Freethinking for Dummies

Skepticism, secular humanism, social issues

URL Change

The URL “freethinkingfordummies.com” is going away. I can’t afford to renew the address. You can still access Freethinking For Dummies at http://jwalker1960.wordpress.com/.

March 31, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Be Good For Goodness Sake

Religious belief, I feel, is an inherently selfish thing. You are lead to believe that if you do good things you will go to heaven. Do what God wants you to and you will be rewarded, either in this life, the next life, or both.

The end result of all this is that the impetus to behave well, to do good things for others, is driven by the question, “what’s in it for me?”. Of course, most people don’t think of it this way. They think that if they help with a food drive, or work in a soup kitchen, God will reward them. They are racking up points in heaven. But really, when you get right down to it, the real reason they do these things is because they are expecting a reward.

This isn’t to say that they aren’t religious people who don’t do good things just because they feel it is the right thing to do, of course there are. I would bet, however, if you asked most believers why it is important to help the poor or tend to the sick, they will say something to the effect that it is because the Bible tells them to, or it is what God wants. I doubt you will hear many give the simple reason, “because”.

From a humanist point of view, we do good things “just because”. Just because it is the right thing to do. No one tells us to do good things. We aren’t expecting any reward except, perhaps. the reward of feeling good about doing good.

I find it interesting that of all the Christmas carols that I can think of, it is a secular one that gets at the heart of why we should do good and be good: for goodness sake.

As a humanist, I am motivated to help others because I feel empathy. I see someone in need and I feel their pain, as the saying goes.

Religious believers have empathy too, certainly. Because the motivation to help others, for them, is reward based however, I wonder if the emotional connection, the empathy, is somehow lessened. When I see people who can volunteer at a soup kitchen, but then call all welfare or Medicaid recipients moochers I have to wonder how they can justify that stance. I think it is because they feel that they have done their bit of good by volunteering, but there is no emotional connection, no real empathy, for the people who they are serving. They aren’t being good for goodness sake, they are being good because that’s what is expected or required. In their eyes they did their good deed and will get their reward, but poor who they fed don’t really exist at all for them, they are just part of the scenery.

Some people will say that it doesn’t matter why people do good, as long as they do something to help others. I disagree.

We have a huge issue in this country today where there are millions of people who are living at or below the poverty line and there is a large group of Americans who honestly believe that these people deserve it. They don’t connect these millions of people with the dozens or hundreds they see at their soup kitchens. I suspect that part of the reason is that they haven’t made an emotional connection with these people because instead of doing good just for the sake of goodness, they are doing good in expectation of a reward. They don’t make the emotional connection that they might otherwise make because doing good isn’t about the other guy, it’s about them.

When there is no idea of reward, we do good because it is the right thing to do.

January 6, 2014 Posted by | Atheism, Humanism, Religion, secular humanism, Social Justice | , | 2 Comments

Serving Others

There is a wonderful article by Olivia at Teen Skepchick that explores the difference between some kinds of religious charity and real charity. I might just write about this issue at Grounded Parents as it is an excellent topic about teaching children about helping others.

December 29, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Post At Grounded Parents

I’ve got a new post up at the Grounded Parents blog.  Please go check it out!

December 27, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Dumb “Duck Dynasty” Controversey

I don’t watch Reality TV shows and I’venever seen “Duck Dynasty”. A lot of people, however, haveseen it and obviously like it since there seems to be quite theuproar about removal of one of the main characters in the show.

Phil Robertson, the man in question,was interviewed by GQ Magazine. In the interview he made somehomophobic remarks. These remarks caused a backlash by LBGTsupporters and lead the A&E channel to remove him from the show.

Many people are upset about this, whichis fine and understandable. They have every right to be and canvoice their opinions to A&E. Some of these people, however, areclaiming that Mr. Robertson’s first amendment rights are beingviolated, that he is being censored.

This is plainly ridiculous. Phil didengage in his right to free speech when he was interviewed by GQ. The article is still on-line and available for everyone to read, sohe certainly hasn’t been censored.

Of course, his supporters are claimingthat he is being censored by A&E. This is also plainly false. A&E is his employer. As for most employers in the U.S. they havea right to terminate an employee for pretty much any reason, as longas it doesn’t violate the employee’s civil rights.

In this case, Phil Robertson’s civilrights have not been violated. As a public representative of A&E,his public speech and behavior can be considered to reflect uponA&E’s reputation. A&E is fully within their rights to removesomeone who, as they see it, tarnishes their reputation. There isplenty of precedent for this. Paula Deen was fired from her showafter racist remarks she made became public. Alec Baldwin’s show was canceled after some of his homophobic comments came to light.

The religious right are the group whoare clamoring the loudest. They want to make this a free speechissue. In reality, it is a perfect example of a corporation doingwhat corporations always do: whatever is best for them. It isironic that the people crying the loudest about this are the sameones who support unfettered corporate hegemony. You can’t supportunbridled capitalism and then cry when a corporation acts in it’sbest interest just because you disagree with it. You have to acceptcorporations wishing their customer’s “Happy Holidays”instead of “Merry Christmas”, since it is in their bestinterests to appeal to all of their customers. You also have toaccept when a corporation removes one of your favorite charactersfrom your favorite show because they feel his voicing of his personalviews alienates a majority of their viewers. The knife of freemarkets cuts both ways.

Those on the religious right need toremember that in a truly free capitol market, there is no place foran objective morality. In fact, morality has no place in a systemwhere profit is paramount because true capitalism is completely amoral. Phil Robertson wasn’t fired because A&E supports a homosexuallifestyle. He was fired because it was a business decision thatwas in A&E’s best interest. Period.

December 27, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Yipee!

My first post for Ground Parents is up! Go read it, along with all the other great posts there!

December 20, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A New Blog in The Skeptchick Network!

There is a new blog in town!  It is called Grounded Parents and it is part of the Skepchick network.   As managing editor of Skepchick.org, Elyse, says in her introduction of the site:

We’ll be covering the usual parenting blog BS, but we’ll do it with all the snark and wit and drunken profanity you’ve come to expect from the Skepchick network. We’ll also be covering the shit they’re too boring to cover on the other parenting sites. We’ve got sex and drugs and mental health and intersectional feminism. We have opinions. And we back them up with motherfucking citations. We’re the bosses of parenting. We’re not your mom’s mommy blog.

And even more exciting is that the "We" mentioned about includes me! 

There are already several great posts there.  Go read them and if you like them, subscribe. 

We really have a bunch of great parents with an incredible depth and variety of experiences.   Best thing is, all of these experiences, advice, what have you, is based in reality.  We are secular, science-based, and rational, but also crazy, fun, and as Elyse says, we all "actually look too sexy in yoga pants"! (But, trust me, you’ll never catch me in yoga pants, promise).

December 17, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Feminism, Skepticism | Leave a comment

On Trying to Write

I have been asked to write an article for one of my favorite blogs. Actually, I should say that I’ve been asked to submit an article for consideration. They are looking for people to write about parenting as skeptics/rationalists/secularists kind of people.

I’ve written about the parenting challenges I’ve faced before both here and on thee JREFF blog. I could easily draw from those to write the new article, but that would be cheating, at least to me it would. Also, it would be a missed opportunity to reassess the results and lessons learned as a parent since the last time I wrote about it.

The reason I’m writing about writing about parenting is that I having trouble actually writing about it. To get past this minor writer’s block, sometimes you just have to write about something, anything, to get the words flowing. That is what this is. A writing exercise.

I think it’s working. Oh! I’ve got an idea! Gotta go!

November 22, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life

The title of this blog post, is a quote from that great sage of the 23rd century, Captain James Tiberius Kirk. He was facing the possibility of death and was trying to explain why it is important to understand that our actions and reactions in these situations can be so critical to, not only our survival, but to who we are as a person.

Of course, Kirk cheated death in that scene, as he always did. The rest of us won’t be so lucky. But it is not how we deal with facing our own death that I want to talk about, but how we deal with the death of others and, more specifically, how we help others deal with the death of someone they know.

A co-worker’s father passed away this week. He had traveled from Omaha to Georgia, driving all day and night, to get to the hospital where his father, who was dying of brain cancer, lay. He got there in time to spend some hours with his father listening to music that they both loved.

My co-worker and I aren’t particularly close. In fact, except for both being big Apple Mac fans and Army vets, we are about as different as you can get. He is an Obama blaming conservative, I’m a liberal. He’s outgoing and extroverted, I’m quiet and watchful. He is a very devout Christian (as are the majority of my co-workers, but that is a story for a different blog post) and I am an atheist.

This seems to have caused some tension between us, although he’s never said anything about my being an atheist outside of some very vague “well, I know you don’t go for that kind of thing” when talking about church or gospel music.

When I heard that his father passed away, it truly pained me. I remember how devastated I was when my own father died over 20 years ago. He had heart disease and we all knew that he had little time left, but expecting the end didn’t make it at all easier to deal with.

So I knew what my co-worker must be feeling and I felt the need to reach out to him and express my sympathy and let him know that I empathized with him.

The problem was not so much what to say, but how to say it. I refused to use say things like, “he’s in a better place” or “he’s at peace now”. I believe that when you die your brain ceases to function and you thereby stop experiencing anything like a feeling of peace or anything at all, actually. I needed to find a way to provide some modicum of solace without allusions to anything beyond this life here on earth. So instead of focusing on his father, I realized that I must focus on my co-worker and what he must be feeling. After all, death is really an affliction of the living, not the dead.

So I sent him an email from my personal email account to his personal account. Here is what I said:

I want to express my sincere condolences on the passing of your father.

I know how difficult it is, even when the passing is expected and, perhaps, even a blessing. No matter how much consolation we try to find in knowing that our loved one is no longer suffering and is at peace, there will forever be a hole in your heart that never fully goes away. That you must experience this is what pains me, and though my words can’t minimize the pain, I hope they might bring a bit of comfort.

I want you to know that my thoughts are with you and your family. Please offer everyone there my condolences.

Yours,

James

I think the most important thing we can try to do to help someone deal with the loss of a loved one is to focus on them and what they are feeling, not on the loved one lost.

They say that religion gives people comfort in times of loss, but I think it only prolongs the grieving process by taking the focus off what they need and how they feel and focusing on the deceased who no longer needs or feels anything.

As an atheist, I believe that we must focus on this life, cherish every moment of it, and deal with it head on. This is how we can make the most out of life. After all, life is for the living.

November 17, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Next Steps

I haven’t written much here in a long time; just the occasional post.  There are many reasons why, some personal (new marriage, raising three teenagers, work), some creative (not so much writer’s block as writer’s ennui). 

The main thing I’m struggling with now is trying to decide what direction I want to go with my writing.  For most of most of the past three years or so, I’ve focused on mostly skeptical and atheist based topics.  At time as went gone on, I found myself writing more about topics on humanism, especially my support of feminism.

I feel that at this point, as far as this blog is concerned, I want to keep the focus on issues of humanist and social justice, with a concentration on how skepticism can positively inform these issues.

Still, there is another writing endeavor that I’m keen to begin focusing on: science writing. 

I’ve had a passion for science for as long as I can remember.  As a kid, I did chemistry experiments.  As a teen I spent countless nights, often in the freezing cold of New England winters, snow up to my calves, pointing my telescope at the heavens and falling in love with the beauty of the cosmos.  My eighth grade science project was on the Special Theory of Relativity.  A college paper for Writing 101 was on a theory for time travel. 

As I got older, other things crowded out the science and I focused on a search for the meaning of life, flirting with Christianity (I was raised a devout Catholic), Islam, some Eastern mysticism, Edgar Cacye, and a Shirley McLane-ish spiritualism.

Finally, about four years ago I discovered skepticism (Thanks Surly Amy, Rebecca Watson, and Jen McCreight!).  From there, I threw off the chains of superstation and embraced being an atheist.  I began blogging about skepticism and atheism and I went to Skepticon and The American Atheists Convention.

My new found skepticism led to being reacquainted with my passion for science.  I began writing some article focused more on the scientific aspects of skepticism. Some were published on the Swift Blog at the JREF site at randi.org.   Another was published in Skeptical Inquire Magazine.  I really enjoyed the in-depth research that went along with preparing my articles.  I was (and still am) a stickler for good research and properly attributing sources.

This has lead me to consider working to become a serious science writer.  I feel that I have a writing style that can help explain complicated issues in a way that anyone can understand.  I want to pass on my passion and love of science, and to impress on people the vital importance science plays in our modern lives.

So, I will try to begin to write on the social justice and humanism issues that I feel passionately about, along with some skeptical topics and the occasional ripping of new assholes for religions and those who use it stupidly and dangerously, here on this blog.  My science writing I’ll try shopping around to blogs that specialize is science journalism.

Wish me luck!

November 5, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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