Monday, September 30, 2013

Christian panel promotes humanist values at Lenoir-Rhyne's "community dialogue"

Update: Video of this discussion is now available online.

This weekend I attended a "community dialogue" on "Politics, Religion and LGBT Equality" at Lenoir-Rhyne University. The discussion was hosted by Wolf Blitzer and included a local businessman and longtime advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, and two local Christian pastors. All three panelists made a strong case for LGBT equality based on the Fourteenth Amendment and common human decency. They all also argued against Biblical literalism and inerrancy. And to the concern by some about being seen as a bigot if you are against LGBT rights, all panelists seemed to agree with the businessman: "if the shoe fits, wear it...or get some new shoes."

There were only a couple of attempts to shut the discussion down. One guy got up early and starting yelling "IT IS A SIN!," but the police quickly escorted him out. Overall the audience was quite receptive to the progressive message of the panelists, and the arguments against Biblical literalism and inerrancy drew the loudest applause.

If not for the occasional reverences to God and Jesus, the whole dialogue sounded a lot like humanism. I commend Lenoir-Rhyne for hosting the event. I only wish that they would have included a secular humanist panelist. Maybe next time they will contact the Hickory Humanist Alliance or another CharlotteCoR group...



Monday, September 23, 2013

#CarolinasComingOut

The Charlotte Coalition of Reason is "coming out" for the 2013 Carolinas Secular Conference. So the Metrolina Chapter of Recovering From Religion (RR) created this topical bibliography of online resources on the topic. You can post about the conference on social media, or send suggested changes or additions to this bibliography, using the Twitter (or Facebook) hashtag #CarolinasComingOut (or #CarolinasComingOut on Facebook).

Permalinks:
 
 
 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

"You have to believe in something"

The Carolinas Secular Conference is an annual event of the growing secular movement in North Carolina. This year's conference theme is "coming out," and we'll be in Charlotte from October 4th - 6th. I will be available throughout the conference and speaking briefly about MetrolinaRfR (at 11 am on Saturday) as part of the Opening Plenary Session. This is the fourth in a series of posts about my own disbelief and experiences "coming out."

This one comes up from time to time. And it's so boring...
"What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite."
 - Bertrand Russell

Unless I am acting on my intuitions, which are often wrong, I start with doubt and then try to reason or investigate what is actually true. Faith, or belief, in the absence of any evidence or good reasons for believing something actually gets in the way of finding out! Authority, tradition, and revelation are not how we sent men to the moon!

And no: Reason and evidence, or science, isn't based on faith...




"You need to go to church"

The Carolinas Secular Conference is an annual event of the growing secular movement in North Carolina. This year's conference theme is "coming out," and we'll be in Charlotte from October 4th - 6th. I will be available throughout the conference and speaking briefly about MetrolinaRfR (at 11 am on Saturday) as part of the Opening Plenary Session. This is the fourth in a series of posts about my own disbelief and experiences "coming out."

A young fundie relative recently said this after disagreeing with me on gay rights. It's hard to take seriously, but some people still think you are going to hell if you don't go to church and swallow everything you are told. Enough said on that.

Some also believe that religion is required for morality. Personally I think Einstein said it best: our "ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death." But if it makes them feel better, I have recently been to a Unitarian Universalist church (twice!). I have also been to a local mosque (once) within the last year or two. And to several Baptist churches (weddings and funerals). They need to Google "humanism."

It's not really my thing, but I would go to a secular "church" to hear Jerry DeWitt speak or see what's up with those Sunday Assemblies. I also attend a local skeptic Meetup and other secular, atheist, humanists events in the area. I'm even attending (and speaking briefly at) the Carolinas Secular Conference in October! Does that count? :)

"Why are you so angry?"

The Carolinas Secular Conference is an annual event of the growing secular movement in North Carolina. This year's conference theme is "coming out," and we'll be in Charlotte from October 4th - 6th. I will be available throughout the conference and speaking briefly about MetrolinaRfR (at 11 am on Saturday) as part of the Opening Plenary Session. This is the third in a series of posts about my own disbelief and experiences "coming out."

Don't get me wrong, praying for me doesn't make me angry. But I do think it can be condescending. And I do get a little angry with people who insist on praying for me even after they know that I sometimes find it condescending. And I get a little angry when people actually ask but then just can't understand why I find it condescending. However, I typically just smile when someone tells me they are praying for me: I don't get angry at all.

But like Greta Christina, I do get angry about some things. Anger is a completely appropriate response to religiously-motivated child abuse and assassinations. I am surprised that more religious people are not even more angry than I am about these things. It makes me angry to see any bigotry, privilege, or abuse in the secular movement. I try to hold "my own side" to a higher standard.

But in my view, the trick with anger is first to recognize it, and then funnel it in directions that make a positive impact. I do not think it is healthy to suppress it. In my experience, people who ask "Why are you so angry?" are usually just trying to discredit your argument. And ad hominem arguments directed at me can sometimes make me angry. So please stop asking me why I'm so angry, or shut up and listen if you really want to know! :)

Coming out requires a support network

The Carolinas Secular Conference is an annual event of the growing secular movement in North Carolina. This year's conference theme is "coming out," and we'll be in Charlotte from October 4th - 6th. I will be available throughout the conference and speaking briefly about MetrolinaRfR (at 11 am on Saturday) as part of the Opening Plenary Session. This is the second post in a series of posts about my own disbelief and experiences "coming out."

As I mentioned in my first post in this series, I have not suffered any serious negative consequences as a result of my doubt or disbelief. I have certainly never felt that my family would disown me or that I would lose my job. However, there has been an impact to some personal relationships.
"I was surprised that more people (believers) didn’t want to know the details of my deconversion. There were two general responses: “I don’t want to know you any more” & “Let’s agree to disagree and not discuss this."
 - Catherine Dunphy (as quoted by Hemant Mehta)
I have had people in my life that respond to my skepticism in both of these ways. And like Catherine, I find it somewhat surprising. But I do agree with Ronald Lindsay that coming out as an atheist is seen as a threat by some religious people: "The realization that many atheists once were religious and then 'lost' their faith has an unnerving effect on some of the religious. How far will atheism spread? Will I be next? Or my children?"

I've have also had people in my life who offered to (or tell me they are going to) pray for me. I've had a few people ask politely if I would be offended if they did. I am somewhat surprised by people who don't understand why that is condescending, and I have on occasion been offended by an arrogant know-it-all who insists on praying for me even when I point out that it is condescending. My mother is both a believer and a good person, and she has never treated me in any of these ways.

But not everyone has non-judgmental friends and family to support them. That's why I think it is so important to have organizations like Recovering From Religion, the Secular Therapist Project, and the Clergy Project. While I have not personally suffered any serious negative consequences either from religion, or from leaving religion, I do know people who have. And I think it is important to support them regardless of whether they are leaving fundamentalism for a more pluralistic theism or for atheism and humanism. For too many people, the path out can be quite difficult. But more on that later...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Come Out for the Carolinas Secular Conference, y'all

The Carolinas Secular Conference is an annual event of the growing secular movement in North Carolina. This year's conference theme is "coming out," and we'll be in Charlotte from October 4th - 6th. I will be available throughout the conference and speaking briefly about MetrolinaRfR (at 11 am on Saturday) as part of the Opening Plenary Session. This is the first in a series of posts about my own disbelief and experiences "coming out."

As David Niose's recent piece in Psychology Today reminds us, disbelief is not a choice. I was raised in a moderate, somewhat sheltered, but non-dogmatic Protestant household in the Bible belt. But I'm not sure that my ontology ever really included the Tooth Fairy, Santa, Jesus, or the monster in my uncle's basement. If so, they were certainly not important parts of my childhood. My mom did make me go to church fairly regularly when I was very young (to light the candles - yes, I was an altar boy), but religion was never really a topic of discussion at "supper."

After high school, I got a full-time job in a hospital emergency room and started going to community college part-time. I was inspired by a math teacher and eventually got a degree in mathematics, but an interest in philosophy also led me to explore religion more in-depth (Christianity and its skeptics - everything from Why I am Not a Christian to The Myth of Sisyphus - as well as Buddhism and Taoism in particular). I became a "non-theist" (philosophical Taoist) around the age of twenty-one. I loved watching Kung Fu and worked with a physician (and homeopath) who practiced Tai Chi. I eventually studied My Jhong Law Horn and Wu Style Tai Chi with one of Grand Master Johnny Lee's first American students (and a professed Catholic). My wife and I were married by a Lutheran minister (in church), but I wrote the entire ceremony. It was predominately Taoist, and not the least bit Christian (except for the Lord's Prayer, which the minister insisted on saying at the end). Meanwhile, my interest in both science and mathematics was also growing. I developed an interest in skepticism inspired by Sagan, Asimov, and others. A career in software engineering and support exposed me to even more diversity, and engineering.

I have not hidden my doubts or disbelief from anyone, but I seldom wear them on my sleeve either (ok, maybe an occasional t-shirt at social events). And I haven't really suffered any serious negative consequences for it. Aside from the loss of relationships with a couple of "friends" and a few others in my life who "just don't want to discuss it" anymore, I haven't experienced negative consequences at work or in my community as a result of my disbelief either (unlike others). I have had supportive friends and supportive (if not always understanding) family all along the way.

I recently decided to become more active in the growing secular movement (for reasons that I will discuss in a subsequent post). After attending the Reason Rally last year, I co-founded the first (and currently only) local chapter of Recovering From Religion in the Charlotte-Metro area (there are currently six chapters in the Carolinas). I also discovered a thriving community in Charlotte (through Charlotte Atheists and Agnostics) and am now working with some other great people to start a humanist group in Hickory. These, and other local, groups recently formed a Charlotte Coalition of Reason "to foster a sense of community among the like-minded and raise public awareness that people who don't believe in a god or gods can be decent citizens who contribute to the larger society."

But getting back to Niose's point: Early doubts, supportive friends, a non-dogmatic family (if not the larger social) environment, exposure to diverse perspectives through both work and a college education, and minimal negative personal consequences are probably the most significant factors in my disbelief and coming out. And of course, an education - especially in mathematics, and a basic understanding of the real world (science) along with some experience in (software) engineering.
The good Christian should beware of mathematicians, and all those who make empty prophecies. The danger already exists that the mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and to confine man in the bonds of Hell.
 - Saint Augustine, DeGenesi ad Litteram
I'm not sure if Augustine really meant "mathematicians" or "astrologers," "numerologists," or a combination of what we understand these terms to mean today. But if you could go back in time and show him your cell phone in action he'd probably think you were the devil too! When I was starting to learn Tai Chi, I was (perhaps half-jokingly) called a Japanese devil-worshiper by a fundamentalist I knew at the time. I politely pointed out that Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art. She probably has her own cell phone now. I guess that's some progress?

More on my "coming out" later...

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Starting Over on the Pledge of Allegiance

"An atheistic American...is a contradiction in terms."
 - George MacPherson Docherty
Docherty (a Presbyterian minister) was the principal initiator of the addition of the words "under God" to the Pledge. He was quoted by Congressman Louis Charles Rabaut (Michigan) when introducing (in 1953) the first of many similar bills to amend the Pledge (formally adopted by Congress in 1942). The Pledge was finally amended by a joint resolution of Congress in 1954, and the words "under God" were inserted to "affirm our belief in the existence of God" and against "the evil weed of communism and its branches of materialism and political dictatorship" which were rooted in atheism (Rabaut).

David Niose argued this week before the Massachusetts Supreme Court that this violates equal protection (under state law). The now famous Newdow case, on the other hand, argued that "under God" in the Pledge violated the establishment clause of our federal constitution. It will be interesting to see how this new approach turns out in the courts, and I am happy to see Niose (current president of the Secular Coalition for America) leading this effort.

And I agree with Noise that "schools could start from scratch" by "designing a daily exercise [which]need not be a Pledge at all -- it could be a song, a quick lesson about a historic hero..." But instilling "patriotism" through government? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the "general notion of civic virtue." But the "group dedication" part can get ugly, and all too often "patriotism" does indeed become "the last refuge of the scoundrel."

That said, Noise's suggestion got me thinking about what an atheist and humanist might feel comfortable making a pledge of allegiance to? Borrowing from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt helped draft, I came up with the following:

I pledge allegiance to self-governance that respects the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights and responsibilities of freedom, justice, and peace for all members of the human family.

But instead of pledging allegiance to it, we should just focus on doing it! Then our children will have role models to emulate instead of boilerplate text to recite in rote. So that's how I would "start over" on the Pledge. What would you do?

Addendum: As for songs...Woody comes to mind. But I wouldn't make the Fox Five sing it.