Wednesday, April 20, 2016

God Took Care of Us!

    A NOSHA member passed along this cartoon from a former New Orleans resident, Ralph Scheeler, who was a kindred spirit as you can see from the punchline :

"We lost the house, the barn, the livestock and the farm equipment. Our two kids are still in the I.C.U. My wife has permanent brain damage and I have internal organ damage. 
But! God took care of us! We're still alive!"


    Ralph Scheeler and his wife, Annette, moved from New Orleans to Oregon in 2005 after the lost their home in Hurricane Katrina. He has continued his artistic work in Beaverton with his contributions to the Beaverton Resource Guide. His characters have become part of the community. You can read more here.

    We're delighted that he thought of us and wanted to share some of his recent work with his friends in New Orleans. We're certain that will hear this same tired line over and over again as we experience future storms here in the South. Anytime the inspiration strikes, we'll look forward to his secular take on life.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

An Hour or Two with Harry

Harry Greenberger in 2001 at Darwin Day.
NOSHA board member and Humanist Advocate reporter Marty Bankson presents a thoughtful interview with Harry Greenberger, president emeritus of NOSHA.


Born Free in Okeechobee

When the first question came up during my discussion with Harry Greenberger, a quotation came to mind: “Everyone starts out being an atheist.” It turns out to be the words of the sage, but sardonic curmudgeon-commentator, Andy Rooney who appeared regularly on CBS's "60 Minutes". Harry has earned the “sage” moniker, stating that he was always an atheist, in but contrast to Rooney’s crabby presentation of wisdom, the octogenarian Greenberger’s bonhomie and easy demeanor is as smooth as the Southern gentry of days past.

Humanist Advocate (HA)
: You related to me earlier that you were Jewish. Can you tell me a little about your childhood. e. g.— did you grow up in a strict religious home, or were your parents secular? Did you ever experience any overt or covert acts of prejudice because of your Jewish origins?

Harry Greenberger (HG): I lived in Okeechobee, Florida, which is a very small town in south Florida with my two older brothers, a sister, and parents, who had moved there from New York City, by way of Amarillo, Texas. There were from time to time maybe three Jewish families, but there was never a temple or synagogue where I grew up. My father had become a Christian Scientist, and the town was so small there were no Christian Science churches either. I’m convinced my mother was an atheist, but the subject never came up. We didn’t even talk about it. So I didn’t get any indoctrination as a Jew or Christian Scientist.

***

There were four children, and my parents didn’t try to force things, except by example. And by example I mean, as people in the South, they treated black people very well and were very liberal. My mother and father ran a little store in Okeechobee, and the children were raised by a black maid. I had no idea there were any problems between the races, except that blacks lived in one part of town and we lived in another. You asked earlier if I ever experienced any prejudice for being Jewish and we did not. No one was aware of those religious differences—we were just accepted as a part of the community. In school, we would recite the Lord’s Prayer every day, did readings from the New Testament, but I didn’t see anything to it, and we just did it. I was in a Christmas pageant play, and played the role of one of the wise men. But I didn’t know I shouldn’t have been doing that as a Jew.

Okeechobee High School, Class of ’44 Valedictorian, Harry then received a Bachelor’s degree, with Honors from the University of Florida, passed the Florida CPA examination and moved on to Florida State University, where he was an accounting professor’s assistant and earned a master’s degree in psychology. Soon after, he and a friend decided to move to New Orleans. After a career in accounting and a partner in the ownership of a French Quarter art gallery, Harry was ready to get involved with a group that had like-minded secular, non-theistic opinions.

Getting Started

“So, the man sitting next to me said, ‘How about this man?’ pointing to me.’”

HA: Did you consider yourself a little courageous or at least adventurous for getting involved with an atheist organization given the preponderance of Catholic influence in the city?

Harry models an early NOSHA T-shirt,
circa 2003.
HG: When the small group started NOSHA, I was retired by then. If not, I might not have been able to go public because it could influence people I worked with and also customers of our business. I was retired, so I didn’t have that restriction. When the article appeared [about the new group] in the Times-Picayune, which was a lengthy article about me and our atheism, I had friends who said “You’re going to be in trouble. People are going to break windows in your house and spray paint your car”. I had no problem, not a single instance, ugly phone calls, any problem. I think maybe people of New Orleans have enough of a varied background that they can accept people who are different.

HA: Tell me something about the early days, some of the background of getting started up.

HG:  Many years ago I got a notice that a group was forming an American Atheists group. It was kind of a small, ragtag group and I decided it was going nowhere; and it didn’t. Some years later, there was a meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church, and in this case there were two people who came in from the Council for Secular Humanism—I think that’s where they were from—and talked about setting up a group. I had the feeling at the time that that group was not going to develop either. And it hung around a little while and went by the wayside.

My third invitation to become a part of a secular group was the one at which NOSHA was formed. There was a meeting of about a dozen people at a bookstore in Metairie and I was impressed that these people were of a good background and this would be a successful group. None of us knew each other. The woman who had arranged for this had contacted the Council for Secular Humanism to ask if there was a local branch, and they told her there was not, but that she could start one. She said she did not want to be the president; but she wanted a place where her young children could go because they wouldn’t be going to church or Sunday School; but she had to keep a low profile to avoid professional or social repercussions.

She had all the materials that showed how you set up an organization, and she said “...this is how you set up an organization—the first thing you do is elect a President.” So the man sitting next to me said “How about this man?” pointing to me. And I said to them “If anyone else would like to do it, please take it; if not, I’ll do it”

I felt like this group really had a chance for survival, because of what I perceived as the quality of the members. Three of those on the Board of Directors were college professors, Dave Schultz being one who is still with us on the board. I was never one of those “in-your-face” atheists, and I think we had a refined group on the board of directors.

Organization Man

HA: Had you any experience setting up a non-profit organization or was your career work helpful?
HG: Absolutely. At that meeting, we talked about getting organized, and I told them that I was a CPA, and had some experience in organization. As one of the owners of Nahan Art Gallery on Royal Street, I had called for a meeting of the Royal Street merchants to set up an organization to be called the Royal Street Association, because we had top quality art galleries, antiques stores, first class restaurants on the street that I thought we would benefit from being an organized entity. I called for a meeting to start the association. We had another store on Chartres Street, and when the Chartres Street people saw what we were doing they formed the Chartres Street Association and I served on their Board of Directors. I was the President of the Royal Street organization as well.

Come World’s Fair time, streets were under construction and killing business. Royal, Chartres, and Bourbon Street groups met with the Mayor and his aides to discuss problems, and a woman said “…what we need is a French Quarter Business Association and Harry Greenberger should be the president.” I became the President of another new organization. It was because of my presidencies that I got to know everybody on the New Orleans City Council, because we would go there with problems and complaints, and they all knew me.

Also, I represented our company at the Chamber of Commerce, and I was really pissed off because they just ignored the French Quarter. I arranged to talk at the meeting of their board and made the point that needed to pay more attention to the FQ because of the tourist business it brought. So they set up a French Quarter committee and made me the chairman, so that’s another one that I had to put together.

HA: You have given a secular invocation at the start of eight City Council meetings. Was it your familiarity with the council members that helped you to get your foot in door to do this?

HG: Councilman Marlin Gusman, and I do not remember what brought it on, approached me with the proposal that if I wished to give a secular invocation at a meeting, he would set it up for me.

And I did. That is how I got to know the city council’s chaplain, who usually gave the invocation. After a few months or year passed and I called him and said I would like to do another one. Since he found out I was not insulting religious people, I was just doing my thing, and any time I wanted to do one, I would just call him and he would fit me into the agenda.

HA: You also write the material and host a variety of guests from many walks of life on “The Humanist Perspective”, a locally produced cable TV program. How long have you done this, and did the idea for that come after NOSHA got off and running?

HG: My guess is that I have hosted the show for about 15 years. The tapes made prior to Katrina were lost in the flood. I’m doing two shows a month now; at one time I was doing more than two shows a month.

The way I got involved in the program was American Atheists was looking for people who would deliver their tapes to public access TV stations and sponsor them locally. I didn’t even know there was a public TV access station, but said I would do it. They would deliver the tapes to me and I would take them to the station to air them. When I went to do that the first time, I found out you had to be a resident of the parish or a member of a non-profit based within it. I also found out they were producing shows there, and I asked what you had to do to have a show. They gave me an application, and for an annual fee, you could do a show. That was part of the deal Cox Cable agreed to be awarded the monopoly cable TV provider in Orleans Parish—they had to put up a million dollars a year for public access programming between 4 and 6 channels in their lineup.

HA: Did you experience much frustration finding people to interview or scheduling appearances and keeping on schedule?

HG: Generally, this whole thing over the years has operated very smoothly. Sometimes I get a little anxious that I don’t have commitments from two people, because I do two interviews at the same session. But I always end up with two guests, and I cannot remember a time when someone didn’t show up. I rarely have a problem with thinking we will run out of things to say to fill the time. It usually goes so smoothly. I don’t know how many times I said to my guests “A half hour goes by fast, doesn’t it?”

HA: You recently retired as President of NOSHA. Given your age, is the end in sight for your work on this TV production?

HG: Let me put it this way…I stepped down from the presidency of NOSHA because I decided it was time for some new blood. I was a little tired of that. I did not give up the show because I still got some pleasure out of it. Do I see an end to it? Yes, because I am getting very old. I haven’t lost my mental capacity, but I can’t remember anything. But when I gave up the presidency, there was more than one person who was qualified to step into that position. But I don’t know anyone in NOSHA now who would take over that show if I said I was ready to give it up, and of course I’ll have to give it up because of age. But I won’t have to give it up for lack of guests to interview.

Early on, I got most of my guests from my contacts having been in public life, but that can’t go on forever. Now I get most of my guests from stories I read in the newspaper. But in fact, if I knew someone in NOSHA whom I thought would really like to do the show and was capable, I might be ready to turn it over, but I don’t see anyone who has shown any interest. [NOSHA Board Vice-President Jim Dugan has hosted several of episodes over the past few years when Harry was not available.]

HA: But it needs to continue…

When it came on, it appeared twice a week, at 2:30pm and 2:30am on the weekends. And originally, that’s all that I thought it was. But I knew we had someone who was converting our tapes to go on YouTube. I’m not much of a tech or a computer person, but found out when you go to YouTube to our link, it also shows how many people have watched. I couldn’t believe the number of people who had watched. For instance, the professor of economics at Loyola who was an Ayn Rand fan…I can’t remember…I think it was 4,000 views. I couldn’t believe how many people were watching my shows on YouTube! They can also been seen on Vimeo and on our website.

Harry the Humanist
“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”—
a quotation from Margaret Mead—and all that was printed on a letter-size sheet of paper Harry handed me.

HA: Strictly considered, atheism, or other brands of skepticism would not seem to be necessarily linked to any political ideology or viewpoint. In Humanism, from which NOSHA takes its name, that point is not quite so clear; and that some humanist principles are better represented in certain political parties than others. What is your thinking on this?

HG: First, on the Wall of Separation. There are some conservatives who say that say those words never appear in the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote most of it, made it very clear that the First Amendment intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state. I think that is going to stand, no matter what. I still say we [non-theists] are the most maligned minority in this country. Polls show that we are the least likely out of any groups to be elected for office. I heard some commentator refer to Bernie Sanders as an atheist. Wouldn’t it be something if an atheist Jew was elected President?

I tell you what concerns the hell out of me: the Supreme Court. The ultra-conservatives are not going to let Obama get a new member in there. We’re okay if the Democrats win the Presidency, but if the Republicans win, we are gone forever, because not only this spot will be filled, but in the coming four years another one is going to die. Ginsburg would probably like to retire, but she doesn’t want the wrong person put in there.

But going back to humanism: humanism, with the lower case “h”, is not specific as upper-case Humanism, which is the philosophy of humanism, and that philosophy says we are concerned with the welfare and the living of full lives for ourselves and others without any reliance on the supernatural. People ask me all the time about secular humanism—what it is. I tell them “secular” means we are non-religious, but that just says what we are not, rather than what we are. Humanism says what we are, and says that since we are not going to have an afterlife and that this is the only life we are going to have we should live it fully and rewardingly, getting the most out of it we can and allowing others to do the same thing.

What I just told you has a lot to do with guests I’ve asked to be on the TV show. I couldn’t have just spent all these years talking about non-religion; how many guests can you have on that subject? Secular humanism says to live life fully, get out of it what you can. That enables us to do things that are worth taking a part in or observing—it contributes to the fullness of our lives, which is why I talk to people who are in theater and all manner of things, so long that this is a subject that can give some joy and pleasure and satisfaction in our lives.

HA: Do you think the usefulness of organizations which are founded on the principle of nontheism has passed its prime?

HG: No way. I think we are only in the beginning of it and see nothing but expansion in the future. This country is becoming a whole lot less religious. The young people…they don’t even talk about it. I was wondering why we didn’t have more secular organizations at UNO, Delgado, and Tulane and I was told that young people don’t even think about religion. That’s why the numbers are going to change, because of the young people. For us older people, we are trying to overcome the old discriminations and trying to make secularism more acceptable. The young people don’t have that same outlook.
________________________________________

In addition to scheduling over a hundred speakers for monthly NOSHA meetings during his time as President of NOSHA and interviewing hundreds more on “The Humanist Perspective” television program, here are some other noteworthy events, publications, and awards Harry has had a hand in:

2002—Interviewed by Elizabeth Mullener for the Times-Picayune
2005—Acknowledgement and photograph of the Mayoral Proclamation of “Day of Reason” in New Orleans requested by members of NOSHA published in Freedom from Religion Foundation publication, Freethought Today
2009—Recognition of New Orleans City Council Proclamation of “Day of Reason”  in Free Mind. Both proclamations were proposed as alternatives to the National Day of Prayer.
2012—Interviewed by Eric Nguyen of the Humanist News Network, the weekly online publication of the American Humanist Association.
2012—Recipient of The Humanist Award of NOSHA. The award was later given his name.
2013—Designated as President Emeritus of NOSHA
2014—Named to the Honor Roll of the Humanist Foundation, a subsidiary of the American Humanist Association.
2014—Published an essay in Free Inquiry, the magazine of the Council of Secular Humanism, addressing the theme “The Faith I Left Behind”. His essay, “Why I am Not a Believer,” was one of several, out of the hundreds submitted, to be selected for publication in the book The Faith I Left Behind.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

An Evening with Bart, Bird, and the Baptists

Bart Ehrman
Persecutors Pay the Price
February 2016

Getting comfortable in the nearly straight-backed, hardwood benches with a minimum of padding involved  a continual re-alignment of posture for the dozen disciples of New Orleans’ club for Christian persecutors unaccustomed to sitting in church. The benches—pews in churchspeak– were in the voluminous Leavell Chapel, located on the grounds of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The Persecutors made a rare appearance in church and suffered the punishing seating arrangements as a penance to hear one of their own: Biblical scholar, UNC professor, prolific author and fellow non-believer Bart Ehrman debate with theological lecturer and author Michael Bird, who made the trip from his native Australian. Ehrman could have been from the other, not-Australian place Down Under judging from the awkward introduction and reception he was given prior to his lead-off address. The forum director, Robert Stewart’s introduction of him to the audience of about 1200 seminarians, instructors, old Baptist preachers, and the dozen Persecutors was worded awkwardly enough not to invite applause.

The title of the dialogue was “How Did Jesus Become God,” named from Ehrman’s most recent book, and was the the theme of the larger Greer-Heard Point-Counter Forum held annually at the seminary for the last 11 years. The Friday night dialogue is followed Saturday morning and early afternoon with more lectures from other distinguished presenters followed up with responses from the key speakers Ehrman and Bird. The idea of the for the forum was initially proposed by seminary donors– and husband and wife –Greer and Heard, said President Chuck Kelley during his general introduction. Besides the unstated purpose of getting their names attached to something of interest related to the seminary operations, their published  motivation was to get divergent viewpoints on matters religious for the goal of “teaching preachers to think.” Anyone would see what a novel concept that was, and its potential for successful outcomes, though not guaranteed, remain in the realm of possibility. In theory.

Dr. Ehrman kicked off by setting out the “terms” of the discussion, though “limits” may have been a better choice. The purpose would be to present a credible explanation of how the historical person Jesus, described at length in the New Testament addition to the Bible, came to be also known, called, pronounced, exalted as, or proclaimed to be… God.  Ehrman emphasized that the discussion was limited to the historical possibilities of the question and not its theological ramifications. Whether Jesus truly was the same as, or the son of the God was not part of the debate. Ehrman does agree with  other skeptics and agnostics, and believes that the personhood of Jesus is affirmed (that the historical person of Jesus existed); and that position of mythicism—that a historical Jesus did not really exist, but was rather a mythical figure, a composite other such deities of the area, such as (among others) Dionysus and Osiris of Greek and Egyptian lore, was false.

***

The short answer, said Ehrman, is that Jesus officially became God at the Council of Nicea in 325 C. E. Roman Emperor Constantine, who may have made his first mistake by legalizing Christianity in the Empire, and second, really big error making it the official state religion, called for a meeting of about 300 bishops to smooth out some of the details of the newly established religion in an effort to patch up the social structure of an empire that was falling apart and was in need of a unifying….something. In a truy democratic process, the motion to proclaim Jesus to be the co-eternal, co-equal,  begotten, and of the same essence as the real god received a majority vote of those in favor. And so came to be the Nicean Creed. It can only be speculated how things may have turned out had voter fraud later be uncovered.

So to be fair, Ehrman painted a little historical perspective of the official coronation done by the Council. A study of the New Testament scriptures shows that Jesus’ disciples did not believe at the time of their association with him he was divine, but only came to that belief after the Resurrection. The empty tomb was a trigger for a group with high expectations and an even loftier imagination to surmise no explanation existed for their leader’s disappearance other than that he had been exalted to Heaven—a transformation which happens only to truly godly beings, they thought.  Ehrman quoted and referred frequently and breezily from Biblical verse and chapter, evaluating nuances in the semantics and aphorisms of the scripture to validate his position that the Jesus-God unification was of a Christology called adoptionism; that Jesus was really born as a mortal man and was later “adopted” to be the son, and, curiously enough, at the same time, the same being as God. This theory conflicts with the final edicts of the Council of Nicea, which ended up with a god of not two, but three agents, all three almighty, all three, one; each one, three. And they understandably called it the Doctrine of the Trinity. It is difficult, using logicians’ standard  laws of thought, specifically the law of the excluded middle; or Leibniz’ catchy Identity of Indiscernables, to get one’s head around all this, a problem church theoreticians recognized soon enough, and called it a mystery—euphemizing the problem temporarily away, kicking it down the line for future generations to figure out.

Dr. Bird is along with this idea, too. The diminutive but plucky redhead is an informed and entertaining presenter, and kept a light-hearted attitude and non-apocalyptic tone throughout (even if the irony in the overused icebreaker Australian speakers often employ, associating his homeland, Crocodile Dundee, and Outback Steakhouse resonated as bit Trinitarian itself). Bird tried to show that the theory of adoptionism didn’t emerge until about 190 C. E. from a group following the works of Theodotus, which had itself carried the tradition of the mortal beginnings of the Christ fellow from the earlier thought of Bishop Arius, one of the participants of the Council of Nicea and the leading opponent to the doctrine that was eventually accepted. Dr. Bird patched together verses from the Gospels, mixed in references from Pauline Epistles, and tied them together with the “Word,” or “logos” notion from John the baptizer to fortify his theory of the making of Jesus-God as a version of the “possession” Christology. All this meaning that Jesus was of “the word”, was in possession of the same substance and eternal existence as the god and the divine spirit.

Thus,the Doctrine of the Trinity is reaffirmed by Bird, albeit with a few twists. Ehrman, getting the final rebutting remarks, said as much. Mr. Bird had not contributed an answer to discussion’s primary puzzle: How did Jesus become God? For Bird, and likely most of the seminarians, instructors and old Baptists preachers there, the proposition that Jesus is “of the Word” and just is, always was, just as the god Yahweh and the spirit are, is, when outfitted with enough Biblical cross references, the Truth (with a capital T) for the ages.

As for the Persecutors, some left wondering (and doubting) if the Greer and Heard goal of getting preachers to think came close to being accomplished. A few wondered if it was the mental gymnastics required to square the logical constraints of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middles against Trinitarian mysticism that made them uncomfortable, keeping them out of church, or if it was bodily taxation caused by the stiff, straight-backed pews.  Catholic churches can be even more sadistic, it has been said, with those non-optional prayer kneelers.

~ Marty Bankson

Celebrating the Writer: Bankson Branches Out

We are very fortunate to have such a dedicated and community-minded supporter in NOSHA board member, Marty Bankson, who does double-duty as the newsletter reporter for The Humanist Advocate, our quarterly publication reflecting on our recent meetings and activities. We couldn't do it without him!

He has his work featured on "At The Well" that tries to improve the image of Christians in American public discourse. That Bankson's writing is featured here is a wonderful testament to the ideas and efforts he brings to his work.

Here are a couple of short segments from his recent articles you might enjoy: (the whole piece is available at the link)

X-Mas List, With Love and XOXO
"It was only natural, probably written in the stars: the Christian spirit of giving, the tradition started by the three wise men bringing gifts to the newborn Christ, expanded at some point to include making one’s own personal wish list: gifts you would like to receive.

And since the spirit-tradition does not begrudge anyone from participating in the routine but, in fact, encourages everyone, of every faith or no faith to participate, because it is good for the economy, it’s a win-win.

For that reason–the universal spirit of giving and getting–I am not even slightly embarrassed or feeling presumptuous or hypocritical about publicly posting my personal little wish list (or sharing the news that I have bought stuff to give to others in the coming days), even though I am not a Christian or a member of any other faith."

Heretical Compromise?
"Religion is one of man’s first attempts at a coherent narrative about the human condition—all that is sublime, all that is wretched, and all the tedium in between. It’s a methodology for making a revered completeness from a fragmented and bewildering sensory experience.  As such, it is a branch of the  larger topic of humanism—“any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate.”¹

Over the past 400 years, during and since the Enlightenment movement, the definition of humanism, as a philosophical worldview has been narrowed. It had never been worded into a doctrinal format until 1933, when a group of 30-odd academic scientists, sociologists, ministers, and philosophers agreed on the tenants to be penned in the first Humanist Manifesto, which “was designed to represent a developing point of view….representative of a large number who are forging a new philosophy out of the materials of the modern world.'"

Bankson also maintain's his own blog where all of his work is available, Bricolage. Check it out!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Learn something new everyday!

This graphic may be hugely helpful to anyone who is grappling with the terminology and definitions for sexuality, gender expression, and identity that can be confusing at times, especially if some of the terms have been used interchangeably (or that people think they are).

From the text for the "Genderbread Person":

Gender Identity is how you, in your head, think about yourself. It's the chemistry that composes you (e.g. hormonal levels) and how you interpret what that means. Woman < Genderqueer > Man

Gender Expression is how you demonstrate your gender (based on traditional gender roles) through the ways you act, dress, behave, and interact.  Feminine < Androgynous > Masculine

Biological Sex refers to the objectively measurable organs, hormones, and chromosome. Female = vagina, ovaries, XX chromosomes; male = penis, testes XY chromosomes; intersex = a combination of the two. Female < Intersex > Male

Sexual Orientation is who you are physically, spiritually, and emotionally attracted to, based on their sex/gender in relation to your own. Heterosexual < Bisexual > Homosexual

Monday, December 28, 2015

NOSHA’s Social Aid and Pleasure Club: Helping at the Holidays!

~A special report from NOSHA member Eve Ortiz

As 2015 comes to an end, NOSHA members came together once again to volunteer at the Second Harvest Food Bank. While families and friends all across the nation start preparing for their end of the year festivities, many see the need to give back to their communities through volunteer work. This time of year is about giving; giving our time and our labor can be the best gift of all. Food banks and soup kitchens are a good choice for helping the neediest. For a few selfless hours, we ensure that many will eat another day.

NOSHA members have proven time and again that hard work does not scare us away, and our December 5 shift was no different. In past visits we helped to box up the food to be distributed to 474 locations throughout the 23 southern most parishes of Louisiana. By now we pretty much have a system down for the “boxing” room. The most recent visit presented us a new task. We were to sort the foods that would eventually go to the “boxing” room.

At first, it seemed a daunting task as we listened to the employee go through the instructions. In the middle of the room were several crates piled high with the donated foods that we would be sorting. Bordering the edges of the room were the many categorized boxes we were to fill. As an extra incentive, we were told that the foods that we sorted that day would end up on kitchen tables in time for Christmas dinners.

Organized chaos is what comes to mind when I think of that day! We eagerly dove in, and although some of us seemed a bit confused in the beginning, we all quickly fell into step and were sorting like it was our second nature. Organizer and NOSHA member Glenn Pearl commented that if one was to look down on us it would have looked like a bunch of ants toiling about—we were definitely a determined bunch. The speed with which we were moving — in, out, and around each other— it is surprising there were no accidents.

In the short four hours that we were there, we not only accomplished our goal of giving back to the community, but we all also got in a good physical workout. By quitting time we had emptied all the crates and had sorted a whopping 9,000 pounds of food. Thanks to Glenn for organizing another successful outing by NOSHA’s Social Aid and Pleasure Club. We’ll be back in 2016 most definitely!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Humanism (and NOSHA) Goes to Church!

The Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church
Mr. Alan Wolfe helps coordinate the “First Tuesdays: Spirituality in the City” speaker series and acts as the liaison between the guest speakers and a the co-sponsorship of The Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church and several other Catholics entities. Now in it’s seventh season, guests from diverse religions, human interest groups, and prominent leaders in local government and business are chosen to “initiate conversations about their spiritual traditions and address the theme ‘Spirituality in the City’.” We met up with Mr. Wolf at the front steps of the grand 160-year old Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church—with its Moor-influenced architecture of onion domes and pointed arches—less than a block off Canal Street in the Central Business District of New Orleans. He shuttled us down a pedestrian alley between the church and the adjacent Lenes Hall, the parish center for the church where the group meets.

Scrolling through the list of past speakers, one finds representatives from Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish traditions; journalists and authors, including Jason Berry, Bob Marshall, and John Barry; and local celebrity chefs Leah Chase and John Besh. Tuesday, December 1, the bar for diversity was set a bit higher, even by the liberal standards of the Jesuits.

“We had a speaker from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation a while back,” Wolf told me after Tuesday’s presentation, “but this was the real deal.” The “deal” being the presentation of a humanitarian, ethically positive outlook on life based on naturalism rather than traditional theology, gods, or laying claim to an ethereal spiritualism, courtesy of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association (NOSHA).
***
NOSHA President Charlotte Klasson and Membership Coordinator Beth Deitch spoke on the theme “Humanism: Ethical, Secular and Good for Everyone” in a coordinated tag team effort before a group of about 30 there for the midday talk and light lunch affair. Deitch started by defining terms: Humanism, naturalism, consequentialist ethics—all fitting together in overlapping  meanings and nuance, and building on a comprehensive outlook on life through the “self-aware moral agent” that the human is. Klasson gave the audience a brief history of NOSHA from its beginnings, its affiliate groups, and its function as the only local organization of its type for people sharing a non-theistic, naturalistic worldview. She stressed the importance of being vigilant about church and state separation issues, and pointed out Harry Greenberger’s (NOSHA President Emeritus) multiple ‘secular invocations’ at city council meetings to balance the typically Christian bias at that part of the meeting agenda.

Beth referred to cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker’s recent  book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker’s thesis, that, in spite of appearances, violence in the world is decreasing, could  be traced back to the tradition of the Enlightenment movement of the 17th and 18th Century Europe and America, which held as axiomatic that there are knowable truths in the world, which, when discovered through the scientific method and rational thinking, would lead to an increasing improvement of the human condition—and less violent behavior—over time. This is a foundational concept of secular humanism.

During a brief Q and A segment at the end, several of the typical concerns about a godless world were brought up by thoughtful listeners. One questioned how humans could have been the basis of their own positive ethical behavior. A: The primary motivation of survival has shown us that cooperation and altruism are necessary for maintaining and propagating life. Another question from a priest in the audience was how values of good and evil, right or wrong can emanate from the naturalistic materialism that humanism claims—a problem Kant had, he added. A: The problem of consciousness remains unsolved, and the solution to the question lies in the theory of consciousness itself. (And besides that, our consequentialist ethics are “at 180s” with Kant’s categorical imperative, or universal and unswerving morality Kant thought could be  derived from rationality.)

Maybe the most relevant question—at least as it related to the theme of "Spirituality in the City”—came from a dapper man near the front, who wanted to know if humanists have anything they call spirituality. “The term is problematic,” said Deitch, as the ambiguity between spirituality being something that comes from some real but intangible spirit, which we reject, or if it is something more like a sense of awe or wonderment, a magical or enchanted mental state. Apparently he had been unmoved by an earlier partial reading of Carl Sagan’s ode “Pale Blue Dot” which, for many, stimulates an awe that comes from man’s realization of his insignificance in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps the observation of theoretical physicist/cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, though not quite as lyrical, but no less poetical, which invokes a sense of wonderment by a reversal of tack, placing man as a shining product of the grand scheme of the universe, his bodily makeup the result of elements manufactured in solar furnaces, and then spread by the exploding aged stars and spread as elemental fertilizer to create untold diversity in the cosmos.

And maybe when it is shown that spirituality is possible without spirits, numen, genies or poltergeists or gods, will we better appreciate the “real deal.”

~ Marty Bankson