Sunday, September 30, 2012

Beer and Tangled Choices in an Era of Hidden Ownership

By Gary Berg-Cross

OK I’ve known about political and ideological divides on beers for a long time.  Coors Brewing Company has been funding conservative causes for decades.  Now comes  charts from the National Journal, based on Scarborough Research’s 200,000 interviews with American. The bubble chart results shows where various brew falls along the political spectrum on one dimension and measures likelihood of voter turnout along the other.  Sure Coors Light is there for Republicans, but so is one of my favorites Blue Moon. Oh wait that’s also a Coors Brewery product.  Heineken is more of a lefty brew, most strongly associates with Democratic stance.  Check for it at your neighbor’s next party. But the charts show it doesn’t associate with voters likely to turnout! More potent left-leaning beers include Corona, and of course the Canadian Molson is associated with high voter turn out. But wait Coors merged with Canadian brewer Molson in 2005!  You can’t easily escape those Coors tentacles. Maybe it helps to know about union made beers.

OK, so that's what we know about voters.  What do we know about companies that own products like beer?  So many product brands with only a hint of who is behind the ownership curtain and what their values are.  It does raise an uncomfortable question in a “free market” system - who am I implicitly supporting when I buy something? Or perhaps what values, like a decent wage or worker’s rights am I supporting when I buy something?

It’s not a simple question with a single item or arithmetic value answer. Coors Brewing Company consciously "greenwashes"  itself in some progressive concepts that belie deep, conservative behavior. So it was one of the first corporations in America to offer same-sex partner benefits, and it makes corporate donations to a variety of African American, Asian American and Hispanic organizations.
But it is also is in the  union-busting as it steamrolled a serious boycott of its products when the union at the Coor’s flagship Colorado facility went on strike.

There’s clearly a lack of transparency about the products we buy and who’s behind then, but with conglomerates there’ not exactly easy knowledge of who is behind the products we buy. 

Which leads me to Bain Capital (I could have equally asked about Koch Industries) .

What products that we buy are at least partly owned by Bain?  Since its inception, Bain has invested in or acquired hundreds of companies. Among them are some ones that we see and frequently in a normal week.  These include: 

Burger King, Clear Channel Communications, Domino's Pizza, Dunkin' Donuts, The Sports Authority, Staples, Toys R Us, Warner Music Group and The Weather Channel.
Sure some, like Clear Channel are clearly illiberal, but others seem neutral.  But according to a recent report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), many of the fifty largest minimum wage employers in the country are either currently owned or have been owned by Bain Capital in recent years. These include:

#17: Dunkin’ Brands, which owns Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins and is currently owned by Bain Capital. U.S. workforce: 132,000 employees.
#25: Bloomin’ Brands, which owns Outback Steakhouse among other causal-dining restaurant chains and is currently owned by Bain Capital. U.S. workforce: 85,200 employees. Incidentally, this company is reportedly  trying to lower the minimum wage in Florida.
#45: Staples, Inc., for which Romney provided investment funds back in 1985 and served on the board for over a decade. U.S. workforce: 32,991. It’s often cited as one of Bain’s success employment and turn around stories.
#20: Domino’s Pizza, Inc., owned by Bain Capital from 1998-2010. U.S. workforce: 98,220.
#7: Burger King, acquired by Bain Capital from 2002-2010. U.S. workforce: 191,815.

According to the article Romney Economy: Too Few (American) Jobs, Too Little Pay these 5 companies alone account for about half a million workers.  — part of the 47% perhaps who work for around  $7.25 often with little or no benefits, like sick days. Sure, they grow companies profits which are funneled to Bain Capital investors like Romney and they produce “wealth’ there.   

But is that good enough for a humanist, opportunity society? Does it affirm an open, pluralistic, upwardly mobile and democracy society?  One might doubt it reading something like Russ Bellant's The Coors Connection How Coors Family Philanthopy Undermines Democratic Pluralism.
 Does it help to guarantee a protection of human rights from wealthy,  authoritarian 1% elites? All part of the mix of values tangled in our choices of beer, burgers, blooming onions and climate forecasts in our free society.

Image Credits
Coors Connection undermining pluralism: 
union busting:

Friday, September 28, 2012

Germany's Church Tax: Part Zwei

by Edd Doerr

See my 9/24/12 .Secular Perspectives blog comment on German's Church Tax.  On 9/26 Germany's highest administrative court  ruled that Catholics who opt out of paying the church tax must autonatically leave the church altogether. The court ruled against German theologian Hartmut Zapp, who wanted to leave the church as an institution  but remain a Catholic personally.

The AP story was buried in the business section of the Post on 9/26..

My 9/24 comment stands. But let me add: Jesus kicked the moneychangers out of the temple but today's German Catholic church has elevated the moneychangers to the status of sainthood. "Render unto der Kaiser what der Kaiser will render unto the bishops."

Maybe the church's new motto should be: "Die Deutschekatolischekirche unter alles". (The Garman Catholic Church UNDER all.") Heil der Heilige Papst!

Michell "Pseudo-Reformer" Rhee

by Edd Doerr

The 9/28/12 Washington Post features a half-page op ed piece by Michelle Rhee titled "A Democratic evolution", in which she lashes out at the Chicago teachers and their union and at teachers and teacher unions in general.  Rhee, the failed head of the DC school system, had the nerve to call herself a Democrat.

Her blustery half-page screed consciously overlooked the fact that the recent Chicago teacher strike was supported by 90% of the teachers and a solid majority of Chicago parents. Rhee nose-thumbingly
uttered not a word about the fact that 86% of Chicago kids are black or Latino and about that % live below or near the poverty line. Her  spiel said not a word about the fact that Chicago public schools are overcrowded, lack adequate air conditioning in warm weather, are seriously short of such wraparound services as  nurses and social workers, and have far too many kids in too many classes (such as one teacher's class of 41!). We know from Tennessee's STAR demonstration that keeping K-3 kids in classes of not over 15 kids has strong beneficial effects that last through high school. But getting class sizes down means more money for more classrooms and more teachers.

Let's not forget that Rhee is a rabid hater of teachers, is a strong advocate of diverting public funds to sectarian and other special interest private schools, and runs a zillionaire-funded outfit called "StudentsFirst", a front for undermining public education

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Never Apologize, Never Explain

By Gary Berg-Cross

On July 6, 2012 Bill Moyers had humanist poet Philip Appleman on his show. Appleman, author of nine books of poetry, three novels, and six volumes of non-fiction, is famous for many works including his editing of a critical anthology Darwin as well as a poetic turn with his  books Darwin’s Ark and Darwin’s Bestiary. As Moyers noted these have earned him praise for:

       illuminating the “overwhelming sanity” of Darwin’s thought with clarity and wit.  

But for freethinkers we can add to these his recent collection Perfidious Proverbs and Other Poems—A Satirical Look at the Bible (published by Humanity Books ) is definitely one to enjoy. Bill Creasy pointed to this collection in his article published in the September 2011 issue of WASHline, the newsletter of the Washington Area Secular Humanists.

A portion of his poem GERTRUDE, celebrating his mother Gertrude Appleman, 1901-1976, is shown below.  Phillip starts with a piece from the  Catechism of Christian Doctrine which states that “God is all-knowing, all-present, and almighty.”

The poem takes this doctrine to task. It includes this:

I wish that all the people who peddle God could watch my mother die: could see the skin and gristle weighing in at seventy-nine, every stubborn pound of flesh a small death.
I wish the people who peddled God could see her young, lovely in gardens and beautiful in kitchens, and could watch the hand of God slowly twisting her knees and fingers till they gnarled and knotted, settling in for thirty years of pain.

I wish the people who peddle God could see the lightning of His cancer striking her, that small frame tensing at every shock, her sweet contralto scratchy with the Lord's infection: Philip, I want to die.
I wish I had them gathered round, those preachers, popes, rabbis, imams, priests—every pious shill on God's payroll—and I would pull the sheets from my mother's brittle body, and they would fall on their knees at her bedside to be forgiven all their faith.

The image above is from Appleman’s poem God’s Grandeur in “Karma, dharma, pudding, and pie...”.  

 The tongue in cheek poem starts out in a Jobian way

When they hunger and thirst, and I send down a famine,
When they pray for the sun, and I drown them with rain,
And they beg me for reasons, my only reply is:
I never apologize, never explain.

When the Angel of Death is a black wind around them
And children are dying in terrible pain,
Then they burn little candles in churches, but still
I never apologize, never explain.

It ends with this:

Of course, if they’re smart, they can figure it out–
The best of all reasons is perfectly plain.
It’s because I just happen to like it this way–
So I never apologize, never explain.”

You can see Appleman reading the entire poem on Moyers show at:

More of Appleman’s thoughts are at The Labyrinth: God, Darwin and the Meaning of Life

A full version of the poem is available on the American Humanist’s site.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Apologies or Regrets? Weakness or Strength?

Yesterday, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were hosted on The View in a wonderful interview.  I mean, not even Elizabeth was able to spoil it with her twisted little right wing question.  I’ve seen them both there several times, but this is the first time they’ve both been on simultaneously.  Each time, they’ve been warm, likable, and feel as honest as one can be.  You can hardly keep from liking them when its over, especially when they’re talking about the kids!

So, they’re there, and each of the ladies of The View are taking turns asking questions.  The subject turns to the Middle East and the recent ugliness there sparked by the anti-muslim film.  The President gave a good answer, but while he spoke, it sparked something I’d like to talk about.

He mentioned the protests this past week supporting the US and telling the militias to get out of town.  Now, those protests have been the subject of a lot of right wing political talk on Facebook since they happened, almost always saying something like, “Go, Libyans!  Throw the bums out!” and such.

Good sentiments, and yes, I’d like to see more of that - regular people getting mad at the extremists and telling them to bug off.  But I’ve got news for the right wing, and they’re not going to like it.

You know all those regular Libyans who marched last week?  Do you know why?  Because the terrorists killed a man they respected.  Yes, he was an American Ambassador, but that wasn’t why.

They respected him because he helped them.  He stood by them in a time of terrible strife and hardship, representing this country, but doing it in a way that showed he cared.  He didn’t do it just because it was US policy.  He did it because he cared for them as people, and because they needed our help.  Not because it was over a larger policy thing or because of overall American interests.   He did what he did because he gave a damn about them, and they could clearly see that from his actions and his words.

And they loved him for that.

The part the right wing won’t like is that this is Obama’s policy.  He has shown this by making those speeches the right thinks were apologies.  He has told the people of these countries that we respect them as a people, and we respect their culture and regret instances where we seem to show otherwise.

Contrary to what the right thinks, expressing regrets like that isn’t a weakness. It shows strength, and it shows respect.  A weak country, like Iraq under Hussein, can’t apologize, because then it does sound weak.  A small country like that needs to show strength to protect itself from its enemies. A warlord like Hussein cannot show any weakness or his political enemies will eat him alive.

A big country like the US not only shows respect by expressing regrets, but shows strength as well, because doing what, in a small country, would be weakness, a big one shows it isn’t afraid of weakness.  It shows our confidence in our own power and ability to defend our interests that we can express regrets or even an outright apology when someone who works for us (like the military) makes a mistake that insults another country.  Such a gesture goes a long way in mending fences and showing others that we respect them and want to be friendly.

It is fine (and necessary) at times to be seen as strong and forceful when one’s core interests are under attack or being threatened.  To do otherwise would be to invite further attack and eventually, defeat.  But one also cannot be seen as too strong or overbearing.  Forgoing the opportunities to show respect or regret over mistakes is not only terrible diplomacy, but is seen as being arrogant and aloof.

That’s why we employ professional diplomats.  So they can advise us of how to act towards other countries in accordance with their culture and social mores to avoid insult or to show respect.

By showing the people of these countries that we respect them and their culture, and by providing support and assistance when it is needed most, we gain friends in a part of the world where we desperately need them.  The message that Bush tried to send, that we are not at war with Islam, is an important one.  In spite of the attempts of extremists (of both religions) to make this conflict a religious one, the kind of policy that Obama has  followed has borne fruit, proven by the supportive protests in Libya this week.

If we can show the people of the middle east that we support them and not the dictators who have oppressed them for so long, we have a chance to salvage something from the past sixty years and the wreckage of Bush’s misguided war, perhaps laying the groundwork for a future Islam which is more Enlightened than today.

It certainly can't hurt.

Robert Ahrens
The Cybernetic Atheist

Monday, September 24, 2012

Germany's Church Tax

by Edd Doerr

In Germany 8 or 9% of one's federal tax bill goes to the church of which one is a member, Catholic, Lutheran or whatever. But as church attendance has been plummeting for years, many Germans are able to avoid paying the church tax by declaring to the government that they have left their church. In  recent years as many as 120,000 people have left the church annually, a figure that has jumped to about 180,000 in the last couple of years due to the revelations of clerical sexual abuse of minors. Alarmed at the loss of revenue (the Catholic church rakes in about $6.5 billion per year, the Protestant churches somewhat less) the German Catholic bishops have decreed that "defectors" will be denied  such church benefits as the sacraments, church funerals, jobs in church-run (but tax supported) institutions, participation in choirs and charities. Some thoughts ----

Herr Schmidt approaches the church door. A burly guard demands:"Your papers -- er, your tax returns -- bitte. What, you can't prove you paid your church tax? OK, Hans, hit the Strasse."

What would Jesus do? The Bible relates that Jesus drove the money changers  out of the temple. And he reportedly asked people to follow him but did not charge admission. But the German bishops seem to want to BE money changers. Perhaps the bishops read to NT to say, "Render unto Caesar what will end up with the bishops."

Some German wit is sure to offer this trope: "Pedophiles, ja: freeloaders, nein!"

Churches in America have been doing quite nicely without government subsidies, though bishops and fundamentalists and Republican politicians have been push for tax subsidies for church-related private schools through vouchers. But in general churches have done rather well in the US even though we enshrined the Jeffersonian/Madisonian church-state separation principle in the US and most state constitutions.

Perhaps the German bishops should read what Benjamin Franklin had to say on the subject: "When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not choose to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Time to spread the thought of R.G Ingersoll

The works of Robert Ingersoll should be brought to the notice of young generation throught out world. Translation should be made rapidly so that world will wake up from religious slumber and blind beliefs.
Here is the site :
Innaiah Narisetti

Friday, September 21, 2012

Tolerance yes, respect no.

Mathew Goldstein

Illiberal societies identify one religion, or related group of religions, that rule. Liberal societies try to accommodate the multiplicity of mutually exclusive religious doctrines. One approach is an ecumenical accommodation built on a watered down, common denominator, general religion, with a focus on monotheism, or on theism more generally. Some governments establish this ecumenical religion as their civic religion. An assumption of such civic religion is that religious beliefs warrant respect. Some people are influenced to endorse this respect for religion principle by the notions that liberalism requires respecting pluralism and esteeming diversity of beliefs. Other people associate government establishment of ecumenical civic religion with religious toleration and freedom of worship. But is government establishment of ecumenical civic religion really liberal?

Beneath this accommodation there remain unresolved potential sources of conflict. There is the unaltered totality, supremacy, and singular exclusivity that persists in the doctrine of individual religions. Jesus Christ’s declaration is “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Civic religion says that although Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, etc., are not your way and as a result you are to suffer eternal damnation, or whatever the punishment is that the particular religious doctrine dictates infidels are to suffer, you should respect them. Civic religion says a god exists (or multiple gods exist), and that citizens are, or at least should be, monotheists (or theists), regardless of, and contrary to, the weight of the overall available evidence otherwise. These are illiberal expectations.

Such respect, built on self-censorship, fear of disunity, and an incomplete non-sectarianism, is artificial and superficial. There is no good reason to treat religious beliefs any differently from other beliefs, and nothing other than circular reasoning to argue that a nonbeliever should acknowledge any religious doctrine as anything more than just another set of ideas. No religion, as a system of belief and a practice of living, is automatically deserving of respect just because others opt to commit to it. Ideas, whatever label we affix to them, must earn our respect intellectually, and not be awarded our respect uncritically.

There is good reason to proffer mere toleration for beliefs of all sorts. Until we find our way to that truth that is the one way for all (which will probably be atheism), or that coherently permits multiple ways for all (toss in deism), tolerance is the pragmatic common ground for living in peace. But religions do not always keep to themselves. They may sometimes impinge on their neighbors. When they do, we need to consider religious doctrines as we would any other set of ideas or any other argument or claim about the nature of the world. Just like we need to justify our non-religious claims about the nature of the world in empirical evidence, so too with religious claims, particularly when they try to assert relevance over determining our behaviors, defining our self-identities, or setting government policies.

Over the last several weeks we have witnessed the spectacle of Islamists overseas protesting for the U.S. government to arrest some of our citizens for placing a video on the internet that was dubbed to depict the founder of their religion as a scoundrel and then translated into Arabic. Some of the protests turned violent. Most Islamic governments tend towards illiberalism, some censor the internet, some have blasphemy laws. Most of our citizens don't want our government to censor the internet or enact blasphemy laws. Yet there is still an illiberal, unearned respect for religious claims in our government's established civic religion that goes beyond any need to respect freedom of conscience. Government establishment of a civic religion improperly cedes to religious claims an automatic respect. We are a liberal society relative to other societies, but our establishments of monotheism are illiberal.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Taskmasters for the Gods: On Religious Terrorism

by Naima Washington

When I’m seeking clear political analysis, I don’t depend on others particularly politicians and/or celebrities to help me to understand what is going on, but recently I listened with a great deal of annoyance as Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Walters, et al. expressed their dismay about a film made in the US which supposedly insults Mohammed. Both Whoopi and Barbara agreed that the people (Americans) shouldn’t ‘insult other people’s deities,’ (Mohammed). Apparently, being well-informed isn’t necessary in order to have access to millions of television viewers five days a week. In spite of those two uninformed defenders of Islam, the fact is that no Muslim would dare refer to Mohammed as a deity. Neither would a Muslim refer to Jesus as a deity; a prophet, but certainly not God, even if over one billion Christians claim that Jesus is God, which once again demonstrates that ‘respect’ for the religious views of others isn’t a two-way street! Whoopi and Barbara may be surprised to learn that many theists are certain that they are required or otherwise directed by their deities to ‘insult’ rather than respect the deities and beliefs of others. After all, those other beliefs are false, offensive, and displeasing to their own true god! Free thought, free speech, and free inquiry have no place among the great religions of the world.

The pastor in Florida would be the first to say that he has no duty to respect the false beliefs of others and that his deity instructs him to condemn/insult/offend all other believers including Muslims. Our Constitution gives him the right to condemn/insult/offend other points of view. But, according to author and publisher H.L. Mencken, “The meaning of religious freedom…is taken to be a sort of immunity, not merely from governmental control but also from public opinion.…even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities…to argue for them…to teach them to his children…provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force…he has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred…”

In the 21st century, what we continue to see are many theists—religious authorities as well as individuals—demanding the right to practice their religions, to be free from government control, and to be immune from public opinion as well. Some theists also think that they have the right to not only argue for their religious beliefs but to also inflict them on others by force as well as to persecute those who disagree with them along with those who may be insufficiently devote. That’s a lot of power to wield over other human beings! Religious terrorism (whether carried out by individuals, religious establishments and/or state-sponsored armies) is always directed not at false beliefs and/or false gods, but towards people: women and children; members of rival religious groups; journalists, artists, and musicians whose works failed to support the views of the religious terrorists; students and intellectuals; heretics; secular authorities including government officials and agencies whose views differed from those of the religious terrorists, etc.

I hope Whoopi and Barbara use their television platform to relentlessly condemn religious terrorism whether foreign or homegrown; that they will condemn terrorists who burn any private home as well as a house of worship; that they will demand justice for women anywhere in the world who demand their human rights only to be kidnapped, raped, and murdered; and that they will defend the growing numbers of innocent people who are arbitrarily persecuted by religious terrorists such as the young non-Muslim girl who was imprisoned after being falsely accused of destroying pages of the Koran. Whether they are in the East or West, religious terrorists aren’t interested in those who believe in so-called higher powers; those who are ‘spiritual, centered, or at one with Nature, in-tune with the cosmos,’ etc. Religious terrorists—just like state-sponsored terrorists (although they may be one and the same)—are only interested in unquestioned obedience to the deity and beliefs that they espoused.

The world continues to become an even more dangerous place when those who ought to know better cannot bring themselves to condemn mob violence simply because it is wrapped in religious dogma. At the same time, all too often, the hungry, unemployed, and oppressed citizens who lack social, economic, and political empowerment can be coerced to take to the streets as their political rulers encourage them to direct their rage at external forces. These frustrated citizens can also be encouraged to take out their pent-up anger on the nonbelievers, tourists, foreigners, heretics, etc. within their borders while their incompetent, corrupt, and oppressive rulers go unchallenged. At the end of the day, after the fires have burned out, when the streets are littered with bodies and all that remains is the wreckage of another city or town, there is still hunger, unemployment, poverty, and oppression along with perennial economic, social, and political disenfranchisement. Furthermore, at the end of the day, those who have created, profited from, and/or maintained the status quo remain in power.

We continue to be assured that acts of religious terrorism do not represent the sacred essence of the great religions of the world. After every social upheaval, every murder, every atrocity we continue to hear from nearly every quarter that these senseless acts are the work of a small, insignificant minority. When there are bloodlettings, stonings, bombings of women’s clinics, schools, and private homes; brutal beatings; gang rapes; kidnappings and murders, where are those who represent the true sacred essence of these great religions of the world? Why can’t the civilized majority of religious adherents, those who supposedly represent peaceful religious beliefs take to the airwaves to issue unambiguous condemnations of those calling for blood? Why aren’t they demanding justice for those who have been wronged? Why don’t those who claim to represent the truly compassionate side of religious belief fill the streets and sidewalks of towns and cities by the millions? Why aren’t their voices drowning out the voices of those who are calling for blood? If they supposedly outnumber this tiny minority, why hasn’t this religious silent majority taken center stage and faced-down that tiny, vocal, murderous minority once and for all?

Most theists seem to insist on only believing in those deities which are utterly incapable of defending themselves! Their gods always seem to need the efforts of human beings to think, speak, and act on behalf of their gods. There is a wall poster which says, “Don’t make me come down there!” Supposedly, this threat is issued by a god who is unhappy with the behavior of human beings. Considering all of the injustice, inhumanity, and suffering that is endured by people and often inflicted in the names of the gods, I can’t help but wonder as to just what it would take to make a god come down here. What does it take to make him come down here and end all of the confusion about his existence; all of the misunderstandings about exactly what, if anything, he could possibly want from human beings. What is it that needs to be done in order for him to come down here and defend himself against those who have dared to disobey, insult or disrespect him; what does it take to get him to do his own raping, killing, and otherwise clean up his own mess? I don’t particularly care if someone believes in one god, many gods, or no gods. That’s not my business. But, I’d like to see human beings step back and leave to the gods all of those monumental tasks which can only be accomplished by the gods.

Human beings can begin to perfect their own work, and we can begin by addressing the threat of global annihilation by dismantling all weapons of mass destruction in our own backyards. The cost of only storing them is outrageous and is money that can be used to the benefit as opposed to the destruction of human beings. We can take on the task of preventing and curing many more illnesses; make sure that no one ever has to beg for food; access to food must become not only a universal human right but all people must actually have access to food. We need to make sure that everyone has access to clean water and gets to live in a sanitary environment. We must address both local and global environmental issues. We can house the homeless, renew infrastructures, and create mass transportation systems. We can build more schools and provide quality education; build more hospitals, playgrounds, parks and recreational centers; support the arts; build more theatres and concert halls. We can aim high by addressing alcohol and drug addiction; mental illness; and see to it that the end of life is dignified and compassionate for everyone. We can aim to assure that every woman, man, and child is free from acts of domestic, religious, and/or state-sponsored violence. Until and unless the human race begins to address the problems that we face it is guaranteed that the so-called moderate theists of the world who claim to be the righteous representatives of peaceful deities will continue to expect and accept all of the privileges and well as the immunity that comes with religious belief just as these privileges and immunity will continue to be exercised by their so-called less tolerant, more devote, and ultimately more violent co-believers. But it is up to human beings, not the gods, to create civilizations worthy of the name.

Unique warning to fanatics

This is posted by Mr Floris, the humanist in face book. It is quite appropriate to take note of it:
posted by Innaiah Narisetti

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Priests and Politics

by Edd Doerr

"Priest's Dip Into Politics Raises Outcry" is the head on a 9/19/12 NY Times story about Fr John Farren of NY's St Catherine of Siena church putting in the parish bulletin the letter by six former US ambassadors to the Holy See (Vatican) endorsing Romney for president because of his pro-Vatican stand against abortion rights and gay marriage. Times writer Jim Dwyer said: "The church has made strong statements about economic justice for the poor, protection of immigrants, support of labor unions and objections to the death penalty, but those issues have largely been drowned out by advocacy against abortion and same-sex marriage." It just happens that all US ambassadors to the Holy See since 198r4 have been Catholics, which would seem to be a violation of Article VI of the Constitution, which prohibits religious tests for public office.

Now, about this business of US diplomatic recognition of the Holy See. This issue came up in 1984 when Reagan wanted to start that representation. But first, he had to get Congress to repeal an 1867 law prohibiting such relations.  On 2/9/84, representing Americans for Religious Liberty, the Council for Secular Humanisn, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the American Ethical Union, and the American Humanist Association, I presented oral and written testimony to a hearing of the  House Appropriations Committee on the subject of "Reprogramming Funds for United States Mission to the Vatican". (The complete testimony is in my 2006 book Here I Stand, available from me for $7, Box 6656, Silver Spring, Md 20916.)  The State Dept guys who testified did  not seem to know the difference between the Vatican and the Holy See. The Vatican is a microstate about the size of a small golf course in the middle of Rome. It was created by Italian dictator Mussolini in 1929 in the Lateran Pacts. The Vatican has diplomatic relations only with Italy. The Holy See, headquarted at the Vatican (Citta del Vaticano), is the world headquarters of the Catholic church, and it is that entity that has diplomatic relations with over 100 countries worldwide. The Holy See was making treaties (concordats) with various nations between 1870 and 1929 when there was no state of any sort.

In my testimony I made the point that US diplomatic relations with the Holy See would be government preferment of one religion over all others, would violate the First Amendment, exacerbate interfaith tensions, etc. Unfortunately, Congress went along with Reagan and the US has had diplomatic relations with the Holy See ever since. A court challenge ensued (I was one of many plaintiffs), but we lost on the dubious ground of lack of standing.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Bladensburg ""Peace Cross"

by Edd Doerr

The Washington Post on Seprtember 14 devoted 5 columns and 2 photos to the ruckus over the veterans memorial 40-foot,  80-year old "peace cross" on public land in Bladensburg, Maryland, and the AHA's publicized request that be removed from public property. The AHA is described as a group that represents "atheists and others".

While this religious symbol on public land does raise religious freedom and church-state separation questions, many who would prefer to see the cross somehow relocated regard the AHA complaint as ill-timed. Couldn't it have waited until after November 6? More importantly, many strong supporters of church-state separation regard the AHA complaint as trivial, as a distraction from the really serious challenges to church-state separation that face voters nationwide on November 6, as a case of misplaced priorities.

Let us note that Romney, Ryan, the GOP national platform, GOP candidates for federal, state and local office, and powerful Religious Right and extremist groups are dead set on tearing down the constitutional wall of separation between church and state. They make no secret of wanting to -- 1. Wipe out or seriously restrict women's religious freedom and rights of conscience on reproductive matters, to impose on all women the malicious medieval minority misogynist morality of the Old Boys Club on the Tiber and the fundamentalist Religious Right; and 2. Force all taxpayers to support divisive faith-based private schools through school voucher or tuition tax credit (tax code voucher) schemes, to privatize education and wreck teacher unions, to change education to special indoctrination, to downgrade teaching to something resembling field labor.

Wasting time and energy squawking about highway crosses and similar trivia undermines the struggle to defend religious freedom and church-state separation that brimgs together humanists and enlightened Catholics, mainstream Protestants, Jews and others.

Paul Kurtz

by Edd Doerr

On September 8 the Washington Area Secular Humanists (WASH) presented a panel discussion on the contributions to humanism of Paul Kurtz. The panel consisted of Stuart Jordan, president of the Institute for Science and Human Values (founded by Paul Kurtz); Nathan Bupp, editor of the new book Meaning and Value in a Secular Age: The Writings of Paul Kurtz (Prometheus Books, 2012, 365 pp, $19); Margaret Downey, president of the Philadelphia Freethought Society; and myself. All of us agreed that Kurtz has been the most important voice for humanism or secular humanism for the past half century. Paul was editor of The Humanist (AHA), later  Free Inquiry, and now The Human Prospect: A Neohumanist Perspective.  He founded the world's largest humanist publishing house, Prometheus Books, produced a television series, wrote about 50 books and many  hundreds of articles, and founded the Center for Inquiry. He and Edwin Wilson produced the 1973 Humanist Manifesto II.

My own connection with Paul goes back about 45 years. (By coincidence we have the same birthday, the winter solstice.) Around 1971 Paul asked me to write a column in The Humanist with Paul Blanshard, which we did for a couple of years, until Blanshard retired. I continued the column for another 30 some years until my successor as AHA president ordered my column terminated in a bizarre and unhumanistic fit of pique. At which point Paul Kurtz asked me to continue the column in Free Inquiry, for which I still write.

In 1973 I was one of the original signers of Humanist Manifesto II, which rated an eleven page story in the New York Times on August  26, 1973, and is probably the best summary of humanist thinking ever produced.

Let me recommend Paul's Meaning and Value. This book of Paul's writings over a span of nearlt 50 years is a real treasure, and one too long and rich for even a short review here. Buy the book.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Correcting unconstitutional state constitutions

By Mathew Goldstein

In 1961, the US Supreme Court ruled in Torcaso v. Watkins that it violates both the first and fourteenth amendment of the US constitution for state governments to require anyone to recite a religious test oath as a condition of government employment. State legislatures modify their constitutions frequently. There were 689 amendments in the period 1994- 2001 alone. Overall, there have been almost 150 state constitutions and they have been amended roughly 12,000 times. Yet more than fifty years after that Supreme Court decision, the text of seven state constitutions (Texas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee) continue to mandate an unenforceable religious test oath as a condition for government employment as they did prior to 1961.

Among the possible justifications for amending a state constitution, ensuring that the state constitution complies with the federal constitution is surely among the best and least controversial. State lawmakers knowingly obligate all the citizens of their state to respect state laws and they themselves are obligated to respect those same laws. These state lawmakers are also citizens of the nation which similarly has lawmakers who also obligate all the citizens of the nation to respect national laws. So when a state constitution clearly flouts federal law, the state lawmakers are obligated to promptly amend their constitution to ensure the state constitution complies with federal law.

Yet the very same Article 37 of the Maryland Constitution that was declared unconstitutional in 1961 is one of the obsolete state laws that remains intact. The Maryland State Legislature could take the first step to cleanse their constitution of its invalid provisions with 3/5 of both houses voting to do so. They should have done this fifty years ago.

The current Maryland Constitution, ratified in 1867, has been amended almost 200 times, most recently in 2010, a rate that is close to one amendment per year. In 1970 an amendment that created the position of Lieutenant Governor of Maryland was approved. In 1972 an amendment created the current legislative districting system. Two amendments were on the 2008 Maryland State Ballot, both were approved. Amendments were also ratified in 1962, 1964, 1966, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1984, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2002 and 2006. Yet in all of this time, no amendment "for the general purpose of removing or correcting constitutional provisions which are obsolete, inaccurate, invalid, unconstitutional", as called for in Article 14 of the Maryland Constitution, has been passed by the Maryland State Legislature to comply with the Torcaso v. Watkins ruling.

So what is going on here? Why are some state governments failing to respect a fifty year old Supreme Court decision? It cannot be because they consider exhibiting respect for national constitutional law to be unnecessary. It cannot be because they consider amending the state constitution too difficult. It isn't because public opinion favors religious test oaths for government office. Many state constitutions that pre-dated the federal constitution were subsequently revised or amended to remove religious test oath provisions.

The seven state governments have not acted because the unconstitutional religious test is for theism, and there is substantial public opinion opposition to fully applying our constitutional law to atheists. In Torcaso v. Watkins, the Supreme Court ruled that an oath of office cannot be utilized to restrict government employment only to people who self-identity as theists. But according to Congressional law we are "one nation under God" and "in God we trust" describes the national character. In the minds of many people, equality before the law for all citizens is a divisive principle when all citizens really means all citizens and not just theists. In their minds, atheists may exist, but their existence is an alien anomaly that is to be disregarded. In their minds, some people may say they are atheists, but no one is really an atheist. In their minds, atheism is dangerous, it is a rotten choice, it indicates poor character, and therefore atheists should be fenced off from the rest of community in self-defense. In their minds, many atheists accept their outsider status because even they themselves understand it is justified.

And our lawmakers, instead of respecting the federal constitution first and fourteenth amendment laws, enthusiastically celebrate the federal laws from the 1950's that define citizenship and patriotism as theistic. Lawmakers for at least the past fifty years have defined leadership as being about following the majority, wherever it goes, federal constitution be damned. Secularists shouldn't consent to this situation. We should be challenging both public opinion and our lawmakers because we know that they are wrong. Because we know that the 1961 Supreme Court decision was correct. Because we know that the first and fourteenth amendment express legal principles that are worthy of our respect. Because leadership has to come from somewhere, and leadership can only come from the people who recognize the problem.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Humanist Weddings

by Edd Doerr

In over 35 years as a Humanist Counselor (AHA) I have officiated at dozens of weddings in Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia and Colorado. They were  all humanistic but somewhat different. Several stand out.

Several years ago I performed the first wedding at the Hard Rock Cafe near the White House. The event was so unusual that it was covered by the Washington Post, with photos. AND, the bride was the daughter of a couple that I had married 25 years earlier.

Two of the weddings were high up in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. One, for my niece, was held 7,000 feet up in the mountains, right on the Continental Divide. The other was a Jewish Humanist wedding, complete with music, which I performed in Hebrew. That same weekend, which fell during the Jewish high holy days, I spoke on church-state issues at a Unitarian church in Denver and performed the appropriate music in Hebrew. After the service a woman came up to me and said that it was nice that they had a Jewish speaker that day, though my background is not Jewish. Which reminds me of when I was the speaker at a Humanistic Jewish congregation in Florida around the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. The music was to be provided by a harpist. Since I had some Ladino [Jewish Spanish] music in my briefcase, she and I decided to perform spontaneously for the service some Sephardic music for  voice and  harp. It went well.)

About three years ago I got a phone call from a total stranger who wanted a humanist wedding in Bethesda, Maryland. He had a Spanish accent, so I asked if he and fiance wanted the wedding in Spanish. He was from Spain and his fiance from Colombia, so we arranged to celebrate the wedding in both English and Spanish, which worked out nicely because half of the 90 guests spoke only English and the other half only Spanish. What a coincidence. Am I the only humanist counselor who speaks Spanish?

Finally, a year or so earlier I had to officiate at a trilingual wedding in Maryland -- English, Spanish and German. -- at an estate on the shore of Chesapeake Bay.

Chicago Teachers Strike

by Edd Doerr

This letter was published in the Washington Post on 9/14/12 ----

"In Chicago, a strike of last resort"

"Bob Moore and Richard W, Murphy (letters, Sept 12) unfairly attacked Chicago public school teachers, about 90% of whom voted for the strike -- a last-resort defense against increasingly adverse conditions for teachers and students. An unfair teacher-evaluation system, excessively large class sizes and inadequate services for needy kids are conditions that can and should be remedied.

"As a former teacher, I know that teachers do not want to leave their classrooms.  But when they and their students are bullied and neglected by politicians who  have never had to deal with the problems that teachers face every day, their duty to their charges leaves them little choice.

"Edd Doerr
"Silver Spring, Md"

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Meaning Too Far: Macaca and Holocaust Moments

By Gary Berg-Cross

Words are used as surrogates to look into what people are thinking about candidates. Below is a partial list of unweighted word counts that people apply to President Obama. These are emotional words and part of sentiment analysis (which was pioneered to see what people thought of car and brand names):

Good/good man/good job 38
Trying/Tried/Tries 30
President 27
Failed/Failure 25
Incompetent 24

As you can see it is a mixed list of good and bad, but the good polarity sentiments outnumber the bad.

That’s analysis of what people think. Analysis going the other way looks at how speeches are crafted to make people think a certain way about a candidate or topic. There was a bit of a word storm of analysis after the recent political conventions. Commentators made much of the fact that Romney ignored the Afghan war and hadn’t said the word. But beyond that papers such as the NY Times did detailed analysis on which words were actually used and what we might surmise was the “message” being thrown out.

The graphic below is from the Times and shows that Barack Obama used the word “Health” or the phrase “Middle Class” much more than Romney who used God and Business much more. You can also see a chart of the words used by just Romney and other speakers from the NY Times. Words associated with foreign policy accounted for a small part – but the recent events in Libya have turned that around a bit. Pundits have always discussed campaign wars of words and the stories they tell, but text analysis has gotten incrementally more sophisticated to get closer to understanding the meanings that speech writers try to evoke and the images they cast. Words & phrases like “American Exceptionalism” used this way may have an uncertain alignment with history and external reality.

It has all to do with evoking powerful concepts a person already believes in. The skill is often in getting that fine tuning of moving people just a little way from where they are to where you want them to be. Use a phrase like “American Exceptionalism” often enough and it becomes a tool. You can then wrap your statements in this familiar language with just a hint of evidence (I created jobs) and hope your audience makes the connection you want. You might suggest that Entrepreneurs are part of “American Exceptionalism”. Tell that story and imply that community organizers are less a part of this. They don’t create jobs and are not “Exceptional”– look at the trouble they make.

Of course the story may go wrong if you deviate too widely and seem unfair.

Language requires massive amount of  commonsense knowledge, knowledge
 that a 5 year old has based on experience, but a computer problem doesn’t have. Connecting certain words makes sense and conveys an meaning in normal circumstance. So we may talk about picking up a “blue toy”, but not “burning a blue virtue”. Older kids may even understand a proposition such as “ the far table needs some more soda” even thought tables don’t drink.  We understand that the table includes people who do drink. We buy into the idea being communicated with an interpretation.

But political language can stretch our comprehension system a bit beyond its comfort zone and into interpretations we may find aesthetically disturbing. I’m thinking of the language of politicians like George Allen, Virginia’s 67th Governor, who had a "Macaca” Moment caught on camera. It seemed extreme and racist to label a citizen with an oblique monkey reference this way. It’s a triangle of meaning as I've blogged on before, with words too far from the concepts most of us have. Of course Allen just thought he had chosen the wrong word, but people judged a meaning in the word and perhaps too cheap a political trick to stir the crowd's emotions. More recently Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett a 10-term incumbent from Frederick County MD,  had a difficult moment. Bartlett is battling Democratic challenger John Delaney, a financier from Montgomery County in a redrawn district. He was asked during a town hall meeting in Cumberland MD if he favored government-issued student loans. Bartlett replied that such loans are unconstitutional - bad sentiment there. He thought that ignoring the Constitution to do something good (helping students has a good sentiment) can be “a very slippery slope.” What was he trying to connect government loans to? What was the path he saw? He cited the Nazi attempt to exterminate the Jews during World War II as an example of something bad that could happen if we support the federal government’s role in subsidized student loans. Here’s what he said about that slipper slope:

“The Holocaust that occurred in Germany -- how in the heck could that happen? And when you start down the wrong road, it can be a very slippery slope."

He’s apologizing vigorously for this poor choices of words and may be on a slippery slope himself, but what about his concepts? He finds no evidence in the U.S. Constitution that the federal government should be involved with education or that student loans were “a good idea.” This seems so 18th century and what, I guess, some call strict constructionism. Well at least people in parts of MD will have a chance to think about what a simple term like "student loans", "federal government" and "slippery slope" mean to people like Bartlett. The truth is that we often need more than commonsense to interpret political talk which is full of gaps and jumps and historical and cultural reference. There' s a plethora of things not spelled out in the constitution such as privacy rights that slick talk may make seem easy issues, but they are not since they involve more than some obvious meaning in a phrase like "student load" and who is responsible for what as part of that commitment. It's important to inquire into what is really being argued in these seemingly simple statements.

Image Crdits
Sentiment Analysis:
George Allen:

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Owe, schitte". Kride thuh Kween

buy Eddd Dore (kopiewright tuenntee tuelv)

"Owe, schitte," kride thuh Kween, az shie droupt hur seegahr inn hur glas uv bier. "Wheel bee lait!" Sew shie cauld hur showfurr, klimed inntwo thuh bak seet uv hur Rolz-Roiss, anne sett awf uhkros Lundun two thuh wrezidenz uv thuh Pryminestur. Thay krost Lundun agin awn thuh whey two thie hedkwaturz uv thuh Yewknighted Neighshuns, wear thay enkownturd thuh wreprheezentuhtivs uv Spane, Jermunee, Gnawlweigh, Meksicko, Ahrjenteenuh, Kanuhduh, Nighjeehreeuh, Phinnlund, Belljum, Gwatuhmawluh, Grees, Eejippt, Rusha, Yewkrane, Awstraileeuh, Gnu Zeelund, anne uh phiu uhthr kontrees.Thay deebatid awl dey anne awl nite uhbowt weathr two mek Inglische thie ohfishul langwidge uv thuh hole whirld. Phynullee thay konklooded itt wood knot bee praktickle beekawz Inglische arthawgrafee iz fahr two dipheekult.

Awn hur weigh bak two thuh pallus shie thawt upp a gnu pome --

Mowsee-Ratt, Mowsee-Ratt, wear hav yew bean?
Eye'v bean two Lundun two luk att thuh Kween.
Mowsee-Ratt, Mowsee-Ratt, wot didde yew their?
Eye lepht sum whee drawpings unndur hur chare.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Theism is not secularism

By Mathew Goldstein

Jacques Berlinerblau has written another article that was published with the title Atheists Are Not Secularists, this time his article was published Sept. 9 in Salon (previously it was published in the Huffington Post). It makes similar arguments as before, but with some additional details, and it adds a historical section on Englishman George Jacob Holyoake who coined the term secularism. His first argument is that secularism is being confused with atheism, his second argument is that atheists who criticize religion generally are extremists.

Mr. Berlinerblau begins by complaining that "the equation secularism = atheism ... is increasingly employed in popular usage". He cites the Secular Coalition of America for making this association because it claims to advocate on behalf of "the non-theistic community". Berlinerblau asks "why must so-called secular organizations be focused exclusively on nonbelievers?"

But on closer inspection it turns out that the otherwise diverse groups that "from the 1940s ... mobilized on behalf of secular causes" have an incomplete commitment to secularism and non-establishment of religion. They have focused on protecting minority theistic religious beliefs from majority theistic religious beliefs when the two conflict. Non-theism was, and continues to be, beyond the scope of their otherwise secularist agenda. The result is that the general principle has been compromised. So non-theists did what we had to do to defend the principle of secularism, we formed our own secularist group.

Berlinerblau is adopting a blame the unpopular victim argument here. Instead of holding the secularist movement responsible for dividing secularists by excluding atheists, he wants to hold atheists responsible for dividing the movement by adding their voice to the movement. This division will end with a change in position among the theistic secularists. When the rest of the secularist movement is willing to assert that the theistic national motto, pledge of allegiance, oaths of office, etc. are neither secular nor in compliance with the EC, regardless of poorly justified judicial decisions asserting otherwise, this internal division will wither away.

Berlinerblau complains that "the equation secularism = atheism", an equation which the Secular Coalition of America does not make, "leaves people of faith with little incentive to buy in". The Secular Coalition of America advocates for an inclusive government secularism that all secularists can share. The Secular Coalition of America states on its web site that they "enthusiastically welcome the participation of religious individuals who share our view that freedom of conscience must extend to people of all faiths and of none. Accordingly, our staff works in cooperation with a variety of other organizations and coalitions where common ground exists on specific issues...". If there is any advocacy that the Secular Coalition of America is engaged in which doesn't uphold civic equality for people of faith then Berlinerblau should identify it. That some theists prefer to have no association with atheists may be true, but that fact doesn't impose on atheists any obligation to be content with not having a public voice in civic affairs.

Government secularism is compatible with theists publicly advocating for theism on both religious and secular grounds. Numerous theists do this, and Berlinerblau evidently has no problem with this, nor should he. Similarly, government secularism is compatible with atheists publicly arguing for atheism. Berlinerblau, however, mistakenly thinks that atheists should not criticize "religion in general" and, if they do, they are "catastrophically" promoting a "creed" that is "dangerous", "misguided", and "extremist". As an example of this he cites Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins for their statements that people who defend religious faith, despite being well-intentioned, are facilitating religious extremism. Berlinerblau somehow concludes from such statements that they "can’t distinguish between a member of the Taliban beheading a journalist and a Methodist running a soup kitchen". Berlinerblau is wrong. They can and they do make this distinction.

It is a distinction between how we justify our beliefs and what beliefs we adopt and how the two are related. If the method deployed for justifying beliefs does not place substantial constraints on which beliefs can be viable, then we will tend to adopt more parochial and arbitrary beliefs. That is the problem with religious faith that the "New Atheists" quoted by Berlinerblau are pointing out. Choosing between religious faiths is too much like choosing between shirt colors, it is too non-empirical to allow for a logically right versus wrong choice. But unlike choosing shirt colors, choosing holy book literalism has implications for civil and human rights. Accordingly, an empirically constrained, evidence first approach to justifying beliefs is arguably a stronger and longer lasting antidote to religious intolerance than is tolerant religion which shares with intolerant religion the same fatally flawed, promiscuous, faith based approach to belief justification.

Which beliefs we adopt is important. For example, beliefs that deny freedom of expression with violence are not equal with beliefs that respect freedom of expression. Atheists who argue that the range of beliefs that are justifiable is related to the belief justification method are being reasonable and are doing nothing wrong. Children are taught to hold a religious belief on the authorities of tribal identity, tradition, holy book, theology, and faith instead of by overall currently available evidences. They are then arguably ill-equipped as adults to dispute religious extremists who cite the same authorities. If Berlinerblau wants to dispute this argument then he should engage the argument. Instead he throws negative adjectives at two people for daring to make this argument, and falsely caricatures their argument.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Paul Kurtz’s Integrated Vision in Quotes- Part 2

By Gary Berg-Cross
Here are a few of the thoughts that make up part of his Integrated Philosophy and his life’s work at the same.
Scientific Naturalism (Paul follows his mentor Sidney Hook)
There is a second meaning of naturalism, which is as a generalized description of the universe. According to the naturalists, nature is best accounted for by reference to material principles, i.e., by mass and energy and physical-chemical properties as encountered in diverse contexts of inquiry. This is a non-reductive naturalism, for although nature is physical-chemical at root, we need to deal with natural processes on various levels of observation and complexity: electrons and molecules, cells and organisms, flowers and trees, psychological cognition and perception, social institutions, and culture.
Paul Kurtz, "Darwin Re-Crucified: Why Are So Many Afraid of Naturalism?" Free Inquiry (Spring 1998)
The Role of Intelligence
Reason and intelligence are the most effective instruments that humankind possesses. There is no substitute: neither faith nor passion suffices in itself. The controlled use of scientific methods, which have transformed the natural and social sciences since the Renaissance, must be extended further in the solution of human problems. But reason must be tempered by humility, since no group has a monopoly of wisdom or virtue. Nor is there any guarantee that all problems can be solved or all questions answered. Yet critical intelligence, infused by a sense of human caring, is the best method that humanity has for resolving problems.

Pragmatic Naturalism
 "Science is not interpreted as an esoteric method of inquiry, but is continuous with standards of critical intelligence used in common, ordinary life." Kurtz, Paul, 1990, Philosophical Essays in Pragmatic Naturalism, Prometheus Books.

Free Inquiry
Free inquiry means that any effort to prevent the mind from exercising its right to pose questions is unwarranted. Skepticism is a vital principle of inquiry. This principle implies that the reliability of a hypothesis, theory, or belief is a function of the evidence, by which it is supported. If a claim is not justified by verification,
we ought to be cautious in holding fast to it. Paul Kurtz, Forbidden Fruit: The Ethics of Humanism

There is no word in the English language that adequately conveys the meaning of secular humanism. Secular humanism is not a religion; it represents a philosophical, scientific, and ethical outlook. I have accordingly introduced a new term, eupraxsophy, in order to distinguish humanistic convictions and practices from religious systems of faith and belief. Affirming Life - Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 24, Number 6. Editorial
New, Positive, Rational Skepticism
New Skepticism encompasses inquiry rather than doubt. It is Positive and constructive. The transformation of negative critical analysis of claims to knowledge into a positive contribution. The key principle of skeptical inquiry is to seek, when feasible, adequate evidence and reasonable grounds for any claim to truth in any context (paraphrase)

Secular Humanism
The secular humanist paradigm has six main characteristics: (1) it is a method of inquiry, (2) it provides a naturalistic cosmic outlook, (3) it is nontheistic, (4) it is committed to human ethics, (5) it offers a perspective that is democratic, and (6) it is planetary in scope. I should point out that many allies within the freethought or rationalist movement may accept one or more of these characteristics without accepting them all. Some mistakenly consider secular humanism to be equivalent with atheism, others with methodological naturalism, and still others with humanistic ethics. Secular humanism, however, is broader than any of these views; for it provides an integrated scientific-philosophical synthesis that encompasses all of these and more. This is sometimes called "naturalistic humanism." Ultimately, secular humanism proposes nothing less than the complete implementation of the agenda of modernism. This agenda in fact has yet to be fully implemented; what is necessary for it to occur is a post-modernist New Enlightenment.
-- Paul Kurtz, What is Secular Humanism (2007) page 23
Planetary Vision of Humanism
The overriding need is "to develop a new Planetary Humanism" that will seek to preserve human rights and enhance human freedom and dignity and will emphasize our commitment "to humanity as a whole." The underlying ethical principle "is the need to respect the dignity and worth of all persons in the world community." Thinkers as diverse as Peter Singer and Hans Küng also emphasize the need for a new global ethic beyond nationalistic, racial, religious, and ethnic chauvinism.
-- Paul Kurtz, What is Secular Humanism (2007) page 53, quoting from the Humanist Manifesto 2000

Joyful Exuberance

Humanists find exuberance to be intrinsically worthwhile for its own sake. This is usually identified with happiness. The Greeks called it eudaimonia, or well-being; this meant the actualization of a person’s nature, with pleasure as a by-product, not for the solitary moment, but in a complete life. This entails some moderation of a person’s desires. But I add that, in joyful exuberance, there is high excitement, the intensity of living, throbbing with passion, engaging in daring activities of enterprise and adventure.
Joyful exuberance is enhanced when we not only fulfill our needs and wants, but creatively express our goals and aspirations. It denotes some degree of excellence, nobility, even perfectibility, of a person’s talents and achievements. It comes to fruition for those who find life intensely worth living and at times exhilarating. Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 24, Number 6.s
Affirmative Stance
I believe that a person should take an affirmative outlook. There are always problems in life, old and new, uncertainties, and unexpected contingencies. The optimal way to deal with this is not to give up in despair, but to move ahead using the best intelligence and resources that we have to overcome adversity.
-- Paul Kurtz, from snowy Buffalo, NT, "New Year's Message from Paul Kurtz" (December 31, 2001) from
Image Credit
Top Graphic – created by Gary Berg-Cross

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Thoughts from A+ to eupraXsophy passing through Secular Humanism

By Gary Berg-Cross

At a recent Atheist MeetUp I attended the topic a A+ (‘Atheism Plus‘)came up. The women explaining it to me provided a small history to it, initially by feminists as a reaction, in part, to the “New Atheism” of Richard Dawkins and the other 3 horsemen.

Jen McCreight, self described as a “liberal, geeky, nerdy, scientific, perverted feminist atheist; kicked some of this off with an article called “How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism” in a Freethought blog. In effect if the New Atheism is the 2nd wave then A+ is an attempt at a 3rd wave. An apparent motivator for Jen and others is what they describe as various attitudes they associate with folk like the horsemen who are described as ‘old’ ‘white’ ‘male’ and ‘privileged.’ You can read much of the thinking in New Statesman article frequently quoted by the Freethought bloggers involved. Here is one way they describe Atheism+

“at its most basic, an attempt wrap things together more formally, to create a movement that prioritises issues of equality and does so from an explicitly non-religious perspective. Some would say that such a philosophy already exists in the form of humanism. Others prefer the label Skeptic.”

I’m new to this debate topic and as an old, white male not motivated to argue the fine points of the debate. There is already a counter attack. I would like to pursue the idea which struck several of the people at the Meetup, that some of the founding principals of ‘Atheism plus’ are a version of Secular Humanism – just with a catchier A plus title and icon to match.

You get some of this from the writing of Greta Christian who principles and values for A Plus include:

  • we care about social justice,
  • we support women’s rights,
  • we protest racism,
  • we fight homophobia and transphobia,
  • we use critical thinking and skepticism.

I like a focused positive stance and exchanges using optimistic language and perhaps we will see more discussion like this out of the A+ thinkers. I would welcome a connection to what Paul Kurtz has written about captivatingly in his succinct and to the point book Affirmations: Joyful And Creative Exuberance and earlier in the Secular Humanist. One of the principle is:

  • We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.

Below are some others:

  • We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.
  • We deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.
  • We believe that scientific discovery and technology can contribute to the betterment of human life.
  • We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.
  • We are committed to the principle of the separation of church and state.
  • We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.
  • We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.
  • We believe in supporting the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves.
  • We want to protect and enhance the earth, to preserve it for future generations, and to avoid inflicting needless suffering on other species.
  • We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.
  • We believe in the cultivation of moral excellence.
  • We respect the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health-care, and to die with dignity.
  • We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amenable to critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences.
  • We are deeply concerned with the moral education of our children. We want to nourish reason and compassion.
  • We are engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences.
  • We are citizens of the universe and are excited by discoveries still to be made in the cosmos.
  • We are skeptical of untested claims to knowledge, and we are open to novel ideas and seek new departures in our thinking.
  • We affirm humanism as a realistic alternative to theologies of despair and ideologies of violence and as a source of rich personal significance and genuine satisfaction in the service to others.
  • We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.
  • We believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.

Another connection might A+ might make down the road is to the new concept coined by Paul Kurtz in 1988 using the term Eupraxsophy. Composed of Greek roots, eu (good, well); praxis (practice, conduct), and sophia (wisdom)—eupraxsophy literally means "good practice and wisdom." Eupraxsophy characterizes nonreligious approach to life that involves commitment to a good life that is passionate while also being tempered by wisdom and guided by scientific, practical skepticism.

I note in passing that Nathan Bupp, who will be one of the panel members to discuss Kurtz living legacy at the Sept WASH MDC meeting, has edited a book on this topic called Meaning and Value in a Secular Age: Why Eupraxsophy Matters - The Writings of Paul Kurtz

Image Credits
eupraxsophy gearhead:

A+ logo :