Saturday, November 7, 2015

NOSHA members sending donations to HSL!

NOSHA is collecting donations to help the Humane Society of Louisiana in their efforts to rebuild and recover from the horrific fire that destroyed their Tylertown shelter building. Animals lost their lives or are recovering from injuries and several employees lost  many personal belongings and will struggle with getting back on their feet.

We are encouraging members to donate via our website and we'll donate in the name of all secular humanists from our organization. Go to our website and look for the link at the top of the page under our banner (you can't miss it!)

All donations are accepted and appreciated no matter how small, so don't feel like you can't donate if you can't give a huge amount. Every bit adds up! You will receive an acknowledgement from PayPal that you can use if you itemize for your taxes and all monies from this link will go to the Humane Society. It is one way to help homeless animals and the people who work to make our community a more compassionate place for our furry friends in their time of need.

Thank you to everyone who has already stepped up!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Natural, Wild and Free

"Considered by many to be the as the father of wildlife
management and of the United States' wildlife system,
Aldo Leopold was a conservationist, forester, philosopher,
educator, writer and outdoor enthusiast"
From The Aldo
Leopold Foundation
At the October NOSHA meeting featuring journalist Bob Marshall on the status of the Louisiana coast, Board Member Rita Premo read excerpts from Aldo Leopold’s seminal collection of essays on wildlife management and conservation, A Sand County Almanac (New York: Oxford University Press, 1949).

From the Foreword
“Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture. 
That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often forgotten.”
“Such a view of land and people is, of course, subject to the blurs and distortions of personal experience and personal bias. But wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal-clear: our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. The whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to turn off the tap. Nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings. 
Perhaps such a shift of values can be achieved by reappraising things unnatural, tame, and confined in terms of things natural, wild, and free."
 From the final chapter
“It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to land can exist without love, respect, and admiration for land, and a high regard for its value. By value, I of course mean something far broader than mere economic value; I mean value in the philosophical sense. 
The "key-log" which must be moved to release the evolutionary process for an ethic is simply this: quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Shelley Segal Rules The PinChurch

Just call it another in a long list of “Only in New Orleans” quirks: book and produce professional musical acts in venues whose primary entertainment attraction is something other than live music. Like a bowling alley, for example—and call it “Rock ’n’ Bowl”; or a pinball parlor snuggled in a nondescript white shell of an abandoned church in a nondescript suburban neighborhood— and call it “PinChurch.”

Mike Perry’s PinChurch and Mystic Krewe of the Silver Ball project is not yet on the scale of Rock ’n’ Bowl, but his dedication to creating a special place is undeniable. He’s gone to great lengths to furnish the interior of the former church with audio-visual equipment, a stocked kitchenette, and pinball machines—lots of them (I stopped counting at 45)— lining the walls: Domino, Jet Spin, Funhouse, Slick Chick, Mystic, Grand Slam,300, Cyclone, Attack from Mars, and, of course, Wizard, to name a few. And all are set for “free play,” which I learned after slugging the slots with a few of my own quarters.


A performer coming into a venue competing for attention against the bells, flashing lights, and whistles and whizzes would necessarily need be confident with her talent. And Shelley Segal was up to the challenge.

Shelley is known by many in the atheist and freethinking community as the Australian singersongwriter- stylist who single-handedly assumed the role of the musical voice for the community with An Atheist Album released in 2011, and has been touring and spreading the message since making appearances with Dan Barker of FFRF and Richard Dawkins. She grew up in a Jewish family in East Melbourne that attended Orthodox sex-segregated services; and her disillusionment with the religious life eventually found a way of expression through her music.

The song “Saved” is a defiant objection to those that would impose the morals of their religion on others, and those that accept it without question “…You think that suffering is/ A part of a great plan/ That’s been devised/ I wonder, I wonder, I wonder, I wonder/ What it will take for you to open your eyes,” the lyrics written over a reggae rhythm alternating between major and minor key. Her voice is powerful, clear, controlled emotion. She incorporates musical styles taken from jazz, Indie Rock , American folk, and Bossa Nova; and writes ballads and poetic anthems that mesh artfully with her interesting guitar chordings.

Shelley is on tour promoting her latest EP Strange Feeling. At this evening’s performance, she was accompanied on several numbers by Dale on electric bass and host Mike, who also happens to be a very capable drummer.

The few from NOSHA who were fortunate enough to get tickets for the event enjoyed the delightful Friday evening experience—the PinChurch is worth the the visit in itself, but even in a house rockin’ with 50 clanging pinball machines, one felt a presence of a greater power in the person of Shelley Segal: the silver ball was no competition.

~Marty Bankson

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The NOLA Science Cafe: An Exciting Experiment

The St. Charles Parish Library in Luling, Louisiana, just upriver from New Orleans, has something unique: a planetarium. The planetarium is a 42-seat theater that projects images of our solar system and points beyond in a digital dome above and around the seating. The Director of the project is Jason Talley, also known as “The Planetarium Guy,” gave the presentation for the second Science CafĂ© presentation at the very un-planetarium-like Neutral Ground Coffeehouse on Danneel Street.

Jason’s resume of over ten years of “informal, science education experience” was evident with the upbeat and informed presentation “14 Billion Years Since the Big Bang” that about 30 people had come to hear. The basics of cosmology, the Big Bang theory, the age and the expansion of the Universe were explained in lay terms and with demonstrations using a stactic-y radio and a balloon for props.

NOSHA member Jenny Lola Smith was there with her daughter Minka and her friend Alice, whom Jenny described giving the typical 11-12 year-old response: “That was SO cool!” and “I remember that from Cosmos, but it never gets old hearing about it!” Asked which of the demonstrations impressed them the most, Minka said she liked the radio with the static, which is, in part, the reception of radiation left over from the Big Bang.

She also liked the illustration of the expansion of the universe with galaxies marked on the outside of a deflated balloon expanding farther apart as the balloon was filled up. Her companion Alice liked the PowerPoint illustration about the oldest light in the Universe and how we can measure the time and distance by the spectrum of visible light waves.

By any measure, this second Science Cafe was a success if it did no more than inspire these two bright and inquisitive minds.

Talley is the Director of the St. Charles Parish Library Planetarium. With over ten years of informal, science education experience, he has lectured on a wide range of space and earth science topics to audiences of all ages.

He has served in various informal educator programs such as NASA's Solar System Ambassadors and Earth Ambassadors. Talley believes we gain a better understanding of ourselves through learning about our cosmos and looking to the stars.

~ Marty Bankson

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Looking for NOSHA volunteers -- Sign up today!

After a busy year or so, it's time to re-energize the NOSHA committees. First, we should thank those who have been active in our community projects and various other activities! We would not have been as successful without those of you who are dependable and real supporters of NOSHA. Your interests translated into rewarding events that many people have enjoyed!

We've had quite a year! We had excellent participation in activities like the Second Harvest Food Bank and Save Our Cemeteries. And who can forget our tabling at the State Capitol bringing awareness to non-believers in June. It was a good first effort and we'll be sure to do it again during the spring legislative session in 2016.

Second, because people move on to other things, schedules change and there might be some people who would like to get involved, we are looking forward to knowing who is out there who might like to lend a hand. Our committees are as follows:

  • Community Projects 
  • Darwin Day 2016
  • Special Events (Solstice parties, members-only activities, etc.,)
  • Legislative "Watch Dogs" (Monitor important bills and encourage action)
  • Krewe of the Evangelical Pastafarians 2016

And we're open to suggestions if someone has a particular interest they would like to pursue. Please help NOSHA stay strong in our community by giving a little time to something worthwhile.

You can sign up online here.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Interview of the Summer: The Benjamin-Robinsons!

On the Monday following the Friday the Supreme Court handed down its decision removing legal restrictions against same-sex marriage, Earl Nupsius Benjamin and Michael Robinson exercised their newly-sanctioned right, and became the Benjamin-Robinsons, the first such couple to marry in Louisiana. During the process of getting the license and completing the nuptials, the pair had become the face of the new reality that swept gender restrictions on marriage from Louisiana and twelve other states that had resisted change.

They appeared in local and regional news coverage from Friday through Monday, and were interviewed on CNN’s New Day Sunday Morning. They were unable to get the license in Orleans Parish Friday, probably due more to bureaucratic bumbling than theocratic finagling or other conscious opposition. On Monday they were advised that licenses would begin being issued that day in neighboring Jefferson Parish, and the beginning of the end of their fourteen-year struggle for fairness was at hand.

This interview was completed in two sessions, the first part was done in person, and the second by telephone.

Marty Banks How did the time pass from Friday until Monday—was it more like an eternity or an eye blink?

For me, yeah it did go quickly, but that is only because there was so much going on. There were people calling and emailing and texting and congratulating. We were on the phone with people and we were talking with the Forum for Equality because we knew they were doing things behind the scenes as far as working with lawyers, strategizing. They asked how far we would be willing to drive to get this marriage license, and we were like wher-ev-er. So we knew they were getting things in place and it kept us excited and anxious—they seemed to be convinced we could get this straightened out before this week was over. So that gave us a lot of hope, so yeah, it didn’t seem like time was going by at a snail’s pace.

I also had a paper that was due, so I contacted my professor to let him know that “hey, there was not going to be any way I was going to turn this in today.” He gave me an extension until Monday, so with all this going on and that paper needing to be completed, it went by fast.

And by Sunday morning, we were on CNN. We got up at 5 that morning because we had to be at the studio at 6:30 for a live broadcast on New Day. Once we left there, we started getting texts and requests for interviews.
Times Union

How did you plan to deal with it this time, whether you might have to wait days or weeks before you got a license?

We were just going to deal with it, go with the flow. Probably take the opportunity to do more interviews, to push their hand, to proceed with what needed to be done to get the license.

But we did have one strategy: I work in the building where the license is issued, where Vital Records is. It was going to be easy for me stop down on my way to work every day—“Hey, you got my license today?”—we were going to tag team them all day long…..that was Monday morning, and we would take turns, asking, checking.


What kind of assistance did the Forum for Equality give you?

They did everything, except legal counseling. They had reached out to us the week before and told us this was about to take place, and asked if we wanted to be a part of it, what the strategy would be the day the decision came down. So we got a lot of guidance from them— when to move, who to have conversations with, sometimes even what to say. They were really key in giving us those fundamentals and basic talking points around the issue.

The other thing FFE did was to set up the Judge Paula Brown to marry us. There was some background work that had to be set up for that to take place. We knew that once we got the license, there could be a problem getting a judge to marry us, and getting married was our intention. So that detail about getting a judge that would perform it was important. We would really like to thank Sarah Jane, Chris, and both Johns, and I know there were many others who worked tirelessly. Jackie, all of them. The did the heavy lifting.

We have marriage rights now, but we still have some ways to go on other issues. LGBT individuals can still be fired from their job and discriminated against in housing. So when marriage rights are complete, this battle must go on with the other issues that need to be talked about.

We know that race and sex orientation aren't choices, but religion is. As a member of NOSHA, Earl, it could be assumed you are an atheist or at least agnostic on matters of religion. When or how did you decide that atheism was a choice or a viewpoint that seemed to make more sense for you?

It was a long process. I think I became an agnostic in 2004. I was raised a Southern Baptist, and I started to come to terms with there was no…I couldn’t find any validation in the Bible anymore; where it related to me, validated my existence, particularly being a gay man. So I just began to study a lot, and over the period of a couple of years, I came to the understanding I was really an atheist, and the only reason I was an agnostic was because I was try to cling to, or make sense of what I had been taught as a child, and give it purpose and meaning in my life. 

But as I began to think about my experiences —I never saw any hocus-pocus stuff— when I became emotional in church I began to see it for what it was: just emotions attached to an experience. But when started to think about what slaves went through—and I thought there was no relief—that was 400 years of pain. When you think about it, 400 years of pain, and all that time I’m hearing people say God works in mysterious ways. God may not come when you want, but he's always on time. That didn’t fit anymore, it didn't make sense anymore, and I was not going to tarnish what my ancestors went through with a BS religious belief. At that time about in 2007, I came to the understanding that just was not for me, and it just fell away….just like that, it fell off. I can’t do this anymore and I need to remember these individuals and remember the pain they went through and use that information to live the best life I can live.

How do you two deal with the diversity in religious belief and non-belief, in view of the fact that you, Michael, are Christian?

That’s a good question. Sometimes we have discussions, sometimes heated debates, about our different belief systems —we’ve even debated about what he believes is even a belief at all; down to the nitty-gritty of describing the words of how we interpret this whole thing. It’s been a journey for both of us. I don't have any issues with him being atheist. I respect him for living by his convictions. The only thing I wanted for Earl, or anybody, was just to have peace within themselves. As long as he has that, it doesn't matter if he is a believer or not. I describe myself as a Christian, and that is the easiest description, but probably not the most accurate.

Earl would probably describe me as an agnostic I still describe myself as Christian because I was led to enlightenment through the teachings of Jesus Christ. But some principles that Christians live by I don’t always agree with those. It allows us to have good conversations that would not be possible if I adhered to the strict letter of the law. I am more open-minded. I don't allow placing blame and judgment.

So if you don't go by the strict interpretation of the Bible, you don't accept what it claims are what marriage is supposed to be?

It’s not that I don’t believe it, it’s just that some use the texts to express bigotry and make judgments against others. I have reconciled in my heart what God tells me about …it’s a very personal thing…I can validate from scripture that God loves me as I am ….but I still have to be responsible, as a Christian, as a gay Christian, I can’t go having sex with everybody, I have to respect my body as a temple. To me there are two different things: religion and faith. And religion is man-made. Greatly flawed. We try to live perfectly and it is not obtainable, so people want to classify and put you in groups. We have corrupted what should be: the spirit of love.

Earl, growing up black and gay in post-Jim Crow Louisiana, in what is nearly the 
geographical center of the Bible Belt must have had its challenges, to say the least. Were there times when you doubted yourself, or even disliked what you were?

Growing up black and gay starting with my pre-teen days, I was very uncomfortable. When I was twelve, I was coming to terms that I was gay. I remember one day I went home and went into the bathroom and cried out to God as I looked in the mirror and told myself to say I was gay and I couldn’t say it; but then finally did and became overwhelmed with emotion. From the age of 10 to 19, I was very unsure of myself. Even though I presented a facade of confidence and most people believed I had it together, there were a lot of times I was really unsure about myself. My religion, racism, and being gay played a tremendous part of that discomfort. I had many experiences that made me feel like I was a second class citizen. I know this is post-Jim Crow, however growing up in the 1980s and 1990s—I grew up in Grambling, but went to school in RustonRuston is about 50-50 black and white, but whites really ran the town. You felt it and you knew it. For example, one day I went to school with a lot of change in my pocket. Some money came up missing. The teacher accused me, saying “You did it! You did it!” Another time I remember talking about Miss Louisiana with some white friends and I remember them saying there will “never be a black Miss Louisiana, never.” I remember that to this day. I know those kids got that from their parents. Another time I got into a verbal altercation with another student and he called me a n****…and I had never been called that before… we didn’t even use the word in our house. The teacher just shrugged it off and told me to “get over it”. 

Just the institutional and structural racism that existed inside the educational system, you could feel it. 
And later in high school, people start picking up that you are gay, and that just added to it. I remember a teacher, out of the blue, she just came up to me and started apologizing. I asked what she was apologizing for, and she said it was for treating me in a certain way. It wasn’t until later that I processed what she had done; and what she had done was treating me differently for being gay rather than black. She was a drama teacher and you would think would do better with dealing with this type of students, but she really didn’t. So, I could really see that both my race and sexual orientation had shaped how I was perceived as not fully acceptable to others.

Evaluating that perception also gave me a clearer picture of the god that really isn’t there for me. You hear often within the African-American experience of how spiritual we are, and when you look at the amount of praying that we do, our devotion and faith, but for that, we still have this huge amount of poverty and inequality. And for me that was a huge disconnect. And so for me at around 30 I started to take a look at that and see that hmm, this is a mythology. It’s mythology and it doesn't work for me and I no longer want to be a part of it. And it fell away.

The politicians courting the Religious Right seem to be coming up with all of these rules about how this state, and Mississippi and Texas are going to “interpret” this ruling and set their own conditions for its implementation. For example, Louisiana Governor Jindal says that any clerk of court that has a deeply-held religious belief against same sex marriage will not be forced to issue a license. What’s up with all these politicians?

We’re listening to the idiotic, discriminatory and reprehensible comments that Donald Trump makes. They are always targeting another group, so they play the different communities against one another— when these groups could be stronger together instead of in opposition.

We have been taught that we need to be separate, for whatever reason, and that diversity is more than just cultural, and something that has some deeper moral value. I think we all should start embracing what makes us different, whether we are white or black, gay or straight, or atheist or Christian.

And to the point, it is one thing to agree with this, but we are at the point where the majority group, the white, need to take ownership of the fact that, in being white, there is a certain amount of privilege that you have, and in order for things to get better they need to have conversations about this privilege. Your privilege comes at a cost to people who look like me, sound like me. I’m not trying to take anything from you, I just want the same opportunities, the right to work hard as well. A lot of politicians telling you we are just trying to take what is yours.

No, we just want a fair playing field. No one has ever wanted to have those conversations. It’s not about blame, it’s just what happened and how we resolve it. The politicians are taking advantage of many people that are poor and don't have much education and make them feel better by giving them a voice or some code language that says “I am with you! We are one, and that’s the other people, they are trying to take what you have.” No, someone is pulling the sheets over your eyes. At the end of the day, they don’t really care about the poor white anymore that the black.

Michael It’s kind of like that conversation about the Confederate flag. I don’t think it needs to be destroyed or anything, but that it just needs to go into a museum so that we can remember our story. Give a historical reference for why it was important at that time—that it still means heritage to some people—it’s offensive to enough people that it’s only fair that we move away from things that are divisive and find things that bring us together. Adding to what Earl said, it’s also the privilege that comes with being heterosexual, and I think that is the next conversation that needs to happen. I’ve been reading the comments online since this started and I’m hearing a lot of heterosexual bias. 

Straights don’t understand that some of their comments are offensive when they are trying to be cool—it’s kind of like the white person that says I have a lot of black friends. And they say things like—well, why do you have to call it “marriage?” In other words you want it to be separate, but equal? They don't even realize they are repeating the same things that we have learned don’t work. I think they need to acknowledge that there is a privilege that comes with being heterosexual. A privilege that keeps them from having to think about the things we are forced to think about that we shouldn’t need to. But because these conversations are happening, I think it is starting to create a better country.

The interview was completed several days later, with Earl.

We talked about privilege-white privilege, heterosexual privilege. Would comment on the privilege owned by Christians in this country?

In the United States, Christians have a tremendous amount of privilege. I believe about 70% the population in the US is Christian and 80% of Congress is Christian, the people that represent us. You can see they have a significant amount of power, as a result of that power they get to affect policy and laws, they get to set the tone for how they think culture should look or is shaped.

Privilege, of a sort, of the non-religious has also recently been brought into the discussion. This month’s Humanist from the AHA is has several articles inspired by a panel group session the association convened at its annual convention. The panel group was on the subject of humanists and the black community, in particular, #BlackLivesMatter. Do you as a humanist, and looking at it from both sides, think that humanists may also be complacent and rest on privilege that keep them from real-time involvement or just the simple act of reaching out to our black neighbors?

Yes, I know as humanists we are a microcosm of society, and sometimes overlook minorities and fail to reach out to other groups. We think we are doing a good job of it, but we really aren’t. I’m glad they took that issue up in the magazine, because now I know my humanist brothers and sisters are thinking about the ramifications of their actions involving all human life, not just focused on learning science but also thinking about those social justice issues that effect all of us.

To quote Monica Miller, in her article “Outlaw Humanism” from the magazine, advises that “Humanists….must get beyond our obsession with deconstructing belief in a god…What does a humanism look like that gets beyond its position on ‘gods,’ ‘belief,’ ’theism,’ and ‘religion’ in order to address the mess, social evil, and death that humans have created?’

Yes…I know for a fact that there are many African-Americans in New Orleans, in Louisiana that do not subscribe to religion, but yet they participate in those routines because they have no other place to socialized or network. So, if a humanist organization would re-direct its efforts from trying to deconstruct religion and focus on the social justice issues within their community, they would increase their numbers tremendously, particularly in the African- American community.
The thing the church has over us is the fellow-shipping —I think Jerry DeWitt has a very good idea about that: I think that is more attractive to those people who want to leave religion but don’t want to leave those cultural elements like that fellowship they find in the church. Sometimes we want to get so intellectual, but not everyone is like that—it might even turn people off sometime because they are not at that level or just don’t get it. Some don’t even like to talk about things like morality on a deeper level, which I think is very interesting, but not everybody wants to hear about that. They just want to hear about day-to-day life, how does it affect me. For example, Michael thinks all we do is try to convert people, or ridicule people, Being a scientist though, he does like discussions about science.

Being a humanist, I have hope. I’m an atheist, but I still have hope for the human race. Sometimes you wonder, and it takes a lot of effort to keep the hope alive. And when you see things like this happening—expansion of marriage rights and the validation of the Affordable Care Act—last week was a great week.

When we were in Jefferson Parish waiting to get the license, I saw people caring about us. I didn’t go in thinking people were going to congratulate us, but there were black people, white people, Asian people, and old people—they all congratulated us. They said encouraging things. Human beings, when you remove culture, are innately good. People are basically good, but when you bring in things like tribalism the issues come. It’s when things like xenophobia, homophobia, racism, and poverty come to the forefront and people don't see you or me as the human that we are. If I don't leave you with anything else, I think there is something in us, it may be a survival mechanism, that says we are stronger together and it isn't until issues of lack of resources, tribalism, and homophobia come to the table that our attitudes and beliefs start to help us see each other differently—that we are all stars—and I mean that literally and figuratively. We come from the stars and I’m just a living, walking, breathing star.

We are all just stardust, and it’s just a matter of how it is arranged.


~Marty Bankson

Monday, July 13, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Atheism for Dummies

Dale McGowan's latest book, Atheism for Dummies, is an excellent introduction to a complex topic. While some short introductions to atheism focus almost exclusively on positive atheism (the active assertion that there is no God), Atheism for Dummies describes varieties of unbelief such as agnosticism, religious humanism, and secular humanism. It places unbelief in historical contexts both ancient and modern, dispels many of the popular myths about atheists, and points the interested reader toward additional resources.

The aim of the book is to deliver breadth rather than depth. There are no abstruse arguments about epistemology, philosophy, or theology. Instead, the reader will finish the book with a general understanding of what atheism is and how it came to be. Sections describe atheism through history, major works of the past and present, "being good without God", and living in a society dominated by religion. Although aimed at the novice, even a studied atheist is likely to learn something useful.


Like other books in the "For Dummies" series, this one aims to bring a broad overview to a diverse audience. Its 350 pages of text might scare away some potential readers, but that page count is just a number. The design of the series emphasizes short paragraphs, inset boxes, and lots of white space to keep things readable. The organization of the book also makes it easy for the reader to choose which sections to read, which to skim, and which to skip.

Author Dale McGowan knows what he's talking about. He's also written Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion (2007), co-authored Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief (2009), and edited a volume titled Voices of Unbelief: Documents from Atheists and Agnostics (2012).

Atheism for Dummies, by Dale McGowan. For Dummies Books (2013). ISBN: 978-1118509203.

~ Jim Dugan