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iHumanism http://www.ihumanism.org An Internet Humanist community Thu, 31 Mar 2016 17:00:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Unitarians Throw Atheists And Humanists Under The Bus http://www.ihumanism.org/2016/03/unitarians-throw-atheists-and-humanists-under-the-bus.html Thu, 31 Mar 2016 17:00:05 +0000 http://www.ihumanism.org/?p=758 Late last week, I got what could only be described as a gut punch when I learned that the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the group that governs all the Unitarian Universalist churches in the country, had signed a new affiliation agreement with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). The UUA had broken with the BSA over its policy of excluding atheists and LGBT scouts and leaders. The agreement is just more proof that the so-called non-creedal religion really dislikes atheists.

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logo for the Unitarian Universalist AssociationLate last week, I got what could only be described as a gut punch when I learned that the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the group that governs all the Unitarian Universalist churches in the country, had signed a new affiliation agreement with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). The UUA had broken with the BSA over its policy of excluding atheists and LGBT scouts and leaders. The agreement is just more proof that the so-called non-creedal religion really dislikes atheists.

The UUA dissolved a previous agreement with the BSA in the 1990s because the Scouting organization had banned openly gay members. In July 2015, the BSA dropped its ban on gay adult leaders, two years after it allowed gay youths.

“I am happy to see our two organizations form new bonds of mutual understanding which will allow Unitarian Universalist boys and young men who want to participate in scouting to be able to do so within their own Unitarian Universalist community,” said the Rev. Peter Morales, president of the UUA.

Zach Wahls, co-founder of Scouts for Equality and a Unitarian Universalist, also welcomed the juncture, calling it “a good day for the future of scouting.”

Boy Scouts, Unitarian Universalists renew agreement

It’s a gut punch because the UUA let the BSA know, in 1992, that it didn’t like it’s policy of excluding gays, atheists, and agnostics.

The conflict came to head in 1999:

After the UUA General Assembly’s 1999 call for Unitarian Universalists
“to join Scouting, in order to work for change from within,” however, the BSA closed the door to change by making not just a confession of personal faith in God a precondition for membership, but also a willingness to declare that nontheists are inferior, second-class citizens. The “Boy Scouts’ creed” or “Declaration of Religious Principle,” which had previously applied to adult leaders, now appears on every membership application, warning: “The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God . . . . Only persons willing to subscribe to this Declaration of Religious Principle and to the Bylaws of the Boy Scouts of America shall be entitled to certificates of membership.”

Traditional Values, or a New Tradition of Prejudice? The Boy Scouts of America vs. the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

I was shocked the UUA signed a new agreement with BSA and gave the old ‘let’s work from within’ dodge even as BSA continues to exclude non-theists. I agree with James Croft that the actions of the UUA is a betrayal of atheists, agnostics, and Humanists:

The UUA’s response to all this, conveyed to me in private conversations and Facebook and Twitter messages (and to John Hooper, the former head of the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association, here), seems to be as follows: yes, we recognize there are problems with the BSA’s policies (but we’re unwilling to be explicit about what those problems are); we will be better able to work from the inside to change these policies (though we have no concrete plan as to how to do so); we will be allowed to teach our theological perspective in scouting troops which we run (but cannot guarantee any changes to the god-language or even that atheists can participate and be leaders); some boys have been able to participate despite being atheists (but we know some have been kicked out too); we respect our Humanist, atheist, and agnostic members and clergy (but not enough to consult them about how this decision would make them feel).

This is a totally feeble response. The Unitarian Universalist Association is the national representative of a religious movement which prides itself on radical religious inclusivity, and the BSA is manifestly not a “radically inclusive” organization. It goes out of its way to actively insult people who don’t believe in god – which includes many members of UU congregations and a number of respected UU clergy. Imagine the outcry if the UUA had re-affiliated with an organization which said similar things about Jewish people, Muslims, or Pagans: no re-affiliation would have been possible or acceptable to the UUA under such circumstances, and they certainly would not have considered such a move without consulting UU representatives of those faith traditions.

Unitarian Universalist Association Betrays Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics

As Croft points out and I can confirm, the UUA has had a rocky relationship with Humanists and atheists over the years. It claims it is a faith with no creed yet I have personally observed a less than welcoming response when atheists have tried to participate.

This latest slight against atheists by the UUA shows there has not been much improvement in the UUA/Humanism/atheist relationship in the almost 10 years since I first wrote about the problems.

I still refuse to support the BSA until all of the discrimination is ended both nationally and in local units.

I just wish the UUA had not caved after such a tiny step in the right direction by the BSA. You don’t reward bad behavior after such a feeble gesture.

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Science Isn’t A Matter For Public Opinion http://www.ihumanism.org/2016/03/science-isnt-a-matter-for-public-opinion.html Mon, 28 Mar 2016 16:21:03 +0000 http://www.ihumanism.org/?p=754 This past week, the Tribeca Film Festival tried to show a film about the 'bad effects' of vaccinations on children. The film was written and directed by the scientist who was rebuked for making false claims in a paper he wrote. The festival rightly was pummeled in the press for giving the charlatan a platform to spew his false narrative. When it comes to settled science there is no room for public opinion.

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scene of science people doing scienceThis past week, the Tribeca Film Festival tried to show a film about the ‘bad effects’ of vaccinations on children. The film was written and directed by the scientist who was rebuked for making false claims in a paper he wrote. The festival rightly was pummeled in the press for giving the charlatan a platform to spew his false narrative. When it comes to settled science there is no room for public opinion.

The movie is directed by the discredited researcher Andrew Wakefield whose fraudulent paper (later retracted by The Lancet) led to the belief that vaccines cause autism.

A spokesperson for the festival told the L.A. Times that the movie was included for the sake of debate and discussion and that “Over the years we have presented many films from opposing sides of an issue. We are a forum, not a judge.” Robert De Niro, the actor who co-founded the Festival, added that he was “only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.”

Needless to say, there’s no need for debate when the scientific community has found no credible link between vaccines and autism. Wakefield is alone in thinking otherwise and his theory isn’t supported by any evidence. His film would only serve to spread unnecessary panic, leading ignorant parents to make harmful decisions for their children (and community).

After Public Outcry, Tribeca Film Festival Removes Anti-Vaccination Film from Lineup

This wasn’t a documentary that would present the evidence from “both sides” and let the viewer decide which side they supported. This was a one-sided film by the guy who had his behind handed to him for the fake study he did.

There are several areas of science that are considered “settled” meaning those areas aren’t being debated or examined in depth because the “answers” have been discovered.

Where the science is settled – like there being no connection between vaccines and autism – there is no need for further debate or expression of opinion.

The Big Think website has a list of other settled areas of science:

Many Americans are being misled on serious scientific issues, and science journalists have to spend an inordinate amount of time debunking myths which seemingly never die.

Some people object to this, claiming that nothing is ever truly “settled” in science, and therefore, everything is open for debate. While that’s technically true, there are a multitude of issues in which the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of one side of the argument.

1. Evolution Unites All of Biology

Evolution by natural selection is such a rock solid concept, that it is one of the ten greatest ideas in all of science. Opposition to the idea is particularly strong in the United States, which ranks near the bottom among westernized countries in terms of acceptance.

. . .

10. GMOs Are Safe

The public is bombarded with incorrect, and often blatantly dishonest, information about GMOs, or genetically-modified organisms.

10 Examples of Settled Science that Are ‘Controversial’

Arguing about these settled areas makes about as much sense as getting your medical advice from your Grandma Smith. It won’t change anything and could possibly kill you.

Sciences, like medicine and economics, aren’t something open to amateur practitioners who think they know more than the people whose job it is know this stuff (and have gone through years of training and schooling). Do you think someone watching a couple of YouTube videos would be better at brain surgery than a Doctor with years of training?

Science, as much as anything, is open to new information but in most of those areas, like vaccines, the “new” information is just second or third hand bunk being passed around by so-called experts on the Internet.

User beware! Keep that in mind if Aunt Jean sends you a link about some new medical cure published on the Huffington Post.

The anit-intellectualism inherent in “discussion” of these settled areas of science can lead to laws against LGBT people like we saw in North Carolina.

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Humanism Has A Broad Purpose http://www.ihumanism.org/2016/02/humanism-has-a-broad-purpose.html Sat, 13 Feb 2016 21:52:27 +0000 http://www.ihumanism.org/?p=746 One area of Humanism that generates discussion and comment within the movement is what is the scope of our worldview. Should we try to solve all the problems we see in the world or should we focus on only a few narrow concerns? One primary purpose is opposing religion but a debate shows up when one wants to go beyond that one issue. Humanism should and does have a 'broad purpose' because humans solving human problems is a broad topic and religion could even be connected tangentially to those problems.

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A hand reaching out to another handOne area of Humanism that generates discussion and comment within the movement is what is the scope of our worldview. Should we try to solve all the problems we see in the world or should we focus on only a few narrow concerns? One primary purpose is opposing religion but a debate shows up when one wants to go beyond that one issue. Humanism should and does have a ‘broad purpose’ because humans solving human problems is a broad topic and religion could even be connected tangentially to those problems.

A recent essay caught my attention. It was written by Ed Buckner and Mandisa Thomas.

We disagree with much that has been said and written. We urge secular humanists, atheists, and others to consider these calls and to treat the ones making them with great respect, but ultimately we think they are mistaken. We think a major error underlies much of the analysis. It is an error that we’ve seen many other people commit, including people either or both of us love and respect. Among these are people deeply concerned about gun violence, devoted to securing equal rights for gay men and women and transgendered people, horrified about the treatment of Native Americans, opposed to the death penalty, concerned about animal rights, convinced that single-payer health insurance is the only reasonable solution for America, and activists on many other issues.

The error that so many commit is to think that if we all don’t attend to and agree on all issues of concern, we really don’t care about our fellow human beings—and, by extension, that an atheist or freethought organization that wants to focus primarily on promoting atheism and opposing religion is narrow-minded or defective in some important way.

Should Atheist and Humanist Organizations Broaden Their Purpose?

I am familiar with complaints that atheism needs to be more than “god doesn’t exist” and others think atheism is only about a belief in “god(s)”. These dictionary debates show up when other atheists want to address social justice issues that still other atheists don’t think are important or just don’t agree those issues need to be addressed.

PZ Meyers, a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, and atheist blogger, said this about dictionary atheists:

In that Montreal talk, I explained that there is more to my atheism than simple denial of one claim; it’s actually based on a scientific attitude that values evidence and reason, that rejects claims resting solely on authority, and that encourages deeper exploration of the world. My atheism is not solely a negative claim about gods, but is based on a whole set of positive values that I will emphasize when talking about atheism. That denial of god thing? It’s a consequence, not a cause.

Now I don’t claim that my values are part of the definition of atheism — I just told you I hate those dictionary quoters — nor do I consider them universal to atheism. I’ve met plenty of atheists who are in our camp over issues of social justice — they see god-belief as a source of social evils, and that’s why they reject it. That is valid and reasonable. There are atheists who consider human well-being as the metric to use, and we call them humanists; no problem. There are also atheists who are joining the game because their cool friends (or Daniel Radcliff) are atheists; that’s a stupid reason, but they are atheists.

My point is that nobody becomes an atheist because of an absence of values, and no one becomes an atheist because the dictionary tells them they are. I think we also do a disservice to the movement when we pretend it’s solely a mob of individuals who lack a belief, rather than an organization with positive goals and values.

Why are you an atheist?

I agree with PZ that your atheism should mean more than “do you believe in god?”.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair, founder of American Atheists and one of the plaintiffs in the combined precedent setting School Dist. of Abington Tp. v. Schempp (1963) US Supreme Court case, also thought atheism meant more than the god question:

An Atheist loves his fellow man instead of god. An Atheist believes that heaven is something for which we should work now, here on earth, for all men together to enjoy. An Atheist believes that he can get no help through prayer, but that he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and enjoy it. An Atheist believes that only in a knowledge of himself and knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help [both] to a life of fulfillment. He seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist believes that a deed should be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty banished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man. He wants an ethical way of life. . . . He believes that we are our brothers’ keepers, and are keepers of our own lives; that we are responsible persons and the job is here and the time is now.”

From Murray v Curlett (1963) quoted in The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O’Hair (2005)

O’Hair was describing Humanism. In fact O’Hair served for a short time on the Board of Directors of the American Humanist Association until she had a falling out with the other members due to a claim of sexism in the organization. This is what probably led to her vehement rejection of Humanism and humanists for the rest of her life both personally and through her group, American Atheists.

Her words also describe why I became a Humanist. I wanted my atheism to do something, to accomplish something, or to solve some problem. I answered the god question and then I said “Now, what…”.

That’s why I’m confused why Ed Buckner and Mandisa Thomas included Humanism in their idea that groups should focus on narrow issues and if it does then that doesn’t mean the group doesn’t care about the other issues. Humanism, by definition, means addressing all the issues we see in the world because we are all interconnected and you can’t completely disengage religion from those issues.

I do see some people complain if the issue they care the most about is seen not to be given proper attention. That’s why the secular movement seems to birth new groups on a regular basis, because people wanted to focus on an issue more than a current group. That is where I see resources and effort being stretched thin, not in dealing with the issues but in all the new groups that are created.

I don’t blame a group if my issue gets ignored or shifted aside unless it’s an issue that must be a priority like ending sexism, homophobia, harassment, and racism within our own groups.

How can we advocate against those issues to others if our own house isn’t in order?

Buckner and Thomas claim “atheist and humanist organizations have made crucial, important, meaningful strides in addressing and correcting the racism, sexism, and homophobia within our organizations and movements” but give zero examples of what has been done.

It also doesn’t look good coming from the Center of Inquiry, who just merged with the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Richard Dawkins has his own problems with sexism and harassment toward women that has yet to be resolved. It looks like CFI plans to look the other way, which is becoming a common occurrence when the problem people are the so-called leaders of the movement.

If you are an atheist and spending more than 50% or your time opposing religion then I don’t have a problem with that. But if you fail to use any of that other 50% to address other issues related to your atheism, like the incidents of racism, sexism, harassment, and homophobia within the movement, then we have a problem.

If you say you are a Humanist and seemed bothered having to deal with any issues beyond opposing religion then maybe you should just be an atheist instead.

Just remember that if you label yourself make sure you know what that label means in the grand scheme of things.

Humanism has and should have a broad purpose. The only limit should be how much time and effort you can spend addressing the issues we see in the world.

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Religious Freedom Should Be For All Of Us http://www.ihumanism.org/2016/01/religious-freedom-should-be-for-all-of-us.html Sat, 16 Jan 2016 22:04:20 +0000 http://www.ihumanism.org/?p=741 January 16th is National Religious Freedom Day in the US. The day commemorates the Virginia General Assembly's adoption of Thomas Jefferson's landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786. Today we have many issues with religious freedom. One issue is that some people in this country want religious freedom to be for their religion only. Religious freedom should be for all of us.

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logo for Religious Freedom DayJanuary 16th is National Religious Freedom Day in the US. The day commemorates the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786. Today we have many issues with religious freedom. One issue is that some people in this country want religious freedom to be for their religion only. Religious freedom should be for all of us.

Meghan Hamilton writes in The Humanist:

When it comes to the unalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” religious freedom is vital. While various supernatural and religious beliefs have historically served as the root of many of the world’s conflicts, since 2013 there has been a surge in violent retaliation to any opposition or criticism of religious or philosophical views. Recent events throughout the world have shown the necessity of religious freedom protections. For the past three years we have seen instances of atheist writers in Bangladesh attacked or murdered simply for their atheist viewpoints. On January 7, 2015, the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked for publishing cartoon depictions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, leaving twelve dead. Just last month a twenty-year-old woman in Arizona was murdered for not believing in God. And the ongoing debate about immigration and the Syrian refugee crisis is a constant reminder of how dangerous religious bigotry can be.

I won’t deny that American politicians believe in religious freedom. They do. The only condition is that the religion must be theirs. How do you explain that all religious people and nonreligious people deserve the same protections when our politicians believe theirs is the only true religion? How can different religions coexist under the same laws when those laws are formulated by politicians who unabashedly believe their own religion is superior? Until politicians are called out for their favoritism and actions that are inconsistent with the principle of religious liberty, we are dangerously far from the secular values our founding fathers knew to be vital to a democratic system.

Religious Liberty? In America?

I agree that we need to apply religious freedom principles that led Jefferson to write his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

Some religious conservatives in this country have a funny idea what religious freedom really means. To them it means forcing their beliefs on others like being exempted from the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Some even believe it’s religious freedom to bully LGBT kids in school.

A better world exists when religious freedom applies to all of us.

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4 Holiday Tips for the Non-Religious http://www.ihumanism.org/2015/12/4-holiday-tips-for-the-non-religious.html Thu, 17 Dec 2015 18:00:17 +0000 http://www.ihumanism.org/?p=732 November through early January there are several major holidays celebrated in the US. Most of them have some kind of religious context but that shouldn't hold back the non-religious. Here are four holiday tips for the non-religious.

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holiday painting by artist Norman RockwellNovember through early January there are several major holidays celebrated in the US. Most of them have some kind of religious context but that shouldn’t hold back the non-religious. Here are four holiday tips for the non-religious.

1. Stay Involved – Just because some holidays have a religious context doesn’t mean the non-religious should stay home. You can and should celebrate the secular aspects of holidays such as gathering with friends and family, singing secular holiday songs like “Frosty the Snowman“, and making a list of things to improve on during the coming New Year. Don’t worry about singing a religious Christmas carol, it won’t convert you.

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6zW225k_O0

2. Be respectful – If you are the only non-religious person at a Holiday gathering try to remain respectful of the believers in the room. There are times and places to discuss religion or politics but holiday gatherings usually aren’t the best places to do it – unless you want to stir things up at a boring party (Smiley face).

3. Stand Up – On the other hand, don’t let someone else put you down for your non-belief. Avoid a debate but respectfully explain how the put down bothers you and ask them to be respectful at least for the day. You might want to also have some brief talking points about the history of the holidays – like Christmas was not celebrated in the US until the 1840s because it was seen as nothing more than a time for drunken debauchery. Don’t be afraid to leave a gathering if it gets too negative.

4. Be Different – Don’t think you have to conform to how the majority celebrate a holiday. Spend a day giving back to your community. Celebrate an alternative holiday like HumanLight or Festivus. You can also choose NOT to celebrate a holiday but take some time for yourself by reading a good book in a bubble bath.

Holidays can be a fun time and it all depends on how you choose to spend them. It doesn’t matter if the holiday has a religious context, find a different way of celebrating. The non-religious need not be left out.

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Restoring Balance To Religious Freedom http://www.ihumanism.org/2015/10/restoring-balance-to-religious-freedom.html Tue, 20 Oct 2015 19:00:35 +0000 http://www.ihumanism.org/?p=725 The Center for American Progress (CAP) sees the problem with religious freedom after the Hobby Lobby court decision in 2014. Religious freedom is being used as a weapon to discriminate. CAP has some ideas on how to restore the religious freedom balance. The ideas seem like a good start.

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image of a Hobby Lobby store frontThe Center for American Progress (CAP) sees the problem with religious freedom after the Hobby Lobby court decision in 2014. Religious freedom is being used as a weapon to discriminate. CAP has some ideas on how to restore the religious freedom balance. The ideas seem like a good start.

First, as written in an earlier appeals court ruling against Hobby Lobby’s claims, there had not been “any case … in which a for-profit, secular corporation was itself found to have free exercise rights.” Second, appeals for exemption from federal laws under RFRA generally stem from individuals seeking protection for religious belief or practice. In Hobby Lobby, the plaintiffs were seeking exemption from a law—the mandated provision of contraception coverage in employee insurance policies—in order to prevent someone else from making a choice that the plaintiffs deemed religiously unacceptable. This latter distinction, what legal scholars Douglas NeJaime and Reva Siegel called a “complicity claim” in a recent Yale Law Journal article, raises a particular challenge that illustrates just how deeply the Hobby Lobby decision cuts at the fabric of the role of religious liberty in America’s pluralistic democracy.

In a pluralistic society such as ours, the interests of multiple parties are sometimes in competition, and courts play a key role in sorting out these conflicts. As a matter of law in religious liberty cases, this requires striking a balance that avoids causing others to bear the burdens of one’s own chosen religious beliefs and practices. According to NeJaime and Siegel, “Complicity claims are … about how to live in community with others who do not share the claimant’s beliefs, and whose lawful conduct the person of faith believes to be sinful. Because these claims are explicitly oriented toward third parties, they present special concerns about third-party harm.”

This report argues that the Hobby Lobby decision represents a dangerous precedent that enables third-party harm.

A number of legal and policy changes are needed to restore religious liberty in America so it is once again consistent with the nation’s history and fundamental values—as well as public opinion. Building on the recommendations outlined in an earlier CAP report, “A Blueprint for Reclaiming Religious Liberty Post-Hobby Lobby,” these changes include:

Amending the federal RFRA to prevent third-party harm

Passing comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBT

Americans at the local, state, and federal levels

Passing state laws to increase access to preventive health care services

Restoring the Balance – A Progressive Vision of Religious Liberty Preserves the Rights and Freedoms of All Americans

The best way to restore religious freedom is to overturn the Hobby Lobby decision, but CAP’s ideas seem like a good start.

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