Contribute to YHC’s Green Light Project

The Yale Humanist Community is one of my favorite groups for various reasons: (1) it is very active in the state that I called home for more than a decade, (2) it is led by the amazing Chris Stedman, and (3) I’m part of their advisory board. They find new ways of promoting humanism and making people skeptical of our philosophy realize you can be good without believing in a god. One of their current projects is the Green Light Project. I’ll let Chris explain it, from his recent piece in TheHumanist.com:

After more than a year of planning and meeting with community partners, YHC has launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund an interactive, nonreligious sculpture that will go up alongside the religious symbols and serve as a reminder that, even during the coldest and darkest months of the year, human beings can come together to create light and warmth.

By doing this, we have a chance to model that nonreligious communities can stand alongside our religious neighbors in peace. But we also have a chance to model humanist values—to exemplify a universal, inclusive humanism that can speak not only to the growing number of nonreligious Americans but also to the shared values of our religious neighbors.

Chris D. Stedman, TheHumanist.com

Go and support this project and if you contribute today you’ll be able to double your donation!

Secular History at Sin/God Blog

Luciano Gonzalez is exploring secular history and major figures in the secular movement. He starts with George Holyoake:

This post is meant to mark the beginning of a series I want to do talking about figures who have relevance to the history of irreligion. One of the first figures I’d like to talk about is George Holyoake. This guy was and is someone who has real significance to global secularism, partially because he coined the term “secular”. I’m sure that at least some English atheists, secularists, and otherwise irreligious people are familiar with him but I know that many free-thinkers from other parts of the world aren’t as aware of him and the work he did.

Luciano Gonzalez Sin/God

I learned about Holyoake when I was working at the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society & Culture and I encourage Luciano to continue his unearthing of secular history. It is something I’ve been interested in for a while and served as the start of my first talk about diversity in the secular movement last year at the CFI Leadership Conference. Some books that have been helpful in my search are Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers and her fascinating biography of Robert Green Ingersoll The Great Agnostic, and John Farrell’s biography of Clarence Darrow.

Personally, I’m also interested in Hispanic/Latino/Latin American secularism which is why I am very interested in the history of the Spanish Civil war and the Cristero War in Mexico. About the latter there are two movies: an excellent La Guerra Santa (1979) a censored movie that my amazing in-laws tracked and found for me in Mexico a few years back but that you can watch in Youtube now. The second is the pathetic pro-Catholic propaganda film For Greater Glory. I also have in my to-read queue El Epistolario de Benito Juárez (the letters of Benito Juarez) to better understand his thinking on Churc-State separation. Finally, I have started re-reading a favorite author from my (Catholic) high school days Nemesio R. Canales, a Puerto Rican freethinker, lawyer, satirist, and politician.

When Religious Privilege Kills

One of the saddest articles I’ve read in a long time is this piece at Reveal News about the regulation exemptions for religious non-profits allowing them to run daycares with little to no supervision. This has led to maany horror stories of accidents and deaths of children that could have been prevented. This part of the article is quite revealing:

Religious advocates suggest parents need not worry about the lack of oversight because day cares are guided by a moral authority that eclipses any regulatory agency.

In other words, because they respond to a “higher authority” these institutions don’t need to be accountable to the state. We seriously need to end religious privilege in this country and treat religious institutions not as special snowflakes but as any other organization that is bounded by the earthly rules of government.

Racial Diversity and the Future of the Secular Movement in Free Inquiry

That’s the title of my new piece in Free Inquiry  [subscription requited] as part of a volume dedicated to discussing “How do we Sustain the Growth of Unbelief?

From the abstract: “Seculars of color are more numerous than ever, but movement groups may need to offer broader programming to attract them.”

My main argument, that on paper secular Americans look like a socially and racially progressive group that seems open to address the concerns of secular Americans of color. But while…

. . . [i]t is possible for the movement to address the needs of the growing secular population of color. The question is whether the movement is willing to make the necessary adjustments to become a major force in American society.

Most days I am positive that we have the ability of organizing a racially inclusive movement. However, it depends on acting on stated thoughts and opinions on matters of racial and social justice in polls and prioritizing these preferences in a way that they reflect not just the opinions of many members of the community at-large, but also as guiding values and principles for the movement.

Other articles were penned by Tom Flynn, Ryan Cragun, Barry Kosmin, Christel J. Manning, Jesse Max Smith, and Phil Zuckerman. That’s pretty good company.

Replace Scalia with an Immigrant Child

I sometimes think that in the minds of conservatives, the best constitutional scholars in this country are not in the Supreme Court, in the halls of our top universities, or in the offices of major legal institutions. The rhetoric about people coming to the United States and immediately gaming the system suggests that in the minds of anti-immigrant conservatives (a Venn diagram that becomes smaller each passing day) our most brilliant legal minds are those who risk life and family to come to undocumented into this country.

Now, a judge thinks that the brilliant legal minds coming to the country includes the thousands of children detained trying to cross the border. According to Judge Jack Weil based in Virginia, children as young as age 3 can be explained our immigration laws and can forgo legal representation.

I’ve taught immigration law literally to 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of patience … They get it. It’s not the most efficient, but it can be done.

Judge Jack Weil

I think that his logic opens wide open the pool of candidates to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. But in all seriousness, this is appalling. This is the same logic that condones charging children as adults. Children of color in this country are not allowed to be kids, they are dangerous minds from birth and not worthy of civil or human rights. And yet we ask why Donald Trump is so popular.

Representing Secular Family Values

It is a well-known fact that the United States is the only major industrialized country in the world without a decent mandatory paid parental leave. I was once again reminded of that sad fact of life in America after reading Jessica Shortall’s piece in The Atlantic and think that this should be a major part of the secular political agenda.

Parental leave is once another part of our health and welfare system left up to capitalism to figure out. As Shortall puts it ” the time for rest, bonding, and recovery often is determined not by tradition, or even by a doctor’s recommendations, but by the new mother’s employment situation.”

This happens in a political system where the national legislature and a majority of states are controlled by those who claim to be in favor of “family values.” Of course, we know that “family values” mostly means “opposing abortion.” It means caring about the binary life/death outcome of a fetus. But it does not mean caring about the fetus having decent prenatal care, or the opportunities to live a fulfilling life once out of the womb.

In the United States, however, the time for rest, bonding, and recovery often is determined not by tradition, or even by a doctor’s recommendations, but by the new mother’s employment situation.

Jessica Shortall

Those “family values” are promoted by elected officials who are mostly male, overwhelmingly white, economically well-off, and practitioners of a toxic brand of Christianity. These elected officials are not representative of the people, not only because they do not look like the American people, but because 82 percent of Americans are in favor of paid parental leave and 85 percent favor paid sick days.

Instead of those “family values,” I propose secular family values. Those are values that promote the equality of sexes, not the continual subjugation of women based on ancient scripture. Parents should have the right, not the privilege as it is today, to spend time with their children. This is why we need to do more than voting. We must promote our own candidates and become more involved in political activism. Until secular people become engaged in politics as a united front: running for office, contributing time and money, endorsing candidates, challenging candidates, hosting debates, our values will not be prominently featured. We can show the American people that we about things other than policing prayer and religious symbols in public. That we care about people. And that you do not need religion to do so.

Signs of the Apocalypse: (Almost) Agreeing with David Brooks

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Yes, you read that correctly. Last week David Brooks, conservative New York Times columnist, penned a column that I mostly agree with.

He writes about the rise of antipolitics, or a method of wanting and attempting to impose your views about society and policy as if other groups or interests different from your own are not just matters of disagreement, but illegitimate. This antipolitics stands in contrast with politics, or the process of making decisions through public debate and compromise because people acknowledge the existence of varying and often contradictory interests. Eventually, the antipolitics people participate in elections, often with the following consequences, which is my favorite quote of the piece:

“The antipolitics people elect legislators who have no political skills or experience. That incompetence leads to dysfunctional government, which leads to more disgust with government, which leads to a demand for even more outsiders.

The antipolitics people don’t accept that politics is a limited activity. They make soaring promises and raise ridiculous expectations. When those expectations are not met, voters grow cynical and, disgusted, turn even further in the direction of antipolitics.”

This is why messianic movements are dangerous. A democratic process is imperfect. While victories by the antipolitics fans will not yield the desire results, even if they did it does not mean the culmination of a process or the pinnacle of politics. New problems will arise from the proposed solutions. That is the problem with and the beauty of politics: decisions always have to be made because the conversation never ends.

Even when I agree on these general points about the danger of antipolitics, Brooks still thinks there’s blame to throw around for the left and the right. He’s quite wrong about this. Crazy conspiracy-driven authoritarian lefties are not part of the Democratic Party elite. By contrast, we can find many examples in the right because the Religious Right is the mainstream of the GOP. The day when Lyndon LaRouche and his followers get enough clout in the Democratic Party to influence patform and strategies will be the day when the false equivalency between the crazies in the right and the crazies in the left will stop being false. In the meantime, Mr. Brooks, it is your people who have driven our political process to a standstill.

Photo credits: “Obama’s Plan White Slavery” by Flickr user cometstarmoon

Weekly Summary

I started the week commenting on the story of Diego Kal-El Martinez, whose post at Medium narrated his journey away from Catholicism to atheism. On Tuesday I tackled secular politics again by comparing two organizational perspectives: the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Humanist Association. While the AHA is placing some capital in activities aimed at getting the attention of political elites, the FFRF keeps hoping that the secular messiah will show up and finally represent the interests of secular voters.

For Feature Friday, I linked to Justin Scott’s interview in The Humanist Hour. The Staturday number of the week was the percentage of nones who voted for Barack Obama in 2012. Finally, I quote and link to a post by Latino Decisions’s David Damore explaining why Donald Trump did not win the Latino vote in the Nevada caucuses.

A Latino Deconversion Story

Diego Kal-El Martinez at Medium writes the story of leaving Catholicism and becoming an atheist. My favorite quote may be this one, that encapsulates what I think is a very common experience of people who were raised religious and are now nones.

The thing about my story though is I don’t think I can pinpoint an exact moment I became an Atheist. It was all just one long progression from Catholic to Atheist. Sure I can say that now with great conviction but there was never that, “Ah-Ha” moment when I said to myself, “I am an Atheist”. Oh and that missing piece in my life, well I never found it.

I loved how he phrased that progression from religious to none. Moreover, I think it is a very common experience, especially among Latinos. Most people probably start doubting a tenet of the religion, a teaching, or just the authority of the religious leaders. Which is why I think a focus on science education as the sole route to atheism is misguided because it scares people into thinking that a particular knowledge set is a litmus test to become an atheist. Go and read the whole thing.