Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Remembering Freethinkers and Secular Humanist Lives

by Gary Berg-Cross
One of the 5 founders of WASH died in August, 2015. It got me thinking about how to celebrate a freethinker’s life and what we learn from the lives of people deep into the values of Secular Humanism and a reason-based life. So I looked up a few of the reflections people have made on a few of them and some their own thoughtful expressions
A starting point for me was a childhood influence, Bertrand Russell, describe in and OBIT as:
“Philosopher, mathematician, academic, and campaigner for intellectual, social and sexual freedom, and peace and disarmament, Russell was a prominent atheist. He wrote about his worldview in Why I am Not a Christian, and was a member of the British Humanist Association’s Standing Advisory Council, as well as President of Cardiff Humanists, until his death.”
When the NY Times wrote at length on his passing they included this:
Unlike some generative thinkers, Russell epitomized the philosopher as a public figure. He was the Voltaire of his time, but lacking in the Sage of Fernay's malice. From the beginning to the end of his active life, Russell engaged himself with faunlike zest in the great issues of the day-- pacifism, rights for women, civil liberty, trial marriage, new methods of education, Communism, the nuclear peril and war and peace-- for he was at bottom a moralist and a humanist. He set forth his views on moral and ethical matters in such limpidly written books as "Marriage and Morals," "Education and the Social Order" and "Human Society in Ethics and Politics."
Russell like others mentioned here helped build useful organizations and they often contributed in multiple areas as Renaissance people - philosophers, natural philosophers (scientists), intellectuals and writers.  They are thus remembered also in their own words on topics they held forth on important topics such as in  the quote from BR below:

A 2nd such poymathic person, also from my childhood, was Isaac Asimov.
On his passing STEVE ALLEN wrote this still relevant observation noting the avoidance of his humanistic and atheistic stance in some OBITs. Mainstream culture often values things differently than the innovator does.
 A Tribute to Isaac Asimov
It is interesting that even so prominent a newspaper as the Los Angeles Times, in running a long and complimentary obituary story, one that started on the first page, referred to Isaac Asimov as a “science fiction virtuoso” and made no mention of his achievements as humanist thinker and writer.

I have the impression that the Times intended no slight whatsoever to the humanist movement in this matter but that its lack of reference to something so important to Asimov himself is an indicator of the general lack of attention paid to humanist philosophy by the American mainstream mindset. Indeed it has occurred to me that if it were not for daily attacks by right-wing fundamentalists, who are given to using the term secular humanist as they might use the phrase Satan or Communist, the non-theistic humanist movement would get almost no publicity at all

More friendly was this letter on his personality:

Isaac Asimov was not merely a great and prolific writer, but also a very funny and warm and friendly man ("Isaac Asimov, Science Fiction Virtuoso, Dies, April 7). He was always bubbling over with the most amazing wit and had more energy than any three normal men his age together. No matter how deeply involved he might be in some project or how pressed by some publishing deadline, he always enjoyed giving generously of his time and experience to help and encourage young writers of promise.
The media attention following his death was on his amazing output of publications and their influence. But for those of us who knew him, his written work is dwarfed by the challenge of his personality. Just to know him was to become a deeper and wiser person. BEN A. TUPPER Ramona
More recent is the memory of Carl Sagan. Joel Achenbach provided a tribute to him in THE SAGAN FILE which included this characterization of something familiar but something remarkably balanced by cosmological perspective. Freethinkers require many adjectives:
 He was your basic progressive liberal, a college professor, a peace advocate. But he saw our human obsessions as trivial in the grand scheme of things. The universe isn’t about us, he would say. He railed against human arrogance, against “our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe.”
And yet the voice in the file is that of a person who liked human beings, who rooted for them. Perhaps because Sagan had seen so many desert worlds out there in our solar system, so many cold, airless, sterile planets and moons, he appreciated the one place where we know life has proliferated, and where intelligence has somehow appeared.
   And much more recently, but just as complex we have the life and remembrance    of Christopher Hitchens.  The AHA remembrance started with:

Humanists and atheists are saddened by the death of the prolific writer and outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens, who died Thursday, December 15 at the age of 62...
“Humanity has lost a powerful stalwart for atheism,”

We feel a deep lose when the person has made us think and feel deeply and made us proud to be of the human species.

 On Saturday November 21, 2015 from 10:45 AM to 12:45 PM at the Wheaton Public Library, 11701 Georgia Ave., Wheaton, MD WASH will  remember another Secular Humanist Life  -George Porter on of the five founders of WASH.

Speakers include:

Fred Edwords (former AHA Director & former national director of the United Coalition of Reason) will moderate and our speakers include:
Ron Lindsay (president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry)
Rob Boston (Director of Communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Editor of Church & State magazine)
Stuart Jordan (past WASH President, emeritus senior staff scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, past President of ISHV, served as Science Advisor to the Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy.)
Ken Marsalek (WASH Cofounder, 6 years as early WASH president, coauthor of WASH bylaws, early WASH Board member)
Pete Lines WASH Cofounder, coauthor of WASH bylaws, early WASH Board member, secretary and treasurer) 
Bill Creasy (WASH Board member and Baltimore Chapter coordinator for 16 years, 6 years as WASH president, current WASH secretary)
Mike Reid Reid (WASH Board member for 10 years, editor of WASHline for 6 years, WASH president for 5 years.) 
Aaron Porter (son of George & Lois Porter, musician, and administrator for the Navy Band in Washington, DC)

There will be a small reception afterwards.

Please come and honor George Porter's  Secular Humanist Life as people who knew and loved him reflect on his life and contributions.

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