Archive for the ‘freethinkers’ tag
Greta Christina has a post up about her experiences from a recent Secular Student Alliance conference. During a portion of the event, participants sat at different tables, at which they discussed various topics as they related to the atheist/freethinker community.
The topic at her table was “Diversity — Minorities,” and Christina related some of the take-away points from the brainstorming session about how the community could be more welcoming to black people and other non-white ethnicities (As it happens, she used the term “people of color” throughout the post, with which I am not terribly comfortable because although it’s apparently no longer offensive to black people and others, it does seem to be, as NAACP spokeswoman Carla Sims has said, to be “outdated and antiquated.”).
Here is a truncated list of what members of the atheist/freethinker community could do to be more inclusive at conferences and meetings of like minds:
- Invite more people of color as speakers, at conferences and for individual speaking events.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about race.
- Do joint events with groups/ organizations of people of color.
- Support appropriate events hosted by groups of people of color, such as service projects.
- Don’t glom onto people of color when they show up at your group or event. (People of color sometimes say that, when they show up at all- or mostly-white atheist groups or events, they’re swarmed by overly friendly people who are SO DELIGHTED that a non-white person has shown up, in a way that’s overwhelming, and that’s clearly directed at their race. Don’t do this.)
- Don’t expect individual people of color to speak for their entire race.
- Listen to people of color — actively. …
- Don’t assume people of color are religious.
- Co-protesting – show up at protests about racism, and about issues that are strongly affected by race, such as economic justice or the drug war.
She then included this addendum outlining a different comment policy for that particular post to which readers should adhere (italics mine):
This conversation is for people who already agree that increasing racial diversity is important to the atheist community and the atheist movement, and who think positive action should be taken to improve the situation, and who want to discuss how to go about that. If you want to debate this core proposition — if, for instance, you think the atheist movement should be entirely race-blind, and that paying any attention at all to race and racism is itself racist — this comment thread is not the place.
I don’t know that I agree with that entire statement, thus the reason I am posting on my own site and not commenting on her blog.
While I think it is highly commendable and admirable to be proactive in welcoming blacks, Hispanics, etc., into the community of nonbelievers, as well as discussing topics of race in an open and respectful manner — if that’s a goal the community wants to pursue — I don’t necessarily think that racism can die — as well it should — until we move past race itself, just like BET or Black History Month, both of which, to me, insult black people by giving them their own special television station and their own special month of the year, as if black history and culture can’t be celebrated and remembered all year and on all television stations. It can, and it should be.
So, while some of the goals in racial inclusiveness are certainly admirable, I think we are approaching a time where the notion of “race” needs to go the way of the dodo and be replaced, simply, with “culture.” For, if we want to learn about how different groups of people live their lives and interact with the rest of the world, we can do that through learning about their culture and about what makes their particular culture unique, and by that token, worthy to be celebrated in its own right. I think when we frame the discussion, admirable as it might be, in racial terms, we may be in danger of taking one step forward and two tentative steps back.
@kaimatai: Why yes, we do know how the bacterial flagellum evolved http://www.pnas.org/content/104/17/7116/F1.large.jpg #evolution #atheist #atheism:
Here is some recommended reading from back in 1861: “A Defense of Atheism By Ernestine L. Rose: Boston, April 10, 1861.”
Thanks to The Perplexed Observer for highlighting some of the best parts of this lecture. I didn’t get past the first paragraph before finding lines that are as poignant today as they were then. In her opening, Rose had this to say about the question of the existence of a god:
IN UNDERTAKING THE INQUIRY of the existence of a God, I am fully conscious of the difficulties I have to encounter. I am well aware that the very question produces in most minds a feeling of awe, as if stepping on forbidden ground, too holy and sacred for mortals to approach. The very question strikes them with horror, and it is owing to this prejudice so deeply implanted by education, and also strengthened by public sentiment, that so few are willing to give it a fair and impartial investigation, knowing but too well that it casts a stigma and reproach upon any person bold enough to undertake the task, unless his previously known opinions are a guarantee that his conclusions would be in accordance and harmony with the popular demand. But believing as I do, that Truth only is beneficial, and Error, from whatever source, and under whatever name, is pernicious to man, I consider no place too holy, no subject too sacred, for man’s earnest investigation; for by so doing only can we arrive at Truth, learn to discriminate it from Error, and be able to accept the one and reject the other.
Stunningly, and especially here in America some 151 years after this was written, religion still enjoys a kind of immunity from critical investigation not enjoyed by any other topic of inquiry.
MiKaela Frye: If your an atheist, I’m sorry but I have absolutely NO respect for you.
to which I replied:
to which I received these further remarks:
@ourdailytrain I’m simply stating MY opinion on MY Twitter, so if u don’t like it, unfollow me.
Burn in hell, huh? Such kind words from a believer. So much for “turn the other cheek” and “only the meek will inherit the earth.”
Loving the Cosmos: ”Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.” -Mark Twain
unapologist: My family gave me “End of Reason” by Ravi Zacharias in hopes that his arguments could persuade me to embrace Jesus. Didn’t work.
Random Atheist: It’s weird that neither Jesus nor Isaac Newton were born on Dec 25 of the Gregorian calendar yet people celebrate their birthdays today.
Head over to the MySide_YourSide blog and read about how the term “atheist fundamentalism,” which has recently come into use much to the groans of non-believers everywhere, is about as useless a term as, in my own view, radical atheist or militant atheist (I realize that may be a controversial assertion. See my explanation below).
I think the writer gets it right when he says that
The only fundamental interpretation of atheism is the definition of the word “atheism.”
Atheists don’t need a specific set of dogmatic rules simply because there are none. There is no ambiguous holy book within which one might equally draw heretical conclusions by contradicting the accepted, orthodox version. We aren’t afraid of losing members of the atheist flock to a rival organization or a competing orthodoxy. There is no overarching atheist ideology even if there are similarities in how most of us think and what some of us believe aside from our conclusions on the subject of god(s). We do not state, anywhere, that anybody who is atheist must submit to any ideological standard and there is no common belief that anyone in violation of the definition of atheism is inherently immoral, evil, wicked, lower, unsaved, unintelligent, or in any way not involved in the human experience. Frankly, most of us don’t care if you’re atheist or not. We discuss it because we want to learn about what people believe while making sure they aren’t misinterpreting what we believe. We also want to discover other atheists who might like to know there are people like them out there and possibly shed new intellectual light on other things we might have in common. We talk about it because that’s what people do regarding subjects that interest them.
I want to address the two terms mentioned above and one other. First, on “militant atheism” and “radical atheism:” I will surely have some who will disagree with me here, but I think those two terms are redundant and unnecessary, kind of like most exclamation points (
!!!!!) and the words “ very” and “ really.”
Either a person does not believe in a god or gods, he has not made up his mind (agnostic) or he does believe (deist or theist). I realize that there are various degrees on which a person may not believe in a god and that a person can have a strong opinion about it. But within atheism itself, is it useful to have a special word for someone who really, really doesn’t believe in a god or gods, just like we have a term, “fundamentalist” or “evangelical,” for someone who really, really believes, or is it simply enough to say so and so is a fervent believer or a fervent non-believer? I think probably the latter. The definition of atheism doesn’t change no matter how strongly (or not) a person feels about it. Once a person crosses the threshold of unbelief, he or she falls concretely within the banner of atheism. I don’t think the words “militant” or “radical” add anything important to the discussion, since we already have better, less brash words to express how someone “really” feels, “fervent” and “ardent” being two of the better ones.
Second, in addition to the unpleasant “atheist fundamentalism” term, here’s another: atheist apologist. New atheists Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Dan Barker and others have no doubt been labeled by this equally abrasive term from time to time. So have I. A believing friend and former churchgoer once asked me, to paraphrase, if I was an apologist for atheism now? We were debating some topic on Facebook, and his feathers were clearly getting ruffled when I pushed the debate into territory in which he was apparently not comfortable. He then made that remark, to which I replied, again to paraphrase, atheism doesn’t need apologists. It is the default view. It is only the believers who have all the explaining to do.
Personally, I’m not much of a fan of any of these terms, even atheist. I prefer “freethinker” because it is unlimiting and doesn’t come, like it or not, with the baggage of the other words. Freethinker is most closely associated with atheism and skepticism, certainly, but for me, it provides for more freedom to, as the term suggests, think freely. It allows me to, in theory, change my mind in one way or another if some new evidence comes in. Of course, atheists are free to change their minds as well, but the suggestion by the term, or the connotation, is that they are philosophically set in their ways for all time, which may or may not the case.
On the question of gods and the supernatural, I don’t see me changing my mind any time soon or ever, I am just making the case that, in theory, if I profess my views as strongly and with as much cocksure conviction as the fundamentalist believers, then that makes me no better than them, and if I don’t maintain the freedom to change my mind and advertise that freedom, then I’m as much a slave to ideology as anyone else. Thus, for me, free thought is the only kind of thought worth having.
As the title suggests, “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism” by Susan Jacoby, takes readers through the progression of secularist and humanist thought in America, by looking at how various historical figures handled religion, particularly the separation of church and state and keeping any mention of God out of the Constitution, through 19th-century struggles for women’s rights and the battle over slavery up through the early 2000s, when — as today — the battle over teaching intelligent design alongside traditional science curricula continues (Here is an essay as recently as 2009).
One of the most interesting people that I have come across in the pages of “Freethinkers” is Robert Ingersoll (Aug. 11, 1833-July 21, 1899), known as The Great Agnostic and described by Jacoby as a “rotund, unimposing figure” but one who was engagingly witty, often delivered his many speeches off the cuff, had a pleasant demeanor and sometimes cut jokes along the way. He was also, from what I have seen thus far, lucid, passionate and profound. The Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum’s website describes him as “the most remarkable American most people never heard of.” I am only halfway through Jacoby’s book, but I can clearly identify the most remarkable Ingersoll quote that I have come across at this point.
Ingersoll visited the laboratory of his friend, Thomas Edison just before Ingersoll’s death and made several early recordings, excerpts of which can be listened at the museum in Dresden, N.Y. Here, Ingersoll speaks about his own beliefs and how to approach life:
While I am opposed to all orthodox creeds, I have a creed myself; and mycreed is this. Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy to be here. The way to be happy is to make others so. Thiscreed is somewhat short, but it is long enough for this life, strong enough for this world.
The museum has also provided
of these lines from 1882, which was remastered by Paul Squire, Squire Recording Studio in Buffalo N.Y. Follow this link to learn more about Ingersoll and his contributions to American freethought.