Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Concussion: The denial of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the NFL

Update: January 3 - We just got back from seeing the movie, and I highly recommend it. It's unquestionably the best Will Smith movie I've seen and a powerful (true) story about science and science denial. Well worth a couple of hours of your time.

Update: February 7 - For Super Bowl Sunday, the Harvard Humanist Hub hosted a panel discussion on The Complicated Sport of Football (video embedded at the bottom of this post).

My wife and I were married on Super Bowl Sunday (XXII). For our anniversary this year, I'd like for her to take me to the movies. This blog post is her hint.

Concussion was released by Columbia Pictures on the first day of Newtonmas - only one week after the new Star Wars movie released. I haven't seen either film yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing Concussion. As Joe Nickell explains, the NFL's League of Denial is "reminiscent of earlier instances of science denial—for example, the refusals by tobacco and oil companies to admit that respectively, cigarette smoking causes cancer and carbon emissions produce global warming."

Dr. Julian Bailes, the former Steelers team physician played by Alec Baldwin in the movie, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the science behind Concussion is "very accurate," but he takes issue with the movie's portrait of longtime Steelers neurosurgeon Joseph Maroon as an obstructionist and villain. While the science of concussion and brain injury itself and its relationship to a game played at almost every secondary school in the country is still evolving, apologists for this moral abomination want to reform it to make it safer - and there's a lot of money in that.

Another former Steeler employee and concussion "expert" (MacArthur genius in 2011) at UNC Chapel Hill says the concern is overblown and worries that it might create unnecessary paranoia:
"It was very entertaining movie, certainly made for Hollywood. (It's) based on a true story, but they certainly twisted the truth in certain parts of the movie to keep it entertaining...We have no idea how many people in the United States, or in the world, might have CTE and what the risk factors may be. There may be genetic predisposition to this that just hasn’t been uncovered yet...There are far more benefits to being active participants in sport than there are the risks and consequences around concussions for the millions of kids we’re trying to keep active to prevent childhood obesity and diabetes."
 - Kevin Guskiewicz (WRAL)
WRAL describes Guskiewicz as a "neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has studied concussions for more than two decades," but his CV indicates that his PhD (as well as undergraduate and graduate education) is in sports medicine - not neuroscience. Still, one doesn't have to be a neuroscientist to recognize that we do have some ideas about the risk factors here - repeated brain trauma - and the consequences - chronic neurodegenerative disease over time in a substantial minority of players (as well as many remaining questions about CTE). And it's easy to agree with Dr. Steven Novella that banning all contact sports would be an extreme solution for CTE (not proportional to the evidence and the potential risk) - and to acknowledge that Guskiewicz is an expert in sports medicine who is trying to make contact sports like football safer. Good for him.

But I think there are better ways to prevent childhood obesity and diabetes, and unnecessary paranoia about CTE doesn't seem to be a real issue - nor do the consequences seem all that bad if it were (players quitting?). Besides, there's lots of other issues with football. We shouldn't ban it, but you really should quit watching it. Or would you prefer adding some wild animals and convicted criminals...and maybe a sword instead?

"The provocator"
Image Credit:

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Ten Days of Newtonmas

Note: This post has been updated for 2016 here.
"Isaac Newton was born 25 December 1642 according to the Julian calendar that is old-style. If converted to the Georgian calendar, we have to add ten days, and so his date of birth was 4 January 1643 new-style." - The Renaissance Mathematicus
Whether we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Pancha Ganapati, Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, HumanLight, Kwanzaa, Jediism, Festivus, Goatsmas, or something else - or nothing at all - we all owe a debt to this devout but unorthodox Christian who was a bit of a jerk and into the occult but was also “one of the most influential scientists of all time and as a key figure in the scientific revolution” (Wikipedia). In his honor, I humbly offer this sometimes irrhythmic version of “The Ten Days of Newton.” And I wish you all a very merry Newtonmas!
On the tenth day of Newtonmas,  
One of our greatest natural philosophers gave to us,
Ten confessed sins,
Nine moons of Jupiter and Saturn moving according to the same law that makes an apple fall,
Eight volumes of mathematics,  
Seven colors of light,  
Six planets orbiting according to Kepler’s Laws,
Five lessons of life,  
Four rules of reasoning,  
Three laws of motion,  
Two branches of calculus,  
And a universal law of gravitation.

Of course, as we all know, Isaac Newton isn’t the real reason for the season. But Festivus has already come and gone so it’s too late to air this grievance. If you feel like poking yourself in the eye now, please do it gently with your finger instead of with a bodkin like Newton.

Earth tilt animation.gif
Axial tilt is the reason for the seasons: "something big hit Earth and knocked it off-kilter."
"Earth tilt animation" by Tfr000 (talk) 16:54, 2 April 2012 (UTC) - Own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

  1. Wait a minute. Why are there only ten days of Newtonmas when December 25th through January 4th is actually eleven days? Which of Newton’s birthdays (Julian or Gregorian) is not part of Newtonmas and why? There are many theories about this: Ten is even, we have ten fingers and ten toes, or it just allows us to celebrate Christmas (instead of Newtonmas) with our Christian family and friends on the 25th and then start celebrating Newtonmas on the 26th. My own theory is that the 4th is not part of Newtonmas due to social pressure and discrimination against the holiday which is reflected by the fact that most people have to go back to work on the 4th and can’t celebrate that day!
  2. The celebration of Newtonmas was recorded as far back as 1892 September 8, “"A New Sect of Hero Worshippers."”, Nature, volume 46, ISSN 0028-0836, page 459:
  3. At Christmas, 1890, or Newtonmas, 248, for the first time, the members of the Newtonkai, or Newton Association, met in the Physical Laboratory of the Imperial University, to hear each other talk, to distribute appropriate gifts, and to lengthen out the small hours with laughter and good cheer.
  4. This post started as a Facebook note. Based on feedback from several people I have updated it to better represent some of Newton’s flaws - which compelling heroes need.
  5. Someone also noted that the “shoulders of giants” quote in the original cover image for my Facebook note might have been a swipe at Robert Hooke who was short and hunchbacked. So I replaced it with a picture of Newton's own copy of his Principia, with hand-written corrections for the second edition ("NewtonsPrincipia". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons), but I did not include that image in this post.
  6. Finally, note that lesson #3 in the “five lessons of life” link is apparently a misattribution - so here’s another lesson for you: you can’t trust Business Insider!

How did Newton die?
Image Credit: Unreal Facts

Monday, December 21, 2015

Know Your Neighbor

Know Your Neighbor

Last week the Center for Inquiry helped launch the Know Your Neighbor campaign at the White House with the ACLU, the Interfaith Alliance, and a diverse group of religious advocates including the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Hindu American Seva Societies, Muslim Advocates, the National Council of Churches, and the Sikh Coalition. Their campaign encourages Americans to get to know people of other faiths, and of no faith.

There are some great interfaith resources available on their website, including:
In related news, a diverse group of religious and community leaders ran an ad in today's Washington Post to speak out against the "currently alarming level of anti-Muslim rhetoric and bigotry" and in defense of religious liberty.

We're proud to join so many faith leaders from across the religious spectrum today in an open letter demanding that our...
Posted by Interfaith Alliance on Monday, December 21, 2015

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Force Awakens. Run, Forest, Run!

Have you experienced the new spiritual awakening yet? Have you ever noticed the Biblical themes in Star Wars? Or how the "Force" is like Allah? Did you know that Yoda is a Jewish sage, a Buddhist masterand a Hindu yogi? Perhaps you've noticed the Taoist or Sikh themes in previous movies?

This, of course, is all by design. But have you noticed any themes related to skepticism, agnosticism, freethinking, or humanism? And more to my point, have you noticed how Stars Wars fandom is like a religion? Or how, in the mist of all the current hype and consumer spending, it's starting to feel a lot like Christmas..."where you can't go anywhere without listening to the same music...where all broadcasts, all songs, all jokes, all references, are - just for that magic few weeks - just exactly like living in fucking North Korea" (Christopher Hitchens).

Have you ever felt like singing "Fuck Star Wars"? Do you really hate it?

Bah Humbug

Or maybe you're just afraid to agree with Piers Morgan?
But, come on...even Amy Poehler is tired of pretending!

Update: December 21 - Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye weigh in...


Friday, December 11, 2015

Interfaith Celebration of Human Rights in Hickory, NC

Temple Beth Shalom><br />
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Last night members of the <a href=
Temple Beth Shalom in Hickory, NC

Last night members of the Hickory Humanist Alliance attended the first public interfaith service hosted by the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council to celebrate Human Rights Day. We were invited to do a secular reading at the service, but due to some communication issues we were not on the program. However, the organizers of the event were very welcoming to us and apologetic about the mix up. We look forward to participating constructively in some of their future meetings or events.

The service was held at Temple Beth Shalom in Hickory and began with the blowing of a shofar followed by a prayer to the "Creator and Giver of Life." After a short Christian hymn members of the different faiths represented read all thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR reading was followed with "sacred readings" by a Muslim, a Mormon, a Jew, a Protestant Christian, and a Unitarian minister who read from the Bhagavad Gita. These "sacred readings" were followed by thanksgiving and intercessional group readings led by ministers and a closing prayer by the rabbi. Finally, everyone sang "Let There Be Peace on Earth" (except some of us skipped the "God" verse).

For Hickory, this is certainly progress. I hope to see more diverse interfaith dialogue and events like this in Catawba County in the future...

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

An unspoken vision for the future

Update: December 10 - (updated title) Due to some communication issues, we were not on the program and therefore did not have an opportunity to deliver our reading tonight. Maybe next time. My recap of the service is here...

Original post:

I will be delivering a reading tomorrow night (Thursday, December 10) on behalf of the Hickory Humanist Alliance at the first public interfaith service held by the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council to celebrate Human Rights Day. The service, which starts at 7 pm, is at Temple Beth Shalom in Hickory.

As I reflected on what to read, or say, I was reminded of how far we have come and how far we still need to go on human rights. My thoughts, as usual, went to a certain French Algerian...
"Yes, we must raise our voices. Up to this point, I have refrained from appealing to emotion. We are being torn apart by a logic of history which we have elaborated in every detail--a net which threatens to strangle us. It is not emotion which can cut through the web of a logic which has gone to irrational lengths, but only reason which can meet logic on its own ground. But I should not want to leave the impression... that any program for the future can get along without our powers of love and indignation." 
- Albert Camus
But after some searching and reflecting I finally found and selected something lighter which I believe still reflects both the sense of existential angst about our present situation and a positive aspiration for the future that I think is characteristic of humanism. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you can join us tomorrow night in Hickory.

A Vision for the Future

Sometimes I struggle just to cope;
I feel like all I have is hope
And all my dreams and all my fears
To get me through the passing years.
I wish that life would just make sense,
That situations weren’t so tense,
That optimism might prevail
Once less constructive methods fail.
That people might cooperate
And not leave everything to fate,
But work to meet a set of goals
That challenge hearts and minds and souls.
I wish my nation would resolve
What’s necessary to evolve
That leaders wouldn’t feed our fear,
But lead us to a new frontier.
That health and wealth were commonplace
With no divisions based on race
Or age or sex or place of birth,
But better ways for judging worth.
I wish our nation would unite
In standing up for what is right,
Protect the future and respect
The other cultures we affect.
To realize we aren’t alone
And can’t decide things on our own,
And while we’re at it, we should face
Our duties to the human race.
—Sheryl Zettner

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Not So Lone Wolf: "No More Baby Parts"

Crime Scene

As the FBI warned months ago, a domestic anti-abortion terrorist appears to have struck - in the "playground for white, pro-gun, pro-life Evangelical Christians." The Washington Post is now reporting that an "unnamed law enforcement official" is telling them that the Planned Parenthood attack was "definitely politically motivated" and that the attacker "told the officers who arrested him 'no more baby parts' after being taken into custody" (and something about Obama).

The clinic had a safe room, bullet-proof vests, and a sophisticated video surveillance system that helped law enforcement track the terrorist's movements inside the building. Some anti-abortion groups were quick to denounce the attack, but the GOP presidential candidates have remained mostly silent thus far - suggesting either some recognition of their role as stochastic terrorists in this case or perhaps just concern about offending sympathetic primary voters?

Update: November 29 - some of the other GOP candidates finally weigh in....

"It’s obviously a tragedy. Nothing justifies this. Any protesters should always be peaceful. Whether it’s Black Lives Matter or pro-life protesters...This is so typical of the left to immediately begin demonizing a messenger because they don’t agree with the message...What I would say to anyone who would try to link this terrible tragedy to anyone who opposes abortion or the sale of body parts, is this is typical, left-wing tactics." - Carly Fiorina
"Well, this was an extremist. And this was a man who they said prior to this was mentally disturbed. So, he's a mentally disturbed person. There's no question about that...I will tell you, there is a tremendous group of people that think it's terrible, all of the videos that they've seen with some of these people from Planned Parenthood talking about it like you're selling parts to a car. I mean, there are a lot of people that are very unhappy about that." - Donald Trump
"Unfortunately, there's a lot of extremism coming from all areas. It's one of the biggest problems that I think is threatening to tear our country apart...We get into our separate corners and we hate each other, we want to destroy those with whom we disagree...If we can get rid of the rhetoric from either side and actually talk about the facts, I think that's when we begin to make progress. And, you know, a lot of people, when they don't have facts, when they don't have a good backup, that's when the rhetoric starts. That's when the name-calling starts." - Ben Carson
"Regardless of why he did it, what he did is domestic terrorism. What he is did is absolutely abominable, especially to those of us in the pro-life movement, because there's nothing about any of us that would condone or in any way look the other way at something like this." - Mike Huckabee

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fanaticism Bubbling Up Around Us

"Where have we heard it before? ...[W]hen fanaticism is bubbling up around us - then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir."
 - Carl Sagan 
The last couple of weeks have indeed been very unsettling. As I write this Brussels and Tunisia remain on lockdown while French, American, and Russian bombs rain on Syria - and another MSF hospital - in response to the horrific and cowardly attacks by Daesh on random civilians in Paris. Turkish fighter jets have just shot down a Russian warplane at the Syrian border - "a stab in Russia’s back delivered by terrorist accomplices" (Putin). And NATO is urging calm as concern grows about a possible Russian response against Turkey - and therefore NATO.

Meanwhile, at home, Americans turned to Syrian refugees and Muslims in general (or people who "look Muslim") as means to assuage their fears - and stoke some others. Elected leaders and presidential candidates quickly called for an immediate halt to our already modest humanitarian contribution to the refugee crisis that we helped create (through our destabilization of Iraq), and some have even suggested that we screen refugees for Christianity. Others have suggested ID cards or a badge (possibly yellow?) that Muslims would be required to wear. As I've noted previously, our reactions to terrorism are often more terrorizing than the original act, and this case is certainly no exception to that rule. Terrorism is designed to cause terror and fear in a population, and it works because we let it do just that.

As happened after 9/11, there is much discussion again about the connection between Islam and terrorism. In my last post I acknowledged a "connection between some interpretations of the religion and bad or violent behavior" but took issue with Faisal Saeed Al Mutar's taxonomy of "Anti-Muslim Bigotry vs. Genuine Criticism of Islam" - which appears to be nothing more than another way to insult critics of the Sam Harris plan for dealing with jihadists (attack secular liberals as apologists for Islam). Harris is apparently still licking the wounds from his embarrassing email exchange with Noam Chomsky.

The extent to which Islam (or Christianity, or Buddhism) plays a role in terrorism is clearly not zero, but fundamentalism and fanaticism are not unique to Islam. Nor are the real or perceived injustices that also play a role in terrorism. Reality is seldom black and white. I suspect Christopher Hitchens, if he were still alive, would be absolutely livid over our failure thus far to render Bashar al-Assad and Hassan Rouhani to their opposition - as we did with Saddam. Perhaps after we release photos of their sons' dead bodies - a clear war crime in a more quaint era - the terrorists will finally understand that we really mean business? I'm not holding my breath. Nor will I be silent about the fanaticism that is bubbling up around us and consuming us. Evil will never be defeated through imitation.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Anti-Muslim Bigotry vs. Genuine Criticism of Islam Taxonomy Misfit

"I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
 - Groucho Marx
I think this article could be one of the most important I have ever written on the relationship between Islam and terrorism. Why? It is because of the growing obscurantism that has made it almost impossible to have any discussion whatever about Islam without terms such as Islamophobe and Pseudo-Liberal Apologist
 being thrown around on the innertubes. I've never really fit into groups of any kind, and I think labels are often misleading (if sometimes also useful). So I'm not too surprised that I don't really fit neatly into any of the categories in Faisal Saeed Al Mutar's taxonomy of Anti-Muslim Bigotry vs. Genuine Criticism of Islam (Free Inquiry, vol 36 issue 1).

First, I'm nonviolent ("Muslim Conservative") and I believe in welcoming gays as equal citizens ("Muslim Moderate"). I accept that there is a link between radical interpretations of Islam and radical Islamic jihadi terrorism and advocate for liberal government and separation of religion and state (Muslim Reformer). But I'm also a non-Muslim white liberal ("Pseudo-Liberal Apologist") who thinks that there is a connection between some interpretations of the religion and bad or violent behavior, care about issues such as women’s rights and LGBT rights, and tend to differentiate between Islam as a set of ideas and interpretations and Muslims as people ("Genuine Critic of Islam").

In fact the "Pro-Christian Right Anti-Muslim Groups" and "Far-Right Jewish Groups" are the only categories in Faisal's taxonomy that I don't share at least one trait with, but if you added blasphemy rights advocate (at least with respect to blasphemy against Islam) then I could probably even agree with these groups on something! Also missing completely from Faisal's taxonomy is anyone who believes that American "policy choices have consequences" (9/11 Commission) and are also a factor in, but not necessarily the only "result or cause" of, radical Islamic jihadi terrorism. Or that the threat itself in this case is overblown in the U.S. relative even to the other terrorist risks that we currently face (not to mention the state-sponsored terrorism carried out in our name elsewhere in the world) and that our non-proportional overreactions make it worse. Also troubling, especially in light of recent news, is the fact that none of Faisal's groups seem to care about religious liberty or the very real threat of violence and discrimination against religious minorities (of which I include myself). So I want to associate myself with all these other groups as well. Sorry, but...


* I suspect that Glenn Greenwald, Reza Aslan, and Chris Stedman would call the Pseudo-Liberal Apologist category a "straw man" of their positions, but I'll let them deconstruct that aspect. Needless to say, I doubt this category will encourage the type of honest conversation that Faisal bemoans as missing from this debate - more likely it will just further polarize it.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Yonatan Zunger (Google+ Chief Architect) on Da'esh's attack on Paris

Updated: November 18 - added a few new links and another endnote (*) .

The chief architect for Google+ has posted a long but thoughtful* (and admittedly frustrated) piece about the Paris attacks by Da'esh (the organization formerly known as ISIS). He downplays the role of religion (and oil) as having "little to nothing to do with what we're seeing," which I think is an overstatement** if in some ways true in this case, but his online rant against the "Internet and the airwaves alike [being] filled with profound waves of self-serving nonsense and stupidity from left and right alike" is otherwise a pretty good overview of the complexity of this situation - and lack of simple solutions - in general. For additional recent and historical commentary on terrorism that I have found interesting, see this page.

* But it's still too early to say anything for sure on that Syrian refugee passport.

** John Horgan, Irish psychologist and terrorism expert, provides what I think is a more accurate and modest assessment of the role of religion in terrorism:
"Just like talking about 'terrorism,' it has become impossible to talk about the relationship between Islam and terrorism without causing great offense to some. Debate is so polarized now between those who say that we if we want to understand terrorism, Islam is 'everything,' and those who say that Islam is completely irrelevant. Both positions are incorrect. I certainly think the role of Islam, and religious ideology more generally, is vastly overstated as a mobilizing agent for involvement in political violence. I believe it is far more relevant in terms of sustaining commitment and continued engagement with a group. Islamic content is used both as a defense of activity as well as a justification for certain kinds of tactics. This is not unique to Islam, however, and I think any 'believer' can take great comfort from religious precepts especially if they are struggling to justify to themselves (as well as others) what they have now gotten themselves into. It’s the uncritical embracing of religious ideology that is often associated with terrorism. This is why I think converts appear especially susceptible to terrorist recruiters. They don’t have the deeper religious knowledge that could easily rebut many of the clichéd arguments used by recruiters attempting to inspire young Muslims to mobilize in the first place."
Finally, evolutionary anthropologist Scott Atran digs some into the real sources of inspiration:
"[W]hat inspires the most uncompromisingly lethal actors in the world today is not so much the Qur’an or religious teachings. It’s a thrilling cause that promises glory and esteem. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer: fraternal, fast-breaking, glorious, cool – and persuasive." 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris: How NOT to Respond

Well, it didn't take long....

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

Beirut, Baghdad, Paris. No words right now. My updated reading list is here.

A photo posted by Joann Sfar (@joannsfar) on

Flag of France.svg
"Flag of France". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

#BenAndJesus: Biblical proof of Egyptian grain silos revealed

I agree that Ben Carson is getting a bum rap on the West Point and stabbing incident "debunkings," but his belief that the Biblical Joseph built the pyramids of Egypt to store grain seems genuine - and quite troubling, if not that unusual.
What we can conclude about Carson is that he is not systematically following a valid intellectual process in forming his beliefs. He has no problem dismissing the opinion of experts and scientists, and substituting his own poorly-informed hunches. Obviously this is a disturbing trait in someone running for high office.
 - Steven Novella 
Now The Guardian brings us a photo tour of his home with a painting of Ben and Jesus, by the Biblical Joseph I presume? After touring the grain silos? Or given the scrubs and terry cloth bathrobe, perhaps it was painted after a physical exam? Pretty creepy any way you look at it.

Ben Carson by Gage Skidmore 4.jpg
"Ben Carson by Gage Skidmore 4" by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Happy Albert Camus Day!

It's Albert Camus Day. If you've never read any Camus, I highly recommend The Myth of Sisyphus to wet your appetite. For short essays, a couple of my other personal favorites are Neither Victims Nor Executioners and Humanity's Last Chance. Or check out one of his books. No education in philosophy is complete without Camus.

For more about Camus, check out this recent episode of Philosophy Talk...

Albert Camus, gagnant de prix Nobel, portrait en buste, posé au bureau, faisant face à gauche, cigarette de tabagisme

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Sounds like Iredell County Commissioners are sticking with a "moment of silence" for now

My understanding is that the Iredell County Board of Commissioners stopped prayers on the advise of their attorney following the Rowan County decision, and that “concerned citizens” have recently been pressuring them to restart the practice. Some of these "concerned citizens" even said the Lord’s Prayer out loud during the moment of silence at their October 6 meeting. On November 3, something similar occurred.

It sounded like the Board was working with their attorney to explore their options and come up with a Greece-friendly policy that allows them to resume invocations, but from their October 20 minutes:

Bryan Shoemaker of 722 Dobson Farm Road, Statesville, addressed the Board and presented a petition with 484 signatures to reinstate prayer prior to the Iredell County Commissioners’ meeting. They met in front of the building prior to tonight’s meeting and will continue to pray for the Board. The group will not back down and will be standing behind the Board.

Chairman Mallory expressed his appreciation for the support of the community. The Board has revisited the issue and members have agreed to continue to open with a moment of silence for prayer or reflection.

Hopefully they will stick with their current policy...

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Unequally yoked? Check out the new podcast!

What happens when one person in a same-faith relationship leaves the faith? It can sometimes be devastating. But many couples are making it work. For some, it's not a major issue. For others, it requires some effort. For those in the latter camp, there's a great new podcast by a friend and former Mormon (now an agnostic and non-believer) and his wife (who still believes in the Mormon faith). They call it "Unequally Yoked" - a reference to the Biblical prohibition against Christians having relationships with "unbelievers" (2 Corinthians 6:14). Their latest episode is about boundaries and compromise. Check it out!

Sorry for the delay - here's episode 6!
Posted by Unequally Yoked Podcast on Monday, October 26, 2015

Dale McGowan also has some excellent advice (Update 11/4: and just posted some red flags to watch out for), as well as a book, on the topic. When I met my wife, she was nominally Lutheran but not a practicing one - meaning no church - which worked fine for me as I was already thoroughly post-Christian and very much into philosophical Taoism (reading every translation of the Tao Te Ching I could find and actively learning Wu style T'ai chi ch'uan and My Jhong Law Horn Kung Fu from a Sifu who studied under Master Lee Kwong Ming and who was also, ironically enough, a devout Catholic). I wrote our entire marriage ceremony, and it was mostly Taoist in tone and substance - but the Lutheran minister insisted on saying the Lord's Prayer at the end of the service.

My wife would probably consider herself an agnostic and a humanist today. I don't like labels, but atheist, skeptic, and secular humanist are mostly accurate. And while my wife and I have never been completely on the same page with everything, we've never really been that far apart either. So it hasn't been a major issue for us. If it is an issue for you, I highly recommend Unequally Yoked. And be sure to invite your spouse to listen with you. It could save your marriage!

Image Credit: The Morton Grove Voice

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Communities Disrupted by School Board Prayer Issue

It's not just in North Carolina. Communities in Ohio, Texas, and Florida are in an uproar over this issue too...

Wow. Time for a mariachi band? In Boca?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

An unspoken "prayer" for Cleveland County

My email to the Cleveland County School Board...

Dear Chairman Glover and Members of the Board,

I commend the Board for taking a prudent and cautious approach to the contentious issue of invocations at your October 12 meeting, and I strongly urge you to reject any future proposals to implement a policy allowing invocations. Two U.S. circuit courts of appeals have expressly ruled that school board prayers are unconstitutional – a view which is shared by the ACLU and several other religious liberty watchdog groups (and probably some Cleveland County residents as well). While these are always fact-sensitive cases the courts recognize that the presence of students at school board meetings creates “an atmosphere that contains many of the same indicia of coercion and involuntariness that the Supreme Court has recognized elsewhere in its school prayer jurisprudence” (Doe v. Indian River School District).

As a sixth generation North Carolinian (Catawba County native) and a secular humanist (member of the Hickory Humanist Alliance), I suppose I represent one of those non-Christians that some of you fear giving a "platform and a podium” to speak to your children. I signed up on behalf of the Hickory Humanist Alliance (and a few of our members and supporters in Lincoln County) to deliver a solemn and respectful secular humanist invocation for the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners following their adoption of a non-discriminatory invocation policy in May, but they quickly switched to a moment of silence after a Muslim resident delivered the first non-Christian invocation on behalf of the Foothills Interfaith Alliance. So I never had the opportunity to deliver our invocation in Lincoln County.

A. Philip Randolph once said: "Prayer is not one of our remedies; it depends on what one is praying for. We consider prayer nothing more than a fervent wish; consequently, the merit and worth of a prayer depend upon what the fervent wish is." My fervent wish is that the Cleveland County School Board follow the lead of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners (moment of silence) and that interfaith dialogue can help heal the wounds created by the current kerfuffle in your community. To that end I extend to you the secular humanist invocation that was prepared for, but never spoken in, Lincoln County. My hope is the same for Cleveland County.

As this Board convenes to do the important business of local government I ask you to lift your heads, to open your eyes, and to open your hearts. We are reminded that in our differences there is great strength. We do not all agree on everything. Yet we are linked by our common humanity and our shared origin. When we work together to move our community forward in a spirit of mutual respect and common decency, we showcase what is best about ourselves. There is one thing on which we all agree: We share the goal of making this community the best place it can be. I call on this Board to unite here today around that noble aim and common purpose, and I appeal to you to take care to ensure that all of your decisions are inspired by compassion and guided by knowledge.
William Keener