Monday, September 14, 2009

Secular Humanism Online News, September 2009



Vol.5 No.9


In This Issue:


SAVE THE DATE!

The 30th anniversary conference of the Council for Secular Humanism
OCTOBER 7 - 10, 2010
MILLENNIUM BILTMORE HOTEL
506 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA


DETAILS COMING SOON!



*SPECIAL E-NEWS FEATURE
The Iranian Revolution (Part 2)
*By Ibn Warraq

The internal dynamics in Iran have changed; a victory for Mousavi would have a different meaning now, after all the bloodshed and the true nature of the hardliners, than it would have had on June 12. Mousavi has become a symbol of real change, and anti-regime aspirations. The Iranian people have created a different political momentum, with new meanings, which Mousavi himself could not have foreseen. The outcome is something far more secular, the turmoil has thrown into question the Islamic regime’s basic, religious mandate for rule. Perhaps he himself never intended to throw the Islamic regime’s basic mandate into question; but now he can be seen as the symbol of that questioning. Mousavi is said to have declared to Supreme Leader Khamenei, “You are facing something new: an awakened nation, a nation that has been born again and is here to defend its achievements.”
An important point to note is the internal strife among the ruling clergy in Iran. On Friday, July 17, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president, gave a sermon. He is a staunch supporter of Mousavi and Ahmadinejad’s main opponent, and is not afraid to criticize the ruling Mullahs. Thousands of protesters made their presence known outside the mosque, defiantly shouting “Allah-u Akbar” and “death to the dictator.” Members of the Islamic militia were there also, not afraid to use force. The pro-regime crowd shouted “Death to America!” The pro-Mousavi populace replied, “Death to Russia!”  Back came the Khomeinists, “Death to Britain, Death to Israel!”  Only to be met with:  “Death to China.”
Michael Ledeen sums up this confrontation in this manner:
“Which pretty much sums up the contemporary strategic landscape, enacted in a Persian morality play in front of a mosque in Tehran.  I rather think the actors understand the stakes better than we do, for they know that the Russians and Chinese are encouraging the mullahs to emulate the repression in Chechnya and Sinjiang, while blaming the actions of pro-freedom dissidents on ‘outside forces,’ most notably the United States.  The Iranians know that a victory by the regime will be understood as a terrible defeat of America, while the fall of the regime will likely reignite the democratic revolution that toppled Soviet Communism and other nasty dictatorships from the South Pole to Siberia.”
Nonetheless, once again the hardliners seem to have the upper hand, and seem firmly in control.
The part played by women in the Green Revolution also needs to be noted. Their courage is inspiring. Various Iranian dissident groups outside Iran have their own interpretation of the events inside Iran. I have worked with and lectured to such groups over the last ten years in Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and in Europe in Stockholm, Paris, London, and Rome. Without exception, they have all been secularists, and they have all been run by women. One such courageous woman working in London is Azar Majedi, the head of several organizations (see www.azarmajedi.com ), and someone I have had the honor to work with. What follows is a paraphrase of some of her thoughts on the Green Revolution. Though there may well be a large measure of wishful thinking in her Marxist analysis, it is important to know what Iranian women outside Iran are thinking. She has access to sources inside Iran which many of us do not:
What we are witnessing in Iran is not only a political movement against a dictatorship, against social injustice; it is also a movement against religious institutions, and for cultural and moral emancipation. The political uprising in Iran has a strong anti-religious character. The women’s liberation movement is the most important player in the fight against the Islamic Republic. WLM is the antithesis of the Islamic regime. The Islamic regime promotes a misogynist ideology. Subordination and enslavement of women is its credo, the Islamic veil is its flag and gender apartheid is fundamental to its political system. WLM is not able to achieve any significant advancement without first doing away with this regime. The women’s liberation movement in Iran embodies a revolutionary liberating force. The first large demonstration against the regime was organized by women and for women’s rights, as early as March 8, 1979.
What role should the outside world play; in particular the United States? Many conservative analysts feel President Obama has not shown nearly enough support for the protestors and the opposition. These pundits feel that the present U.S. Administration has adopted a potentially disastrous policy of appeasement: Munich and Chamberlain all over again. As Michael Ledeen reminds us: “Anyone who has studied appeasement knows what lies ahead:  more conflict, more fresh blood, and ultimately a bigger war against us.  We can say to Obama what Churchill said to Chamberlain: you had a choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war.”
Ibn Warraq is a leading scholar of Islam. He is a Free Inquiry columnist, a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Inquiry, a supporting organization of the Council for Secular Humanism, and the author of "Why I Am Not a Muslim," "What the Koran Really Says," and more recently, "Defending the West."


The Humanism of Senator Edward Kennedy
By Paul Kurtz

[Editor’s note: This article and the one that immediately follows first appeared on the Center for Inquiry blog Free Thinking.]
The death of Edward Kennedy and Eunice Kennedy Shriver within two weeks of each other brings back my memory of a fascinating meeting that I had with them in 1972; and how grateful I was for their many expressions of humanism.
I was invited to spend three days with Eunice and Sargent Shriver at their home. At that time Sen. Edward Kennedy was considering a possible run for the presidency and there was a meeting in Washington in which he gave a memorable talk to many journalists and friends. While there I also visited the home of Ethel Kennedy, the wife of Robert (Bobby) Kennedy.
At that time I was editor of The Humanist magazine, and I was invited because the Kennedys knew about humanism and expressed general sympathy with its moral and social principles. We discussed humanism in general terms as a progressive philosophy of individual freedom and a concern for social justice, and they shared a commitment to these values.
Although the Kennedys are officially Roman Catholic, they nevertheless supported a liberal social agenda. Eunice was a sponsor of the Special Olympics for the disabled. Sen. Edward Kennedy often deviated from the Church's doctrines, as he was divorced and most recently came out in support of stem cell research (although the Vatican vehemently opposes it). Known as the Lion in the Senate, he has battled for human rights. He has been a strong proponent of the current legislation on universal health care. He was a supporter of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act of 1968; he was a consistent defender of civil liberties, and an early opponent of the Vietnam War.
I surely do not deny the fact the Kennedys were members of the Roman Catholic Church; but at the same time they shared important values with secular humanists. The mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy was of course devout, but her children were generally either nominal or liberal in their faith.
The purpose of the 1972 meeting at which liberal journalists and thinkers were invited, was to gauge Sen. Kennedy's possible chances for a run for the presidency-coming only a few years after the unfortunate drowning death of Mary Jo Kopechne on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969. Edward Kennedy and Ms. Kopechne were together in the car that went off the road. A cloud of suspicion overhung Edward Kennedy's role in that accident; for he did not report the incident until 10 hours later. One purpose of our participation, I gather, was a trial balloon to "test the waters," so to speak. That was a long time ago, and Sen. Kennedy has had a distinguished record in the Senate ever since.
The point that I wish to make here is that secularists and humanists have many allies among religious people; and that although unbelievers may not be happy with their supernaturalism, there are many other bonds that tie citizens together, and we should be willing and able to work with them on issues of common concern.
Paul Kurtz is Founder and Chair Emeritus of the Council for Secular Humanism and the Center for Inquiry.


The Late Ted Kennedy on Church and State
By Derek C. Araujo

On August 25 America lost one of the most effective lawmakers ever to serve in the United States Senate. Edward M. Kennedy was a devout Catholic who understood the constitutional limits on religious intrusion into government.  Like his brother John, Ted held a deep appreciation for the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.  On this issue he was by no means perfect; he sponsored the ill-advised, so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 with Orrin Hatch.  But Senator Kennedy generally held a thorough understanding of religious liberty, church-state separation and the intersection of piety and politics. 
That understanding was on display in his October 1983 speech to Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University).  Many of today's lawmakers would learn from a careful listening to this speech (available online here). Some choice remarks include the following:
Respect for conscience is most in jeopardy, and the harmony of our diverse society is most at risk, when we re-establish, directly or indirectly, a religious test for public office. That relic of the colonial era, which is specifically prohibited in the Constitution, has reappeared in recent years. . . . Two centuries ago, the victims were Catholics and Jews. In the 1980s the victims could be atheists; in some other day or decade, they could be the members of the Thomas Road Baptist Church.
[I]n applying religious values, we must respect the integrity of public debate. In that debate, faith is no substitute for facts.
I hope for an America where neither "fundamentalist" nor "humanist" will be a dirty word, but a fair description of the different ways in which people of goodwill look at life and into their own souls. I hope for an America where no president, no public official, no individual will ever be deemed a greater or lesser American because of religious doubt -- or religious belief.
Rest in peace, Senator.  Although the Jerry Falwells of the world will not miss you, we humanists surely will.
Derek C. Araujo is Vice President and General Counsel of the Center for Inquiry and the director of CFI's legal department.


Camp Inquiry Rocks!
By Angie McQuaig

[Editor’s note: Camp Inquiry, an annual residential summer camp for humanist and skeptical children, is a project of the Council for Secular Humanism’s supporting organization, the Center for Inquiry.]
Where can you find science,
Nature, art, and magic, too
Making music, paper airplanes
So many things to challenge you?

The high rafters of the camp lodge rang out with the sound of voices set to the exuberant strum of Monty Harper’s guitar. Forty-five youngsters (aged seven to sixteen), over eighty of their parents, fourteen staffers, and one of world’s leading cosmologists joined in the song collectively written by the campers over the previous week, with the expert guidance of Mr. Harper, a professional children’s songwriter.
Camp Inquiry, Camp Inquiry, Camp Inquiry
I-N-Q-U-I-R-Y
Inquiry makes your brain cells fly!

This theme song for Camp Inquiry was one of dozens of original compositions that were showcased at the emotional Saturday evening closing ceremonies of the Center for Inquiry’s innovative camp for critical thinking held this past July 6-12  located in Holland, New York, now in its fifth year.
“We ended up with lots of great songs,” Mr. Harper commented. “The kids were incredibly creative and talented and enthusiastic. I guided them where needed, but mostly I tried to just stay out of the way and let them do their thing. The ones that performed on Saturday night were so proud and excited. They created many lasting memories and the kids came away feeling empowered to express themselves artistically whenever they feel the need.”
Songwriting and performing were just two of the activities in the well-rounded program featuring outdoor education, art, scientific inquiry, team building, and recreation.
Where can you hear lectures
To learn about the planets and outer space?
Where can you see magic
Popping up all over the place?

Throughout the week, kids were entertained and taught by three magicians who presented the physics and psychology behind feats such as sleight of hand, mind reading, and walking on glass. One of the magicians, Scott Dezrah Blinn, observed: “It was thrilling, inspiring and a little bittersweet to see how eager the kids were to be in an environment where they were free to express themselves and encouraged to question everything. They didn't have to accept things just to fit in. They were in a community of peers and leaders who knew what it was like to be bright, to be curious, opinionated and misunderstood.”
Proving that reality is as amazing as illusion, stellar speakers like Kevin Grazier and Lawrence Krauss led discussions and hands-on activities to illustrate principles of physics and cosmology.
“Who would have thought a crew of kids ranging from teenagers on down would be excited to listen to a talk about cosmology and would have the attention span to survive the whole thing and then ask questions! I came away feeling amazed at the polite kindness the kids showed toward each other and their excitement about learning anything and everything,” said Krauss.
Camp counselors, many of whom were trained scientists, marveled that one seven-year-old camper responded to a question posed by Dr. Krauss by listing all four of the fundamental forces of nature.
Lead counselor Laurie Tarr shared the consensus of the staff: “The children who attended Camp Inquiry '09 were an exceptional group. Not only were they all smart, friendly, funny kids who enjoy learning, they also asked the most amazing questions and provided even more amazing answers.”
Where can you make new friends,
Sometimes crazy, always smart?
Friends from around the country;
You’ll always hold them in your heart.

In the end, Camp Inquiry was about creating a community of inquirers. As Monty Harper put it, “It was an I-have-found-my-people moment.” They parted with hugs, tears, and, for many, promises to return for Camp Inquiry 2010.
Camp Inquiry, Camp Inquiry, Camp Inquiry
It’s the place we love to go.
Come and feed your need to know!

Angie McQuaig is a distinguished educator whose PhD is in educational leadership. She serves as director of Camp Inquiry, an educational program for youth emphasizing humanistic, scientific, and critical thinking.


AFRICAN AMERICANS FOR HUMANISM (AAH) UPDATE
By Norm R. Allen Jr.
From August 7-9, 2009, some AAH members and other Black non-theists met in Atlanta for the First Annual Black Non-theist Conference. Gary Booker of Atlanta put forth the call for the gathering. Attendees came from Georgia, Kentucky, California, New York, South Carolina and other states.
The gathering was not so much a formal conference as an opportunity for those in attendance to discuss their personal paths to non-theism and plans for making humanism, freethought, rationalism, and naturalism more attractive to people of African descent.
Booker was interested in promoting critical thinking in general. He criticized AIDS deniers and Afrocentrists promoting the belief that the melanin pigment makes Black people superior to Whites. Booker said that though many people believe that these ideas were thoroughly discredited in the 1990s, they still persist in some circles.
Many conference participants discussed some of the negative ways in which religion and irrationality have influenced Black people throughout the years. Some spoke of the negative influences of Christianity on enslaved African Americans. Others talked about how great it felt to meet with other likeminded freethinkers.
I invited a scholar named Shondrah Tarrezz Nash to the conference. Nash is an associate professor of sociology from Morehead State University in Kentucky. I am helping her to conduct a study of African American skeptics via in-depth interviews and/or written surveys. Nash is interested in examining the experiences of African American humanists, as well as gathering individual critiques of the Black church, past and present. She is seeking to fill a gap in the sociological literature.
African American humanists interested in becoming involved in this sociological study may contact Shondrah Nash at s.nash@. She may be reached by phone at (606) 783-2453. Her fax number is (606) 783-5070. Her conventional mailing address is Shondrah Nash, Morehead State University, Department of Sociology, Social Work and Criminology, 330 Rader Hall, Morehead, Kentucky, 40351. Those electing to participate will not have their names or any data associated with them identified in any publication stemming from the research.
In the spring of 2010, the Center for Inquiry/Washington, D.C. plans to hold a meeting focusing on the interests of African American humanists. More information will be made available as plans develop.
In Africa, the Center for Inquiry’s anti-superstition campaign is still going strong. The campaign has gone to Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Malawi. The main focus has been on combating the persecution of alleged witches, especially children. However, the campaign will also give attention to homeopathy, superstition and mental health, and other issues.
Leo Igwe of the Center for Inquiry/Nigeria has been attacked by religious fanatics at a conference in Calabar, Nigeria. In Kenya, due to fears of increased persecution, African humanists are having difficulty persuading alleged witches to discuss their plight in the media. In Gambia, many African humanists are reluctant to become fully immersed in the campaign because their nation’s president supports the persecution of alleged witches, and it is dangerous to openly defend them.
This anti-superstition campaign has much potential. However, African humanists are up against tremendous odds, and religionists from outside Africa are spending millions of dollars to promote faith. For that reason, we at the Center for Inquiry/Transnational are trying to raise funds to more effectively combat superstition in Africa. We are interested in hosting more seminars and taking the campaign to other African nations. We welcome contributions from our supporters throughout the world.
Norm R. Allen Jr. serves as the Executive Director for African Americans for Humanism.


Quantity of Life Trumps Quality of Life
By Sheldon F. Gottlieb, PhD

At least since the Truman administration, elected and non-elected officials have been aware that there is a need for a universal health insurance plan (UHIP). One nongovernmental organization with a leadership position in lobbying for a UHIP is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Thus, somewhat surprisingly, the recent Bishops Conference came out against President Obama’s HIP.
The reason for this seeming paradox in the Bishop’s behavior of supporting the morality of social justice and opposing the President’s HIP pertains to the Church’s opposition to abortion. Note: abortion is a constitutional (legal) right in the United States.
It would seem that the Catholic Bishops, using health and welfare as the target, declared war on the American citizenry. Citizens desiring an HIP who are now proponents of abortion are expected to accept the Catholic Bishop’s demand that abortions not be funded.
Roman Catholicism claims to be the religion most concerned with social justice and with the right to life. However, the Church, by its current actions, has moved away from the central question: What kind of life will people have if they cannot get health care? Quality of life is something the bishops do not deem worthy of consideration when it comes to abortion.
The bishop’s stance seems to imply that the quantity of life trumps quality of life.
Thus, the attitude of the Catholic bishops appears to be: “Citizens of the United States: you and your children should suffer and die if you fund abortion.” Social justice is sacrificed, and citizens who do not accept Catholic teachings are also victims.
Politicians and clerics of all faiths must be concerned that we now live on a planet with a population of over six billion people—which is projected to increase to 9 billion within two to three decades—a reality that directly contributes to the problems and miseries in the world. That the number one problem we face is curbing population growth, especially in the undeveloped and developing nations.
The Roman Catholic Church, its bishops, and other antiabortionists owe the American public a logical justification for their unjust, antisocial conclusions and actions.
Sheldon F. Gottlieb, PhD is the author of THE NAKED MIND. He can be e-mailed at   shellyeda@


Virtually or Otherwise, Trek the Freethought Trail
By Tom Flynn

To the degree a website is ever done, the Freethought Trail website (www.freethought-trail.org) is done. This website explores the surprisingly rich radical reform heritage of west-central New York State, a region within about a hundred-mile radius of the Council for Secular Humanism’s Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum in Dresden, New York. Owing in part to the influence of the Erie Canal, during the 19th century this region was the Southern California of the nation: a social bellwether, a cauldron of radical ideas and reforms. The site profiles causes from abolitionism to women’s rights, anarchism to freethought, and highlights some 80 historical sites, marked and unmarked.
Visit the wooden study in which Mark Twain completed some of his most heretical writings. Tread the streets upon which the 19th century woman suffrage movement was launched. Visit the otherwise unremarkable street corner in Watkins Glen that defined America’s legal standard for obscenity for almost 70 years. Meet the freethinkers like Robert Green Ingersoll and Matilda Joslyn Gage, household words in their time but little remembered today because they dared to challenge religion.
Planning to visit the region? Online navigation aids offer turn-by-turn directions between the sites you choose, in the sequence you choose. Or enjoy the Trail experience as a virtual tourist.
Redevelopment of the Freethought Trail website and promotion across west-central New York was made possible by a grant from the James Hervey Johnson Charitable Educational Trust. Visit http://www.freethought-trail.org today!
Tom Flynn is Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism and editor of Free Inquiry magazine.


In The Media
By Nathan Bupp

The Buffalo News ran a front page story (Outside faith, a rising tide of 'nones') on September 3 about the rise of the non-religious in American society. The reporter, Jay Tokasz, visited the Center here in Amherst, New York during our CFI summer institute, ( A Secular Summit ) aimed at exploring nonbelievers and their cultural impact. On hand for this event were well-known demographers Barry Kosmin, Phil Zuckerman, and Luke Galen. All three have spent a considerable amount of research time analyzing and reporting on the internal characteristics of atheists, agnostics, and humanists.
While visiting the Center, Tokasz took the opportunity to interview all three of these experts. As one can tell from reading the article, only Kosmin survived the final editorial cuts. Nonetheless, his contribution is an important part of the story. The story also features comments from CFI’s Vice President of Education and Research, John Shook, and an important reference in the final paragraphs to CFI’s presence around the country by way of its growing network of Centers for Inquiry:
The Center for Inquiry now has 10 affiliate centers throughout North America and "faith- free" communities for skeptics and the nonreligious in a dozen other cities.
"The centers we have provide a kind of alternative," said John R. Shook, vice president for education and research. "What it is essentially is people who have grown disenchanted with religion for whatever reason."
The centers offer programs such as secular parenting groups and secular celebrations and rights of passage ? the equivalents of what religious people would find in churches and synagogues.
 

The Buffalo News article can read in its entirety here.  
Nathan Bupp, Vice President of Communications for the Council for Secular Humanism and the Center for Inquiry


The Virtual CFI Community
When you can't make it to an event...
We know it's not always possible to make it to an event, but that doesn't mean you have to miss out!  CFI has a thriving online community where the free thinking never stops.
Check out our new blog, Freethinking, at www.centerforinquiry.net/blog.  Regular contributors include Ron Lindsay (CFI's new CEO), Tom Flynn (ED of CSH and editor of Free Inquiry magazine), Joe Nickell and Ben Radford (CSI Investigators Extraordinaire), and others.

If you're looking for more of a two-way discussion, the CFI Forum is the place for you.  You'll find lots of different topics where you can jump right in and join the free thinking and debating.  Meet others who share your values from all over the world, and participate in CFI's "virtual community" online.
Would you rather listen to a great interview on CFI topics?  Point of Inquiry is the premiere radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry featuring the leading minds of the day, including Nobel Prize-winning scientists, public intellectuals, social critics, and renowned entertainers.  You can listen to the episodes on your computer, copy them to a CD for your car or home stereo, or download them to your iPod or MP3 player, in addition to hearing the show on a few dozen campus and community radio stations across North America.


Finally, we're happy to say that CFI has been granted a coveted YouTube nonprofit channel which is allowing us to make available hundreds of hours of CFI programming for FREE without the standard 10-minute-content-limit reloading frustrations.  You'll find program listings on our own CFI Digital Media page or you can go directly to our CFI YouTube channel.  If you'd like, you can subscribe to the CFI channel and you'll be notified every time we add a new program to the list.

Secular Humanism Online News is edited by Nathan Bupp, Vice President of Communications for the Council for Secular Humanism and the Center for Inquiry. nbupp@
 

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The Council for Secular Humanism is committed to free inquiry, reason, and science, the separation of Church and State, civil liberties, nontheism and humanist ethics. It does not endorse candidates or parties, nor does it take political positions as a corporate body. We open our publications to a wide range of opinions, including dissenting viewpoints; opinions expressed in columns and articles do not necessarily represent the views of the Council.

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