Freethinking for Dummies

Skepticism, secular humanism, social issues

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

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

Taking Sides

There has been a battle going on in the atheists/skeptical movement over the past year or so.  It is a battle about sexism.  I won’t go into the details because there are too many incidents and opinions to mention here.  For an introduction, if you are not familiar with what’s been happening, see PZ Myers’ blog post.  Make sure you visit the links there, and the links in those links.  

PZ feels that it is time to take sides, and I agree.

Sexism is wrong.  Rape is horrible and wrong.  Anyone who supports these things whether openly, through making excuses for them, or just pretending they don’t matter is wrong; period.  These people try to explain away sexism, to rationalize it, to excuse it in any way they can.  They make threats of violence, rape, and even death agains the women who come forward with their experiences of being victimized.  

These are the same people who claim to be rational.  They deride the religious for being irrational in their beliefs; for supporting and rationalizing their beliefs with senseless excuses and rationalizations while they do exactly the same thing in their defense and denial of sexism in the atheist and skeptical communities. 

These people are wrong and no amount of rationalization can change that.  They are immoral, plain and simple.

I take the side of every woman, all women, who live with sexism every day.  I take the side of inclusion.  I take the side of equality and fairness.  I take the side of humanism.  I take the side of what is right and moral; the idea that every woman has the right to not just be safe, but feel safe, at all atheist and skeptical conferences and events, to never have to live with threats of violence, rape, and death just for speaking out about their experiences with sexism.

These are painful times we are going through, but if we want to advance the causes of atheist and skepticism, we must clean our own house or we can never claim the high moral ground against the religious, who use their gods to claim the same.

We must demand of our conference organizers that they not invite speakers who are known to engage in sexist and predatory behavior.  We must demand that they bar these people from all conferences and events.   If they refuse, then we must refuse to attend their events and to contribute to their organizations.  We must insist that the CFI, the JREF, and all other atheist and skeptical organizations refuse these sexists and predators venues for their speeches and writings.  We must insist that they remove these people from their organizations.  If they don’t, then they don’t get our support or our money.  

As a society of atheists and skeptics, we must shun those sexist predators and all who support them.  This is not a war, but a boycott.  We must boycott their speeches, their appearances, their books, and their podcasts.     We must make them outcasts and pariahs.   

It is time to take sides.  If you truly care about your community and what it should stand for, then take the side of what is right and moral, or be left in the dustbin of history.

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Feminism, Humanism, Skepticism, Social Justice | , , , , | 3 Comments

An Atheist Monument Being Unveiled Next to The Ten Commandments is Nothing to Celebrate

An article in the Washington Post reports on the new monument that has been installed next to one of the Ten Commandments outside a Florida courthouse.

Atheists had sued to remove the Ten Commandments monument because it violates the the Establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.  An agreement was reached that, instead of removing the monument, atheists would be able to erect their own monument on public property next to it.

The monument that the atheists erected contain quotes by various founding fathers that are much more apt for a courthouse than the Ten Commandments, almost half of which apply to how God should be worshiped and have no bearing on U.S. Law.  

While I support displaying monuments to our founding fathers and quotes from them that support actual U.S. legal principles, I have serious reservations about how this particular case played out.

Allowing a secular monument on public land, of course, does not violate the Establishment clause, but doing so in this case inextricably links the secular monument with that of the Ten Commandments.  In essence, it gives validity to the idea that it is OK to allow a religious monument on public property.   By agreeing to erect a secular monument next to a religious one, these atheists have legitimized the display of religious symbols on public property.

We have secular monument aplenty across our land.  The Jefferson and Lincoln monuments come to mind.  This is how it should be.  Our legal system is founded upon the U.S. Constitution, a document that never once mentions God, and even explicitly forbids the government showing preference for any religion.  

We don’t need the condecending permission of religious minded judges or politicians to allow us to erect a monument to those who founded our country.   By accepting this settlement, atheists essentially allowed the religious crowd, who erected their monument in violation of the laws of this land, to give them something that was theirs by default.  

This is not a win for atheists.  By agreeing to allow an obviously illegal monument to stand, they have legitimized those who seek to push their religious agenda into our government at every level, and thereby made it a win for the enemies of secularism.

June 30, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Religion, secular humanism, Social Justice | , | 1 Comment

Help For People Recovering From Religion

The organization Recovering From Religion has started a hotline for those who are recovering from religion.  This is in response to all of the “…countless emails and phone calls from people seeking help on their journey away from faith, at all hours of the day and night”.

If you are recovering or have recovered from religion, you know how terribly painful a process this can be.  Not only are you abandoning a life-long set of beliefs, but you face ostracization from friend, family, and co-workers.  You also live with the fear of the negative reactions you may receive when people find out you are an atheist.  

I have applied to answer the Hotline and to help out with their Facebook page.   If you are recovering from religion, or are an life-long atheists, and want to help, go and apply.  It is a great cause that will help the millions who are struggling with losing their religion.

June 23, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Religion, secular humanism, Skepticism | , , , , | Leave a comment

My Response to the CFI’s Response to the Skeptical Community’s Response to Ron Lindsay’s Opening Statement at the Women in Secularism 2 Conference

I’ve been out of action here for quite a while due to work and family and just life in general.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention to what’s been going on in the skeptical and atheist communities.  There has been a lot going on there, but it took something unbelievably appalling and rage inducing to motivate me to start writing again.

As you can see by the title of this posts,  something happened at the Women in Secularism 2 Conference.  Something so unthinkably insensitive you would have thought it was said by one of the disgusting Republican, Tea Party loving, rape apologists.  But, no.  sadly , it was said by the leader of one of the leading and most influential secular groups in America; the Center for Inquiry, or CFI.

I won’t get into the particulars.  If you haven’t heard about it, you can read the outrage from different individuals here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  The CFI response to all this outrage can be found here.  

My personal response, which I’ve emailed to the CFI Board of Directors is below.

June 22, 2013

To Tom Flynn & the CFI Board of Directors

Dear Mr. Flynn and CFI Board members,

I am writing today to express my outrage at your response to the outcry caused by Ron Lindsay’s opening statement at the Women in Secularism 2 conference.  

You have shown that you are either incapable, or unwilling, to take an definitive stand on sexism in the Skeptical community.   Your official statement regarding this issue, far from helping to quell the protests, only exacerbated the situation.  

Your refusal to issue an apology, either as an organization, or though Ron Lindsay personally, is a disgrace.   Your insipid claim to value equality in the community is woefully inadequate at best, and pretentiously self-serving at worse.

Over the past year or so, sexism has become possiblty the most important and divisive issue in the Skeptical community.  The examples of blatant misogyny and raw hatred by  a relatively small number of members of the community toward anyone who dares support feminism and women’s right are disgusting, abhorrent, and almost too numerous to count.  They include vile insults, threats of rape, and even death threats against those, mostly woman, who speak out against them.

By refusing to take a stand against these misogynistic, hate-spewing members of our community, you only encourage, enable, and by your silence, tacitly accept their continued hatred and harassment of those who work tirelessly towards equality for all in our community.

I can no longer support the CFI, given it’s stance regarding sexism within our community.  I will no longer be donating to your organization, and this includes renewing my subscription to Skeptical Inquirer magazine.  This last honestly pains me because not only do I feel that it is the best skeptical magazine tin existence, but having been published in it, I can no longer in good conscience submit my work to be published there.

I fervently hope that the leadership of CFI will take an unambiguous public stand in support of ridding our community of sexism, misogyny, and hatred.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that I feel sums up my feelings toward the current state of the CFI leadership.

In his “Letter from a Birmingham jail” he said:  “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Sincerely,

James Walker


If this issue upsets you as much as it does me, please do something about it.  At the very least, let the CFI know how you feel.  You can email them, as I did, at tflynn@centerforinquiry.net, or snail mail them at:


Center for Inquiry Transnational
P.O. Box 741, Amherst, NY 14226


Do something!  Don’t let your “appalling silence” allow the injustice to continue.

June 22, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Feminism, GLBT, Humanism, secular humanism, Skepticism, Social Justice | , , , , | Leave a comment

We Are Not Broken

I read a lovely blog post.  It is about people with disabilities.  Please read it.

My comment on this:

I grew up with a learning disability.  I was teased, bullied.  But I’ve succeeded beyond what any of those people who made fun of me, or even most of the teachers and guidance counselors could.  My son has autism spectrum disorder.  Family, friends, strangers in the supermarket, all would try to tell me how to handle him, how to raise him, how to “fix” him.  He is not “broken”.  He never was.  He is his own person.  He is my son.  

April 1, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Humanism, Religion, secular humanism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Be Good For Goodness’ Sake

Telling someone that they shouldn’t steal or murder or rape because if they get caught they will go to prison is not teaching morality.  Similarly, telling someone that they shouldn’t engage in these same types of behaviors because the will got to hell is not teaching morality either.  What it is doing is teaching that these behaviors are bad, not because the are intrinsically immoral, but because there is the risk of negative consequences.

This type of thinking ignores the real effect of immoral actions: that they harm others.  That crime, deceit, and violence robs a person of a part of their humanity.  It attacks one of the greatest truths ever put forth by the human mind:  that we all are created equal, that we “are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (1)

True morals should be based on this principle.  They should also be based on empathy and love for our fellow Homo sapiens who we share out planet with.  By holding up threats of punishment, either in this life or a mythical one beyond it, we dehumanize each other and desensitize ourselves to the humanity within others.  

This mindset can lead to disdain of those who are seen as violating some peoples’ personal or religious morals, many of which are inhumane, insensitive, and inhumane.  

The same holds for being moral and doing good deeds for others because we empathize with their plight.  We should do kind things not expecting anything in return, but because it is intrinsically the right thing to do.  To only do good, be it giving to charity, doing a favor for a friend, or giving a blanket to a cold homeless person just because we expect a reward in heaven or to boost our status within our social circles reeks of  callousness.  These types of people do good not because it is the right thing to do, but because they are greedy for reward.  When they give to charity, help at soup kitchens, they are often thinking not of those who benefit from their deeds, but of the benefit to their social status and/or their eternal reward.

Santa Clause, that fictional character of Christmas cheer, summed up the true basis of morality:  be good for goodness’ sake.

 

(1) The Declaration of Independence

are created equal, that they are endowed

January 31, 2013 Posted by | Atheism, Humanism, Religion, secular humanism, Social Justice | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Atheism+. Why I Am More Resolved Than Before To Support It

Jen McCreight quit blogging yesterday.  This from Almost Diamonds who wrote a post explaining some of the reason why.

I’m angry that Jen has been pushed to the point where she has to stop blogging.  She’s done so much, especially with the SSA, to help advance atheism.  The detractors say that those who support Atheism+ are trying to take over the atheist movement, that we are being hateful and divisive, that we are not thinking critically and are letting our emotions cloud our judgement.  

Of course it is emotional.  We are enraged and appalled at the misogyny that has become so apparent in the past year.  We aren’t automatons, but human.  Using our anger at the misogynists and others like them in the atheists movement to try to build something better is good, as Greta Christian says in her book.  

Anger can motivate people to right wrongs and gain rights and recognition in society.  We want to be seen as atheists who do more than just attack religion.  We want to take this movement to the masses, as it were, beyond the atheist community, by working openly, and publicly on important social issues that, until now, religion or other organizations have owned.  At least, that’s what I would like to see.  I think many who support Atheism+ feel this way too.

The people who drove Jen away want to attack anyone who doesn’t agree with them.  It can’t, and won’t, stand.  But, I’m not going to attack those people, I’m going to ignore them.  They aren’t worth my time.  Instead, I’m going to do something positive and try to make Atheism+ a thing that will unite all those atheists who want to focus on social issues instead of just bashing religion and slapping ourselves on the backs for how much more clever we are than theists.  

September 5, 2012 Posted by | Atheism, Feminism, GLBT, Humanism, secular humanism, Skepticism, Social Justice | , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Tea Party – American Taliban

The Tea Party is the most dangerous threat to the American way of life and to American liberty its self than anything we’ve seen since the era of McCarthyism over 50 years ago.  I’d say that they are an even greater threat.  At least during McCarthyism we still held education, science, and technology in high esteem.  In fact, it was science and technology that was going to save us from the communist threat.  McCarthyism was a political motivated by a real fear of communist expansion (but that still didn’t justify the restriction of rights that occurred).

Fortunately, the majority of Americans do seem to believe in working together for a common goal and the common good.  Unfortunately, most of them believe that we can accommodate the Tea Party and their ilk.  The reason for this, I believe, is that most of these “other” American are Christian and this makes them reluctant to criticize other Christians.  They buy into the anti-islamic, anti-atheist, anti-secular rhetoric of the Tea Party because they either don’t see the real threat or they are afraid to speak out.  This is the same thing we saw in the Islamic world after the 9/11 attacks: the vast majority of Muslims abhorred there radicals who perpetrate acts to terror in the name of Islam, but they were afraid to speak out for fear of being branded an infidel or of breaking islamic unity.

The majority of Christian in this country are accomidationis.  They believe that radical Christians can be reasoned with; can be accommodated; that compromises can be reached.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  Radical Christians, along with all religious radicals, can not be reasoned with or accommodated because for them this is a holy war, a fight against good and evil.  As long as they believe that they are doing God’s work, nothing can make them compromise in the slightest thing.

Today, however, science and technology are viewed with great suspicion, even outright hostility by the religious right.  This time, in contract to McCarthyism, the perceived enemy of the Tea Party crowd isn’t a foreign threat, it is other Americans.   And unlike most of those within the secular movements, they have no room for compromise.  You are either with them or against them.  You can’t debate or argue them into changing their positions.  Like most everyone who’s world view relies on blind faith and religious righteousness, they will never yield and never give up.

This is why I constantly speak out against religion being forced on us.  This is why I continue to highlight the dangers and evils of religious thought and religious dogma that are passed off as patriotism.  This is why I always try to highlight the delusion that is theism and supernaturalism, or magical thinking. 

People use religion to foster hate and division.  Those who are ardent believers can rationalize away any evil up to and including murder.  If they are allowed to have their way, which they are getting more and more often, they would have this country become a Christian theocracy.   Anything that goes against their religious laws will be punished, those of other religions will be discriminated against.  Don’t believe it?  Just google “christian theocracy in america”.  

It is sad that the Tea Partiers had to take the Tea Party as their name.  It is an insult to all those who took part in the actual, historical tea party.  Those patriots fought for freedom from tyranny, not for the tyranny of a theocracy.  They should have rightly called themselves the American Taliban, because they are no different in their aims of creating a Christian nation than the Taliban in Afghanistan are in creating an Islamic nation there.

September 4, 2012 Posted by | Atheism, Humanism, Religion, Skepticism, Social Justice | , , , , , | 5 Comments

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