th, 2007, 9:48 am

So much nonsense, Chris, and so little time to respond, so I'll take just one tiny point.
Atheism has been suppressed by the church for centuries as has the language necessary to go with it
.
And just how can anyone or anything suppress language? Language grows, develops and is used all the time. What evidence do you have for this strange assertion?

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#7 Post by Lifelinking » September 24th, 2007, 1:25 pm

I must say this is an interesting and thought provoking post. After careful consideration I would say that while there may be some grains of truth in what Chris is describing, the distinction made between two sides of an atheist 'division' is a terribly over simplified view. Further, I would contend that the idea that there are two 'polarised' groups is at best unproven and at worst (and I suspect this is the case) completely wrong.

Thinkers such as the psychologist Helen Haste have pointed out how pervasive and deeply rooted metaphors of polarity are in our culture. While Haste has focused on how this relates to metaphors of sexuality, it seems apparent that the tendency to polarise is commonplace when discussing a wider range of social phenomena.

Hence we had people talking seriously about things like the 'nature v nurture' debate, when those who were carrying out research in the area had rejected such an 'either or' approach and were trying to unravel the complex interplay of factors. One of that things that that reinforces this tendency, is the fact that the media love the combative, 'sound bite' nature of such polarities.

Chris very fairly and quite correctly finished the opening post with the qualification that 'strong and weak in this context does not denote a value judgement'. Yet this is one of the almost inevitable consequences of using language in this way, and while Chris has been scrupulous about explaining the contextual meaning of the words used, others are not so careful with language.

Let us look at the distinction that Chris has made with a mind to critically evaluate whether such a polarity is accurate, relevant or helpful.

On one side there are:
'strong'* atheists, humanists and brights who think that campaigning for humanism, atheism or naturalism has to include the explanation of what is stopping it. i.e. what they are against and why - organised political religion, supernatural belief, anti-humanitarian religious practices and sectarianism
and and on the other side
'weak' atheists, humanists etc. who think that opposing religion in any way is counter productive, will not tolerate it at any price and try to exclude 'strong' opinion.
In a similar vein to Fred, I find myself genuinely perplexed with these distinctions, and would be keen to see what evidence there is for them actually existing.

Using the terminology 'weak' as used by Chris for one moment. I find myself wracking my brain for one example of a humanist I know of who would 'not tolerate opposition to religion'. Even the most laid back 'live and let live' atheists and humanists I know of are very strong in their defence of things such as secular government and education, and in their vociferous criticism of religious nonsense and excesses in areas such as views on contraception, abortion, genital mutilation and so on. On this board we have seen many folk disagreeing on many points, but I have never seen anybody trying to exclude other viewpoints.

There is no mention at all of other very important influences in this wide and complex arena. For example I am an atheist, a humanist and also a 'strong' believer in democracy, and pluralism and human rights. It is perhaps my strong beliefs in these areas that make me keen to support the rights of people to believe differently from me without interference, no matter how irrational I may find their beliefs. But this respect for others rights does not preclude the possibility that I could enter into dialogue, debates, arguments and conversation with believers. At times we may diametrically oppose each other, at other times we may find common cause to work and cooperate together. So be it.

As far as I can make out, there is simply no polarised division of the kind described. A more useful view would perhaps be to see the atheist / humanist milieu of ideas as a memeplex, containing many different theoretical viewpoints and continuums, with people often being 'strong' and 'weak' and every shade in between at the same time on different subjects.



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#8 Post by Chris » September 24th, 2007, 7:28 pm

I wrote from long experience of activism and debate across the secular humanist organisations, journals and meetings and more recently on various forums in Britain and elsewhere. And have had regular lengthy discussions, again, over very many years with active members of the organisations with whom I have interests in common, most I can assure you, for whom my observations would not be a matter for debate, let alone argument. However.

It matters not whether others here agree with my conclusions I can only assume that you have had different experiences, though I am somewhat at a loss as to where they would have come on an organisational level. It makes me think there must be a paralell humanist universe that I have not come across.

I understand that however much experience I may have, or what conclusions I have come to, it counts for nothing to people who have not had the same experience.
:wave:

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#9 Post by Lifelinking » September 24th, 2007, 10:44 pm

well, quite. But is it not worthwhile to seek evidence, knowledge, understanding and so on from beyond our own immediate body of experience?



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#10 Post by Chris » September 25th, 2007, 9:41 am

Lifelinking wrote:well, quite. But is it not worthwhile to seek evidence, knowledge, understanding and so on from beyond our own immediate body of experience?

L
We can listen but not learn from other's experience if it contradicts our own.
and certainly not from people on a forum where some people appear to be working from some pre arranged agenda other than from basic secular humanist thinking.

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#11 Post by Maria Mac » September 25th, 2007, 10:30 am

Chris wrote: We can listen but not learn from other's experience if it contradicts our own.
and certainly not from people on a forum where some people appear to be working from some pre arranged agenda other than from basic secular humanist thinking.
Chris, your snide and petulant digs at unspecified others are becoming wearisome and are likely to mean that your posts will be taken less seriously.
Lifelinking wrote: Let us look at the distinction that Chris has made with a mind to critically evaluate whether such a polarity is accurate, relevant or helpful.

On one side there are:
'strong'* atheists, humanists and brights who think that campaigning for humanism, atheism or naturalism has to include the explanation of what is stopping it. i.e. what they are against and why - organised political religion, supernatural belief, anti-humanitarian religious practices and sectarianism
and on the other side
'weak' atheists, humanists etc. who think that opposing religion in any way is counter productive, will not tolerate it at any price and try to exclude 'strong' opinion.
In a similar vein to Fred, I find myself genuinely perplexed with these distinctions, and would be keen to see what evidence there is for them actually existing.
I note that you have not responded to this request for evidence: no links to any on-line discussions where humanists are arguing that "opposing religion in any way is counter productive" or any such thing, no links or references to articles written by such people, no conference reports where any such position was mooted, no emails, no quotes. It seems we are just expected to take your word for a phenomenon that you claim exists even though we've seen no evidence for it.

I submit that what you are actually doing is deliberately misinterpreting the views of people who have expressed disagreement with you on one aspect or another.

An example of this occurs in this thread.
Chris wrote: As ever - it all depends upon what you understand by 'humanism'.

Those humanists who dislike Dawkins so much, are those who, deep down, cannot accept that humanism is atheism, secularism and living a moral and satisfying life without religion. They want to confine it to this last, but they are intrinsically linked, like it or not.
The "reasoning" (for want of a better word) goes like this:

P1. Dawkins is an outspoken atheist.
P2. Every humanist should give unqualified support to and admire Dawkins for being an outspoken atheist.
P3. Some people disagree with some of what Dawkins says or the way he says it.
C: Therefore such people hate Dawkins/ aren’t really atheists/ don’t understand what humanism is/ don’t know what secularism is/etc etc.


Until we are presented with hard evidence for these masses of effete pretend-humanists that are preventing the forward march of secularism, I’d suggest taking Chris’ oft-repeated and sweeping condemnation of them with a grain of salt.

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#12 Post by Moonbeam » September 25th, 2007, 10:37 am

Chris wrote:
some people appear to be working from some pre arranged agenda other than from basic secular humanist thinking.
That is pretty much what I've been thinking about you, Chris. A high proportion of your posts contain sweeping attacks on unnamed others, whose crime seems to be that they have the temerity to see things differently (and very possibly don't go like your sour and haranguing on-line presence). You've even started threads on the subject.

I'm thinking you're a troll - probably a religious one.


Edited to add: What is the statement you are asking us whether we agree with?

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Re: Humanist Quakers

#13 Post by Phaedo » September 25th, 2007, 11:59 am

Chris wrote:
*'strong' and 'weak' in this context does not denote a value judgment.
Whether the use of the words is a value judgement or not it does give a misleading impression.
I consider myself a strong atheist because I am totally convinced of the absence of any deities.
I consider myself a strong secularist because I am totally convinced our society would be best served by government, education, social services etc. free from religious infuences.
I consider myself a strong Humanist because (put in the simplest terms) I am totally convinced that having one life to live it is best lived on the basis of judgements underpinned by the best scientific knowledge and that the best prospect of a just, caring, inclusive society is one based on reason and rationality rather than superstition.
Just because I am not a crusading evangelical humanist/atheist/secularist does not make my convictions any weaker or my views any less relevant
as Chris appears to suggest. People have many reasons, mine being personal and important to me, why I am not out crusading.
Chris wrote: However I am torn between believing that the decline will continue as slowly as before - and thinking that once people see the flaws in religion ( as they are doing) and the foundations slip, it may collapse like a pack of cards, at least in some countries.
The mistake Chris makes here is in appealing to reason. Religious belief/faith is not a rational choice people make but a product of conditioning and indoctrination. A further factor which further strengthens the hand of religion is that, if such luminaries as E.O. Wilson, Daniel C Dennett, Steven J Gould etc. are to be believed, a large proportion of humanity is genetically predisposed to irrational faith/belief, to the extent that they see no problem in believing what is demonstrably false. Given that, the task of disentangling society and our social structures from the influence of religion is going to be a slow laborious process and probably will never be complete as there will always be a sizeable proportion of society who will cling on to irrational faith despite any rational argument.
True lovers of knowledge are temperate and brave...
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#14 Post by Lifelinking » September 25th, 2007, 9:18 pm

We can listen but not learn from other's experience if it contradicts our own.
How crushingly lonely, how desolate that statement seems.

surely it can be one of the ways we can grow, not to mention one of the joys of life, to exercise our ability to be reflective about our own experiences (and how we make sense of them) in light of hearing about what other people think, and feel about things they have experienced?

I wish you well Chris,

thoughtfully,



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#15 Post by Chris » September 27th, 2007, 3:34 pm

Nick wrote:So much nonsense, Chris, and so little time to respond, so I'll take just one tiny point.
Atheism has been suppressed by the church for centuries as has the language necessary to go with it
.
And just how can anyone or anything suppress language? Language grows, develops and is used all the time. What evidence do you have for this strange assertion?
Firstly the fact that you do not understand what I am saying does not make it nonsense.

We are talking here about the language in which to articulate ideas.
Ideas are developed and spread using language, not just the everyday "hail fellow well met" or "Aye Aye Capt'n Pugwash"

If powerful elites want to suppress political or religious dissent such as republicansm or atheism, using cruel punishment and threats of hanging and burning and censorship - in a socitey in which most ordinary people were illiterate and had no access to any means of spreading those ideas - how could the language - through which ideas are articulated - develop?

As any small language group will testify, one way of subjugating them is to suppress their native language.

Suppressing language stifles the development of ideas, and the suppression of ideas stifles language. They go together.

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#16 Post by whitecraw » September 27th, 2007, 9:50 pm

I'm with ye there, Chris:

Mither Tung

Wap a fowk in cheens,
roup thaim, mizzle thaim;
yet they bide free.

Tak frae thaim wark,
passports, meat on the table,
beds tae lie in;
yet they bide bien.

A fowk turn servile an puir
whan reft o the tung o thir mithers;
then they are lost for ay.

Ignazio Buttitta

By the way: shouldn't we be calling on the Burmese government to clamp down on those effing monks, who seem to have appointed themselves the moral authority in the country?

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#17 Post by Lifelinking » September 27th, 2007, 10:00 pm

My Great Uncle Josef, taught Polish in a 'clandestine school' as the Polish language had been outlawed at that time in the area they lived.

Away the monks!


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#18 Post by whitecraw » September 27th, 2007, 10:25 pm

And, of course, the IRA and RC priests taught Gaelic in 'hedgerow schools' in the last days of the English occupation, right under the noses of the Black and Tans (which once was a favourite tipple of mine).

And those damned Buddhist monks! Their tangerine robes remind me of Dundee United supporters... only they're Arabs rather than Burmans.

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#19 Post by Alan C. » September 27th, 2007, 10:31 pm

whitecraw, where do you find these gems? That seem to be part norn, part Scottish, and that last one I'm assuming, written by an Italian (Ignazio Buttitta)
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#20 Post by whitecraw » September 28th, 2007, 10:24 am

Ignazio Buttitta was a 20th century Sicilian writer, who championed the Sicilian language against the encroachments of the regional Italian dialect (the Sicilian equivalent of Scots English). There are millions of speakers worldwide, but it is still not (unlike Scots) anywhere recognised as an official language, not even within Italy. In contrast to the Scottish Bletherhaus, the autonomous regional parliament of Sicily has legislated to encourage the teaching of Sicilian at all schools, but inroads into the education system have been extremely slow. It’s not very evident among the younger generation, whose tongues are shaped primarily by the Italian of the mass media.

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