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.
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.
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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
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.
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
There has been much talk from the political right about makers and takers. Let us take a closer look at these terms.
Here is how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines these terms:
- to bring into being by forming, shaping, or altering material : fashion
- to lay out and construct
- to put together from components
- to assemble to
- repare, fix
- one that makes
- to get into one’s hands or into one’s possession, power, or control
- to transfer into one’s own keeping
- to obtain or secure for use
- to obtain possession
- one who takes
American workers make things. Lots of things.
- physical things like cars, buildings, roads, clothes, etc.
- productive, non-physical things like spreadsheets, reports, financial forecasts, sales, ideas, computer code and applications.
- intangible services, like customer service, technical support, mechanical repairs, maintenance of equipment, processes, and workflow.
As for the job creators:
- they take the fruit of the workers.
- profits from sale or use of the cars, buildings, roads, clothing, etc.
- profits that are maintained by the rest of the above mentioned services and productivity by American workers.
For the American worker, for their hard work, the work of their hands, brains, and ingenuity, they get:
- one to two weeks vacation a year (often after a year or more with the company)
- health insurance and a retirement package, if they are lucky enough to be working a full time schedule (many aren’t)
- five paid sick days a year, if they are lucky enough. Many get none.
- unpaid maternity leave (which many can’t afford due to lose of income)
- twelve weeks of unpaid leave (which many can’t afford due to lose of income)
- a wage that they may or may not be able support themselves and a family on, if they are lucky (many must work two or more jobs to make ends meet)
- a safe working environment, assuming their employer is following the law (laws that were put in place because unions fought for them)
It is time to correctly define our political terms. The real makers are the people who make everything that make profits for the real takers: the “job creators”.
The makers are the American workers.
The takers are the owners, CEOs, VPs, stock holders of the companies where the makers work.
It would seem, looking at things in this context that the takers take home much more of the fruits of the labor of the makers than the makers themselves could ever hope to.
We pride ourselves on being a nation that built its self up from nothing to the most powerful nation in the world. But all of the real work; the hands that produced the materials; built the homes and great works of architecture; did the research that led to amazing technological advances; the men and women who fought and died in our wars, they made everything we see around us.
The American workers are, and always have been, the true makers, while the real takers have lived high on the hog of the fruits of their labors.
I haven’t been posting much here lately. I literally have dozens of writing ideas stashed away in my blog research notebook, but I just haven’t been able to get anything written.
The main reason is that I lost my job a little over two months ago. We’ve been lucky so far in that we have some financial resources that we have been able to draw on to keep us afloat, but these are quickly running out. Unemployment barley pays the bills and will leave nothing left over if that is the only thing we have to live on. Food stamps help, but $100 a month is hardly enough to feed a family of four.
I suffer from Bi-polar II and depression. I take medication for it. Still, the depression has been acute and this makes it very hard to concentrate, so writing anything of substance is difficult.
I’ve been using what little concentration I have to concentrate on finding a new job. The medication I take at least gives me enough stability to do that. I’ve had several interviews that didn’t pan out, and I have three more companies who want to interview me, but the Holidays put that off. Next week will hopefully see a lot of movement on the jobs front.
Going back to the issue of medical insurance, Medicaid covers the kids, but for my wife an I, we can’t get anything until we have met a $1100 monthly deductible. That’s almost as much as we are bringing in. I’m lucky. Being a veteran, I can go to the VA hospital here and get my medication for only $8 per prescription. My wife’s medication, on the other hand, we have to pay out of pocket. These run to several hundred dollars a month, making it even harder to make ends meet.
All of this makes me wonder, if I didn’t have access to the VA, and can’t afford to pay for my medication out of pocket ($300+ per month), how would I ever be able to look for a job? Without my medication I would almost surely be so bad off that I would either never get out of bed, end up in an inpatient facility, or dead. Seriously. Before I was diagnosed as Bi-polar II and got on the medication to treat it, I was suicidal. The only thing keeping me from killing myself were my kids. Since they live with me, I somehow managed to keep it together enough to care for them. If I didn’t have them, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t be here now.
So, back to my point. If people like myself can’t get the medication they need to function, or in some cases even live (think diabetics who can’t afford their insulin, heart patients who can’t afford their heart medication), how can we be expected to function well enough to actually find a job? Job searching is hard. It is time consuming and incredibly depressing. Every rejection, or even every non-reply, is a slap down . How can you be expected to perform well at an interview if your mental state makes you anxious and jumpy, or depressed and lethargic (something all in the same day)? What if your diabetes or heart condition make it impossible to even get out to an interview?
Eventually, you could end up in the hospital (on the government’s dime), or worse. The least the government could do is to cover medications that people need to function while we are collecting unemployment and looking for a job. Otherwise, we become a burden to the state for much longer than we might otherwise, not to mention the terrible toll it can take on ourselves and our families.
Anywhoo, I still have some stock in my old company that I can sell if a job doesn’t come my way before the end of this month. It isn’t much, but will mostly cover rent.
Not being able to write is really bothering me. I have an article being published in Skeptical Inquirer magazine in a few months. I hope to use the exposure that I get from that to find other writing opportunities, not just to boost my ego, but to make some extra money. Even one paying article per month would help pay a car payment or car insurance. To do this, though, requires that I can be seen to be able to write not just well, but consistently and constantly. That is something I’m making a priority, now that I’m starting to feel somewhat better (was without meds for a while until I could get things going at the VA).
Given this, I’m making a plea to anyone reading this. I don’t want you to send money or anything like that, but if you know of anyone or anyplace needing some writing done, please let me know, or let them know about me. I know I said I’ve been having a hard time writing, but if I have a deadline I always have been able to deliver the goods. It would be a job, after all.
You may be asking yourself how I am able to write this if I’ve been having so much trouble. Easy, it’s about me. No research needed.
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.
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.
It’s been said that getting atheists to agree on something is like herding cats. I’d say it’s more like trying to herd cats into a tub of water. Atheists tend to be an inquisitive bunch; an intellectually bunch. We reject dogma and the authority that goes along with it, hence we are loathed to being told what to do and what to think. You could say we are fiercely independent (at least I say that we are).
Given all that, you can see why trying to get a consensus about where to go for breakfast might be hard enough, never mind were we should all stand on a particular social issue. And that’s the real issue in getting us all to band together for a common cause: we don’t like to be told what we should think or feel.
Still, being openminded and skeptical (yes, they do go hand in hand) we are able to listen to each other and really consider what each one of us has to say. This attitude tends to lead to civilized debates, respect for each other’s rights to express ideas, and compromise, or at least it should. I believe that it can and that it does.
The atheist/humanist/secular/(add your own label here) movements have much more in common than they do differences. Most of us in these movements (and most of us identify with more than one) understand this and this has allowed us to begin to come together in the past few years in greater numbers and with great effect in support of issues that we all feel that we have a stake in.
Still, there is an ugly side to us as well. Anti-feminism has shown its self to be much more prevalent that most of us imagined it was. This is both bad and good. It is bad, for the obvious reason that it shows that we all are not as enlightened as we’d like to be. It is bad because it distracts us from working together to achieve our common goals.
It is good, however, that this is now out in the open. You can’t tackle a problem until you can first acknowledge it. Also, it is an opportunity to clean house, as it were. By exposing the misogynists in our midst ( actually they tend to expose themselves) we can shame them into recognizing their misplace sense of privilege or shun them from our ranks. It is vital that we do so because we have the fight of our lives with the religious and social conservitives on our hands.
This is where Atheism+ comes in. The new movement is not an attempt to establish an atheist dogma, as some try to claim. Atheism+ is an attempt to bring together atheists who believe that we have a responsibility to go beyond fighting against superstition or fighting for the separation of church and state. We strongly believe that we have a responsibility as atheists to fight for social justice for everyone, theist and non-theist, the superstitious and the skeptical, the religious and the non-believers.
Feminism, gay rights, separation of church and state are just a few of the issues that most of us feel are important and that we are doing a good job of brining to the forefront of the social and political forums.
We have already begun to raise our profile in the general public’s minds. Just this year we had the Reason Rally, which made the national news. We also have many good organizations supporting critical thinking and humanist issues such as the Secular Student Alliance, CFI, FFRF, American Atheists, the JREF, and American Humanists.
Except for American Atheists and the Secular Student Alliance, most of these, while they might have many atheists as members, are not atheistic groups. What Atheism+ is, or can be, is a way for those of us who self-identify as atheists to get out and fight for social issues in public where we can meet “average” people and have them get to know us. It will allow us to be seen as people who care for others, who do good things. This is vitally important if atheists hope to ever become accepted by a society that currently sees us a amoral, selfish, heartless.
I urge those of you want to fight for social justice for everyone, who want to fight against misogyny, racism, bigotry, homophobia, poverty, and ignorance to consider joining the Atheist+ movement. Talk about it with your friends and family (if they are still talking to you, that is), write about it, blog about it, tweet about it, set your Facebook profile picture to the Atheists+ symbol (see below), join the Atheist+ forum.
Let’s show the world that we are not only good without God, but we do good without God.
Use me as your profile picture on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, or any other site of your choice.
September 4, 2012 Posted by Jay | Atheism, Feminism, GLBT, Humanism, Social Justice | atheisim, Atheist, atheists, feminism, feminist, good, hate, homosexuality, love, religion, social justice | 1 Comment
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