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Archive for the ‘humanism’ tag

The Free Ticket: Traveling With An Atheist to the 2012 Wild Goose Festival

Wild Goose 2012 weekend, Photo by Cathleen Falsani / Sojourners

by Bryan Parys
from Sojourners

Chris is an atheist and a humanist chaplain at Harvard University. He is the only explicitly nonreligious speaker invited to the 2012 Wild Goose Festival in Shakori Hills, N.C.—a festival that is generally (and with exception) aimed at the liberal, often-invisible fringe members of the Christian community. Being that I theoretically fall into this group, Chris offered me his plus-one free ticket.

While it generally takes an act of God (or, “a series of convergences” Chris might say) for me to make a decision, I told him I’d go. After all, I’d been experiencing my own dark night of the soul where almost every conversation I’ve had about religion/ Christianity over the last year has been doubt-ridden and cynical. In my best mood, I hoped my attendance would put me in touch with some other cynics, believing it might relieve my cosmic guilt. What I secretly feared, however, was that I was going to Wild Goose to break up with the Christian faith I’d grown up under.

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Irish Bill Proposes Full Legal Status for Humanist Weddings

by Deaglan de Breadun
from The Irish Times

The government is expected to agree today to back legislation giving humanists the same status as organised religions and civil registrars in conducting marriage ceremonies.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton is due to ask her ministerial colleagues to support the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill at this morning’s Cabinet meeting.

The legislation was introduced in the Seanad as a Private Members’ Bill by Trinity College Senator Ivana Bacik and is due to pass final stages in the Upper House tomorrow.

The Bill proposes to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004, which regulates the registration of civil marriages.

The 2004 Act stipulates that, apart from Health Service Executive registrars, only a member of a “religious body” may celebrate legal marriages.

This is defined as “an organised group of people, members of which meet regularly for common religious worship”.

This includes organisations such as the Pagan Federation Ireland and the Spiritualist Union of Ireland, which have obtained registration under the Act.

But the definition excludes members of the Humanist Association of Ireland, who currently conduct humanist wedding ceremonies even though these are not legally recognised.

The Bill proposes to extend the right to conduct civil marriages to nonreligious groups such as the HAI. A group of this nature must be a “philosophical and nonconfessional body”, have been performing marriage ceremonies for at least five years, and at least 20 couples must have participated in the ceremony.

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May 12th, 2012 at 10:55 am

Religion in an Age of Science

by V. V. Raman
from the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science

The benefits that humanity has derived from scientific knowledge and its applications range from the eradication of dark-age superstitions and effective cure for diseases to never-before-imagined creature-comforts and ease of communication and travel. With all that, science’s framework is neither appreciated nor embraced whole-heartedly by the general public. Instead, there are doubts about science’s capacity for objective knowledge, suspicions about its goals, and charges to the effect that it has landed us in life-threatening environmental predicaments. There are deep concerns about its sweeping epistemology that forecloses important dimensions of traditional religious worldviews.

It is also a historical fact that many creative thinkers and scientists in all cultures have been religious. So a group of scientists and scholars founded The Institute on Religion in an Age of Science (IRAS) in 1954. One purpose of IRAS is “to formulate dynamic and positive relationships between the concepts developed by science and the goals and hopes of humanity expressed through religion.” Another is to foster values that have universal and cross-cultural validity.

What the founders wisely realized was that religions play important roles in human culture, and that unless they are informed and transformed by science they could stagnate and become anachronistic. The less desirable aspects of religion have provoked the New Atheist movement, while the actualization of some of the catastrophic potential of technology and the faith-devaluing proclamations of some scientists have pushed many to the fundamentalist wings of religion.

Religions are coming back to the public arena with a zest that is heartening to their followers. But some of their expressions are disturbing, such as the anti- science stance of those who, for example, call for the teaching of ancient worldviews on cosmogenesis, anthropogenesis, astrology, and the like in schools. The resurgence of religions is also of concern to many because some of its expressions are associated with bigotry, hate, and intolerance. But it would be rash to conclude from all this that religions are intrinsically maleficent enterprises. It cannot be denied that religions have been the source of wisdom and some enlightened ethics, and have contributed abundantly to art and architecture, music, poetry and sophisticated philosophy. They also give meaning to individual lives, and comfort from convictions on matters relating to the Ultimate.

There is a crying need to bridge the chasms between the opposing forces that keep us in tension everywhere. The metaphor of the bridge is to remind us that though the chasms cannot be wished away we should never forget we are interconnected, and that we can visit the islands of separation for better mutual understanding.

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Do Atheists Belong in the Interfaith Movement?

Chris Stedman
from State of Formation

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk in the organized atheist, humanist, skeptic and freethought movements about the potential benefits and drawbacks of interfaith work.

Over at Patheos, the Executive Director of the American Humanist Association, Roy Speckhardt, recently made an excellent case that—while the terminology of “interfaith” may be problematic and there are several other important issues to grapple with—it is worth atheists’ while to get involved. At Friendly Atheist, Secular Student Alliance Communications Director Jesse Galef offered a long list of reasons atheists might participate, and how their involvement might improve some of the problems within the interfaith movement. Despite Galef and Speckhardt’s serious concerns and reservations, they have been actively involved in intentionally interfaith efforts, and I suspect their participation has informed their conclusions about the idea.

However, those speaking out against atheist involvement in the interfaith movement are, at the moment, a bit more numerous (just a couple of examples, with several others to follow). As far as I can tell based on what many atheists opposed to interfaith involvement state in their writing, a large percentage of them seem to have kept their distance from interfaith work. I understand their hesitation given the criticisms they offer, but I can’t help but wonder if there is some disconnect when those who criticize the interfaith movement the most also seem to have had little to no actual experience with it. I could be wrong, but I’d be surprised if someone who had been involved in interfaith work would suggest, as prominent atheist blogger P.Z. Myers did, that it “cheerfully and indiscriminately embrace[s] every faith without regard for content.”

Present in almost every atheist blog I’ve read opposed to interfaith work are perhaps the most common critiques I hear from my fellow atheists regarding interfaith work, and they’re directly related: that interfaith leaves no room for religious criticism, and that it by default excludes atheists because atheism isn’t a “faith.” Most atheists I know who reject the idea of participating in interfaith work do so in part because they assume that, in order to participate, everyone must bite his or her tongue and play nice, and that participation in this kind of movement lends our implicit approval to “faith” as a concept and rallying point.

I’d like to explain why I think these concerns may be somewhat overblown; how they might be combated where they exist, and the reality that they actually don’t apply to most situations.

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Interfaith Leadership: In the Best Possible Light

by Whittney Barth
from State of Formation

I am currently a master’s student at Harvard Divinity School in a program I chose in large part because of the religiously diverse student body. Students, faculty, and staff gather weekly to take part in a Noon Service hosted by one of the student organizations on campus. The hosts alternate: one week we are meditating with the Buddhists, the next we are singing gospel with the African and African American students’ association. As you might imagine, Noon Service is a time for sharing and for celebrating our community’s diversity. Yet I have also found that Noon Service can be a time of challenge and growth.

Last year, the atheist, agnostic, and humanist group led a Noon Service, and as a part of their program they invited the choir to sing a song entitled “I Ain’t Afraid.” The song included lyrics that emphasized that no sacred text or sacred being aroused fear, rather it was what the followers of those texts and beings do in their name that was frightening. I left feeling perplexed and hurt. Was this really the kind of experience my colleagues had within our community? Did they feel like those of us within the community who espoused religion were to be feared as hypocrites?

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Baby, You’re a Firework! – Humanism and the Hereafter

From State of Formation

“I do not know how to prove physically, that we shall meet and know each other in a future state; nor does Revelation, as I can find, give us any positive assurance of such a felicity. My reasons for believing it, as I do most undoubtedly, are that I cannot conceive such a being could make such a species as the human, merely to live and die on this earth. If I did not believe in a future state, I should believe in no God. This Universe, this all would appear, with all of its swelling pomp, a boyish firework.”

So said John Adams, second President of the United States, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson following the death of his wife Abigail. In this letter, Adams states clearly his reason for believing in an afterlife: he simply can’t imagine that God would create something so wonderful as a human being and allow it do die. To Adams, belief in an afterlife and belief in God are mutually reinforcing. His belief in God is founded on his belief in the afterlife (“If I did not believe in a future state, I should believe in no God”), and at the same time his belief in the afterlife is founded on a conception of God who would not simply allow life to be extinguished like a “boyish firework”.

To this, a Humanist reply: in the words of noted philosopher Katy Perry, “Baby, You’re a Firework!

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Should the nonreligious join in interfaith work?

From The New Humanism

We start with our stories.

My name is Chris Stedman. I have an indiscriminate love of tattoos, a couple degrees in religious studies, and don’t believe in God. I am also an ardent advocate of interfaith cooperation.

The idea that interfaith cooperation is necessary to advance social progress was not a conclusion I came to overnight. In fact, after I stopped believing in God, I spent some time walking about decrying the “evils of religion” to anyone who would listen. I wanted nothing to do with the religious, and was sure they wanted nothing to do with me.

After reflecting on several episodes where I neglected to engage the religious identities of people I otherwise respected and admired, I realized that I had been so busy talking that I wasn’t listening. I was treating “religion” as a concept instead of talking to people who actually lived religious lives. And when I started listening, something interesting happened. I realized that my approach to religion was lazy and distorted: I’d been thinking of the texts, not the practices; the stereotypes, not the people. It was only once I observed the actual practices of religious communities—and, more importantly, engaged with religious people and their stories—that I was able to see the benefits of collaborating across lines of ideology and identity differences.

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September 24th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Best practices for interfaith work.

From The New Humanism

There are some specific issues that nonreligious persons should consider before participating in interfaith work.

Many nonreligious individuals who engage in interfaith work will continue to struggle with their personal belief that the religious stories they encounter are false and the feeling that they must articulate this conviction. They will likely ask themselves, as Atheist author Salman Rushdie wrote in Haroun and the Sea of Stories, “What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” However, we would do well to recognize that we aren’t the only ones in the room with conflicting feelings. Evangelical Christians involved in interfaith must reconcile their participation with the importance their tradition puts on evangelizing. Interfaith cooperation requires that we both acknowledge these very real contradictions and be bigger than them.

Related to the issue above, the nonreligious must be careful not to overestimate our particularity in interfaith work. Religious folks have exclusive truth claims, just as we believe that our understanding of the world is the most accurate. For example, many Christians doing interfaith work believe that every other faith represented in the interfaith movement is a false understanding of the world. Additionally, the nonreligious will often find other non-theists in the room, including Buddhists, Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, secular Jews, secular Muslims, secular Christians, and so on. By reminding ourselves that we aren’t so unusual, we can remain humble and open-minded in our interfaith efforts.

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September 24th, 2010 at 4:00 pm