Oh, God. . .Oh, God. . .Oh, God!

6895019_orig

If you grew up with a God, I know she’s pretty hard to let go of. However, once you do, you’re free to just be a good human being.

It’s so rewarding to be free of “all gods and all masters. ” And to prove it, I love to say that I’m a devout atheist (just for the shock value – LOL). But most importantly, my real goad is to be a good person, a Secular Humanist.

Question: did you flinch when I used the word, “Secular?” Some people tell me that’s an off-putting word, because it’s somehow associated with atheists, and we all know you atheists are “Godless, evil people with no morals.” Of course, that position is espoused primarily by Christian fundamentalists, who don’t understand that they don’t need a god to keep them on the straight and narrow. Maybe they do. They think because atheists don’t believe in God, atheists are capable of just going off willfully, raping and pillaging across the countryside. (Really?!) Religious people are so desperate to keep you in the fold. For example, Muslims in a large part of the world even believe that they must kill apostates, those that quit the religion. As stand-up comics might say, “Tough room.”

As a cornerstone of our democracy our founders included “Freedom of Religion.” You have the right to reject any or all faith, or any or all gods.  You know what an atheist is, don’t you? Answer: someone who doesn’t believe in your god. You simply need to be your “own good self.” Practice using your empathy and compassion for other people. Out of that you will likely become a very moral person, perhaps a secular humanist.

So what’s a good definition of Humanism? Here are two:

Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity.
– American Humanist Association

But look at the second one as well. It reveals many more aspects of Secular Humanism to ponder. You will see that Humanists are actively trying to be good humans. That’s why we say you can be “Good Without God.” Here’s how. I also like the emphasis of the arts, which can be vehicles to understanding how to be a better person. It has one of my favorite lines as well: “Humanism is a philosophy of those in love with life.” (a quote from prominent humanist, Fred Edwords quote, I think). And finally, it has a kick-ass finish. Humanism is:

A joyous alternative to religions that believe in a supernatural god and life in a hereafter. Humanists believe that this is the only life of which we have certain knowledge and that we owe it to ourselves and others to make it the best life possible for ourselves and all with whom we share this fragile planet. A belief that when people are free to think for themselves, using reason and knowledge as their tools, they are best able to solve this world’s problems. An appreciation of the art, literature, music and crafts that are our heritage from the past and of the creativity that, if nourished, can continuously enrich our lives. Humanism is, in sum, a philosophy of those in love with life. Humanists take responsibility for their own lives and relish the adventure of being part of new discoveries, seeking new knowledge, exploring new options. Instead of finding solace in prefabricated answers to the great questions of life, humanists enjoy the open-endedness of a quest and the freedom of discovery that this entails.
– The Humanist Society of Western New York

: : :

 

 

Letters To The Editor: A Must

Letters To The Editor: A Must
– 
by Ron Steelman

Barry_Klassel

Barry Klassel – Humanist Chaplain, Rutgers University

Barry Klassel, a longtime member of Red Bank Humanists and the New Jersey Humanist Network, become the Humanist Chaplain at Rutgers University several years ago (with the help of Dr. Gary Brill, a Humanist and the Campus Coordinator for the Chaplaincy). Yes, many think “Humanist Chaplain” is an oxymoron. However, since Harvard and Columbia have Humanist Chaplains, why not Rutgers?

Point being, there needs to be someone at colleges and universities to whom non-believing students can go for information and advice. University students are forming many new ideas and have personal questions about ethics and morality. Many want to know how to be good without God. For example, Pew Research Center says one-third of Americans under 30 have no religious affiliation (January 13, 2013).

If it will make you happier, let’s just change the word Chaplain to “adviser.”

targum

Targum: an Aramaic translation or paraphrase
of a portion of the Old Testament

Now to the point. Barry read an editorial in the Rutgers newspaper called the “Daily Targum.” Yes, Targum is a biblical word, but let’s “pass over” that for now.

The title of the editorial says it all: “Successful Society Requires Religion.” What!? And this was in an editorial to boot! When silliness like this gets printed, reasonable, rational people must respond. We all have to write more letters to the editor like this one:

“To the Editor of the Daily Targum:
Humanism Can Form The Basis For A Successful Society

The Targum editorial entitled “Successful society requires religion” is unconvincing.  Non-theistic humanism can provide the philosophical and inspirational underpinnings of a just and forward-looking society. The fact that many countries including the United States are seeing a decline in religiosity does not mean the people are losing their morals or their sense of purpose in life. Rather, they are seeing the world in a way that is more honest and more useful to them.

article-2281475-15435FCF000005DC-848_634x398

Distant Galaxies

As a humanist my focus is on this one lifetime, on this world and the people in it. My family is all of humanity. My history is told in the stars, in the fossil record and in the DNA of all living creatures. I am inspired by human efforts to explore every corner of our universe and our own natures. I am moved by photos of distant galaxies, by freedom fighters around the world and by the touch of a child’s hand. I find beauty in the struggle of each human being to build a meaningful and fulfilling life. My purpose is to help them succeed.

One of the pillars of the humanist philosophy is a concern with morality. In fact, the day your editorial came out coincided with a meeting of the Humanist Chaplaincy at Rutgers on the topic of moral issues we all face. We discussed the areas of ecology, family relationships and world events. Moral questions pervade our lives and humanist principles take that into account.

A statement by the American Humanist Association expresses some of their values regarding a just society:

“Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.”

This is certainly a good start if we wish to have the basis for a successful society.

– Barry Klassel, Humanist Chaplain at Rutgers”
Humanist Chaplaincy at Rutgers

________________________________________

Barry was very rational, reasonable, even polite. That’s how you get letters to the editor printed. I, on the other hand, would have blown it. I’m sure my letter would have been rejected because I wanted to point out all the sophomoric logical fallacies in the editorial.

The Targum editorial is here.
It is filled with logical fallacies, some of which include:

argument from omniscience
argumentum ad baculum
argumentum ad populum
bandwagon fallacy
confirmation bias
red herring

Definitions of Logical Fallacies here.

: : :

After All, We’re All Humans

After All, We’re All Humans
by Ron Steelman

(originally published August 1, 2011, revised after the 2012 Republican Primary debates)

Rick Santorum

Senator Rick Santorum

Many of those involved in fundamentalist religions frequently make inflammatory statements about non-believers. These “true believers” claim that non-believers are responsible for all the problems and evils in the world. Their gods tell them that they should hate non-believers, and just last week media headlines stated that a Christian fundamentalist stalked and killed 91 people in Norway (July 23, 2011). At first the media said that the killer was a Muslim fundamentalist, but then it was discovered the killer was a Christian fundamentalist. What’s the difference?

First off, why would the simple act of not believing in the God of another person cause them to curse you, hate you, and even want to kill you? Religious beliefs such as these are barbaric and unacceptable in modern civilizations, especially democracies. In the U.S.A. we have a Constitution that protects us from many human failings, including the violent acts of religious zealots. Most of the civilized countries in the world have endorsed the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. Although too many primitive theocracies still exist, we hope they will continue to die out as freedom and democracy spread around the world.

Unfortunately, each religion seems to have what they call a holy book. In these books there are many different laws about how to become a true believer. The trouble is, not all of the laws in the books are good, and each person reading the book will interpret the laws as he or she sees fit. Instead of letting their various gods punish those who break their religious laws, sometimes the pious dogmatists decide to take matters in their own hands. And after a while, others in their tribe believe they too should become the storm troopers for their god. Even moderates within their religion begin to mouth their hate speech.

MosesEach religion has a long list of behaviors/actions it believes are evil and against the laws of its gods. For instance: homosexuality, dancing to music, going out in public with your face or hair showing, sex before marriage, masturbation, playing cards, drinking alcohol, eating pork, killing a cow, or pressing an elevator button on the sabbath.

Now here’s the sad part: no matter who you ask, or in what context, the most hated group, the group at the bottom of every poll, is Atheists.

The following numbers are from a Pew Research Center Poll:
* Born-again Christians who regard the impact of these groups as negative:
Islam: 71%, Buddhism: 76%, Scientology: 81%, Atheism: 92%
* Non-Christians who view the impact of the same groups as negative:
Islam: 24%, Buddhism: 22%, Scientology: 30%, Atheism: 50%

The following numbers are from a USA/Gallup Poll:
“. . .If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be (see below), would you vote for that person?”  
– Catholic               4% No
– Black                   5% No
– Jewish                 7% No
– A Woman            11% No
– Hispanic             12% No
– Mormon              24% No
– Married 3X          30% No
– 72 years old       42% No
– Homosexual       43% No
– An Atheist         53% No

Some of the ridiculous claims against non-believers are:
1) Atheists say they can prove there is no God. I know many, many Atheists and other non-believers, and none of them say they can prove there is no God. They simply say they don’t believe one exists. Besides, you can’t prove a negative. The onus for proof has to be on the people who claim their God exists.
School Prayer2) Non-believers want to make it so that religious people can’t pray in public. I’ve never seen or heard any of my non-believing friends object to other people praying unless they want us to do it with them. Atheists object to religionists who insist on forcing prayer into government events, as if they are sanctioned by the state. They try to insert their prayers in court rooms, public schools, in school sporting events, and on public property.
3) Some of the Atheist haters say that Atheism is a religion. Maybe they think that by calling Atheism a religion, it puts Atheism in a category with the other religions they hate.  My only response to that is, “Saying Atheism is a religion is like saying ‘not collecting stamps’ is a hobby.”
4) Non-believers want to take away other people’s right to religion. There’s a difference between wanting to change people’s minds and wanting to take away their rights. Nobody wants some kind of “you can’t believe in God” law put in place. It’s the religious folks who keep trying to pass legislation to force others to follow their beliefs.
5) I could go on about the false statements made against non-believers, but I’d run out of ink.

Things are changing though. On the positive side, we non-believers are working to dispel the false claims against us. The President of Red Bank Humanists spoke up at a town Council meeting in Red Bank, NJ and asked that the phrase “non-believers” be included in the Council’s about-to-be-minted diversity statement. To our surprise, Mayor Pasquale Menna said, “That’s a no-brainer. After all, we’re all humans.” The amended diversity statement was adopted unanimously by the Council.

Red Bank, NJ Diversity Statement (revised wording):
The dimensions of diversity shall include, but are not limited to the following: race, ethnicity, persons of faith and non-believers, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, disability, socioeconomic status, cultural orientation, physical abilities, political beliefs, age, and national origin and status.”

Atheism is simply not believing in a god. Although many Secular Humanists are Atheists, Secular Humanists espouse a positive philosophy of life. We think being good and doing good is possible without believing in a supernatural deity. Most Atheists feel the same way. We hope other people begin to adopt a more accepting attitude toward non-believers. Like Mayor Menna said, “After all, we’re all humans.”

                                                          : : :

I Am Not A Non-Believer

I Am Not A Non-Believer
by Ron Steelman

I haven’t been religious since I was 13, and I was faking it before that. A favorite family story was that I was thrown out of Sunday School when I was five years old and had to have a special babysitter while my parents both sang in the church choir. I’m not sure what behavior I exhibited to cause the church ladies to exorcise me from their basic training camp, yet it did seem to presage my later philosophical development. By thirteen I had pretty much decided that I didn’t believe in gods, although as time went on I honestly did try to believe a number of times. I even attempted praying during those crises that life presents.

For most of my adult life I  traveled a long bumpy road searching for answers to life’s big questions. I scrutinized a variety of religions and alternative belief systems, hoping to find something out there that would lead me to that mythical inner peace and a sense of oneness with the universe. Ha! That’s certainly a big order and not surprising that I was getting nowhere in my quest.

As I questioned more and more people about their beliefs, many would say, “You know, I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.” Unfortunately, most people couldn’t explain what they meant by ‘spiritual.’ Most discussions included vague notions of the soul or of God or of their superstitious half-hearted beliefs in various forms of supernatural gibberish. The bottom line with many of this crowd was simply that they’d rather sleep in on Sunday morning. It was clear they never spent more than five minutes thinking about what they really believed. Thus, they did not have any useful answers for me.

Finally, I discovered Humanism on the Internet, and that’s where this story really begins. Once I understood Humanism, which is a philosophy, not a religion, I was able to come out as an atheist. Yes, I am an atheist, not one who can prove there is no God, but rather, one who simply doesn’t believe in one. More importantly, however, I’m a Humanist. Unfortunately, when I engage in a discussion with people who are religious, they are so hung-up on the fact that I don’t believe in their God, that I never get a chance to explain what Humanism is. Not believing in God seems incomprehensible to them. So much so, that they sincerely ask, “How can you believe in nothing?”

They’ve been taught that not believing in God is so evil that they may be in danger standing next to me. They’ve been told that atheists are the cause of every ill in the world. “Without God, man would turn into an animal, raping, killing, and pillaging.” To prove my point, I Googled this topic and found the following quote from the Pope in a news report. . .a quote from just yesterday:

27 OCTOBER, 2011

Atheist Monster. . .”God’s absence”, the Pope argued, would lead to violence and even concentration camps, because denial of the Divine “corrupts men, deprives them of restraint, making them lose their humanity.” By contrast, said the Pope, use of violence in the name of religion would only be “an abuse of the Christian faith.”. . .

Really?!

A correspondent’s response within the same article:

. . .”We remind Benedict XVI”, Carcano continues, “that no war was ever fought in the name of atheism, and countries with the highest number of atheists are also those where the crime rate is lower.” About the concentration camps, “they are the result of the thousand-years-old Christian anti-Semitism. Adolf Hitler believed in God, while atheists were persecuted by the Nazi regime. The slogan of the Third Reich’s army was ‘God with us’: as Ratzinger should know, having served in Hitler’s military.”

We can’t take the Pope or his accusations seriously. They are not based upon reality.

The other question for atheists that comes up frequently in discussions with religious folk (they must all be taught this question in Sunday School starting at age 5):  “Since you don’t believe in God, how do you get through the night?!” Rejecting their innuendo, I answer: “By sleeping.”

All one needs to do to squash this kind of prejudice is visit the American Atheists website and/or the American Humanist Association’s website to discover that we non-believers espouse ethics, morals, and values that are exemplary.

I am NOT a non-believer. I believe in the philosophy of Humanism, which belies the accusations against non-believers: (this from American Humanist Association) “Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”

Question: How do I get through the night? Answer: Dreaming of ways to lead an ethical life, one that might make a better world for all of us.

: : :